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Diminutives

By
Bonnie Mills, read by Mignon Fogarty,
September 3, 2015
Episode #480

Page 2 of 3

Foreign Diminutives

English isn't the only language to use diminutives, especially in names. Let's cover just a few other languages. In Italian, we have -ino, -ina, -etto, and -etta as in Giorgino and Simonetta. The French have several diminutive suffixes, such as the already-mentioned -ette as well as -ine, -on, -ot, and -otte, which give us names like Jeannette, Manon, and Margot. Other foreign diminutive suffixes include -sha and -ya in Russian, and so you'll hear Misha for Mikhail and Kolya for Nikolai; -ito and -ita in Spanish, which yield names like Carlito and Juanita; and -in and -an in Irish, leading to Kevin and Aidan. (10) 

What Is Hypocorism?

As we've said, diminutives can indicate “tenderness, love, endearment, or familiarity” (11) and there's even a fancy word for it: hypocorism. This means “a pet name,” “the practice of using a pet name,” or “the use of forms of speech imitative of baby talk, especially by an adult.” (12) Interestingly, Ned is an example of a name that originates from affection. “The medieval affectionate name mine Ed(ward) … was later reinterpreted as my Ned” (13). Other examples formed this way are Nancy (from mine Anne, which first turned into Nan) and Nell (from mine Ellen).

Which listeners admit to talking to a beloved pet in a high-pitched voice and maybe calling it something like sweetie cakes? Or perhaps you're the parent of a boy named Timothy and you shorten it to Tim and then sometimes Timmy. We've all done it. It's even more likely you've used a pet name in a romantic relationship. An interesting Scientific American blog post discusses various studies that have analyzed relationship satisfaction and pet names. The blog quotes one study author as saying, “Names like honey, baby, babe, sweetheart (etc.) connote a special intimacy that’s reserved for your significant other ... Most couples tell me they’re shocked or know something is wrong in the relationship when a partner actually calls them by their actual name and not their nickname.” (14)

Romance must be delicious because many pet names, both in English and other languages, are also names of sweet foods. For example, in France, your significant other might call you mon petit chou, which means “my little cabbage or cream puff”; in Russia, you might hear vishenka, which means “cherry”; and in the Netherlands, your boyfriend could call you dropje, which means “candy.” (15)

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