Faffing around: frequently added frequentatives

Speckled eggs in nest, by Margo Connor

For Christmas 2010, my son bought me Michael Quinion’s book Why is Q Always Followed by U?. It’s not the sort of book you’d read in one sitting, but it’s ideal for dipping into on short train or bus journeys or in dentists’ waiting rooms when the other patients have nabbed the only 2 interesting magazines. Michael’s book is full of “facts about the quirky meanings and histories behind the slang and language that we all use”.

One entry starts off with the question “How may you be disgruntled if you are not already gruntled?” and ends up with a discussion of frequentatives. Frequentative is the grammatical term describing the use of a suffix to create a verb for an often-repeated action. The most common one in English is -le.

Gruntle does exist, by the way. Michael Quinlan describes it as “a repeated grunt, especially the conversational noise that pigs make in company”.

The lovely eggs in the photo are a seasonal illustration of frequentatives: from speck to speckle to speckled.

There’s something about –le that makes me smile — it’s a friendly-sounding little device. Words that come to mind are sparkle, crackle, snuggle, dazzle, waddle, crinkle, sprinkle or nuzzle.

Or what about the twinkle in George Clooney’s eyes, or Marilyn Monroe wiggling, jiggling, wobbling and giggling her way through Some Like it Hot? (I don’t know if all of these are frequentatives, but if they’re not they should be).

Photo courtesy of Margolove. The eggs belonged to a cardinal bird and were in a nest right outside her window.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. Waffle, tittle-tattle – as frequentatives, not a description of this absolutely terrific and hugely revealing posting.

    More from this book soon, please, so we can dawdle and meddle and peddle our offerings in the quirky world of the English language.

    Hope you are well.

  2. Hi Marian, yes, “-le” is rather lovely, isn’t it, probably nicer than its frequentative cousin “-er” (as in “flutter”, “blabber”, etc.). Horror of horrors, though, my Oxford A-Z of Grammar and Punctuation signally FAILS even to mention this linguistic delight, shame on you, OUP (well, just a bit of shame, anyway).

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