Word of the day – Hypocorism

A hypocorism is a pet name or diminutive. For example, Bob, Rob, Bobby, Robbie (from Robert). I came across this word for the first time the other day and had to look it up because I didn’t know what it meant.

Hypocorisms or diminutives seem to be more widely used in some languages than in others. The Slavic languages use them a lot, and not just for people’s names – just about any noun has a hypocoristic form. At least that’s what my Czech, Slovak, Polish and Russian-speaking friends tell me.

Hypocoristic affixes in English include

-ey/y/ie, as in doggie (dog), horsey (horse), barbie (barbeque), postie (postman/woman), tinnie (tin [of beer]), cozzie (swimming costume), mozzie (mosquito), footie/footy (football). This affix is particularly popular in Australia and Scotland.

-ling, as in duckling, gosling

-ette, as in kitchenette, cigarette, towellette

-let, as in piglet

Can you think of any others?

There are more examples of hypocorisms/diminutives in a variety of languages here.

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

21 Responses to Word of the day – Hypocorism

  1. Adam says:

    I read somewhere that -kin is an old diminutive, surviving in the word “mannequin” (french spelling). I have also heard -kins used in America to create to pet names, such as “honeykins” or “sweetiekins”, but I don’t know if that’s related or not.

  2. Harris Engelmann says:

    It’s quite interesting that Yiddish and Austrian/Bavarian/Swabian have similar/the same dimnutives- shows you where Yiddish most likely came from!

    Bay mir iz es zeyer tshikave tsu zen az Yidish un Dorem-Daytsh hobn oder di zelbe, oder doyme farkleyne-verter; s’vayzt men fun vanet Yidish shtamt!

  3. Satyarthi Aiyar says:

    Another interesting one. Adam’s comment on ‘-kin’/’-kins’ above takes me back in time to the pejorative use of ‘mummykins’ (for mother/mummy) in UK-English schoolboy slang as in the playground taunt: ‘Oh yes, that’s right, go home and cry to mummykins why don’t you..?!’

    The words ‘munchkin’ and ‘catkins’ also spring to mind. Wasn’t ‘Pushkin’ the name of some (literary?) pet cat…?

  4. David says:

    They also use them for names and words in Dutch, by adding a ‘je’ to the end of the name or word i.e. , Antje= Anne, Geetje= {pet form of} Geertruida, Liesje= Elisabeth (mostly feminine names have the ‘je’) and the word Meisje= Girl (the only one I can think of at the moment.

  5. Mike says:

    Also in Australia “-o” is a very popular ending for pet names.
    Some may appear as simple clippings where others are clearly clipped forms with an “o” slapped on the end. Ex:
    garbo, Salvo, intro, avo, compo, relo, muso, milko, doco, ammo, vego, lezzo, wino, journo, etc…

  6. David says:

    Would ‘bracelet’ be another one?

  7. TJ says:

    in Arabic, it is kinda different because the whole order of letters would change. The simplest would be for the name of Kuwait for example!
    The original name was Koot [meaning little fort or storage house, since the early settlers established their lives upon the ruins of an old portuguese fort as they say! Some other histories say something else about this fort]
    However, Koot, is changed to Kuwait. And like Simon said about slavic languages, in Arabic also almost every noun has it! But there are common ones and there are the not popular or the invented ones!
    Other examples:
    Kawkab [planet] -> Kowaykib [asteroid]
    `Abd [slave] -> `Ubayd [little slave]
    Waraqah [paper] -> Worayqah [small paper]

  8. Aeneas says:

    This is pretty common in Italian, with both names and regular nouns. It’s usually done by adding -etto/-ino/-ello as a suffix.

    For example,
    Albero (tree) becomes Alberello
    Mamma (mommy) becomes Mammina
    Goccia (drop) becomes goccietta (as in… una goccietta di vino, per favore!)

  9. Logan says:

    Afrikaans diminutives almost always end in -ie. The ending is usually -tjie or -djie (both pronounced “key”), and the preceding vowel is sometimes pronounced differently.

    - boek (book) : boekie
    - hand (hand) : handjie (pronounced “high + n + key”)
    - maat (friend) (pronounced “maht”) : maatjie (pronounced “migh + key”)
    - hond (dog) : hondjie (pronounced “hoy + n + key”)

    And a few of the words that are used exclusively as diminutives (for example “meisie”, the word for girl) can even be further diminutized, “meisietjie”. Fun, fun :)

  10. Joanna says:

    It’s interesting to see when the Spanish “ito” or “ita” diminutive form is used in unexpected ways, where it doesn’t really mean anymore that something is smaller. I saw a lot of this in Mexico.

    “Ahorita” is used more often than the original “ahora” (“now”), I think just to soften the meaning.

    “Todito” is often used instead of simply “todo” (“everything”). But it doesn’t mean there is less than everything; it really means more like “absolutely everything.”

    Does anyone have insights into these uses of the diminutive in some Spanish-speaking countries?

  11. TJ says:

    Joanna: the only use I’m aware of is for spoiling a girl or a man :)

  12. Polly says:

    In Armenian the diminutive suffix is: -ig.
    It’s more often found in proper names than nouns.

    Paul -> Paulig

    Armen (male name) -> Armig (female name)

    Shoon (dog) -> Shnig/shoonig

    gadoo (cat) -> gadvig (kitten)

    moog (mouse) -> mgnig

    paht (duck) -> pahtig (duckling)

  13. rek says:

    David – If bracelet is derived from bracer, a wrist/arm guard worn by archers, then probably.

  14. Stuart says:

    Generally, the English diminutives -kins or -ie are considered rather childish language and as a rule we only use them with children or to add a childish-type feel to what we’re saying. Different languages however do not see them as such, Dutch for example uses the -je diminutive in all walks of life and it can have different variations of meaning, i.e. not only meaning small, it can also have a pejorative tone, or conversely a nice feel to it.

    Incidentally, English -kins is related to the German -chen diminutive in origin.

    Harris, the reason why Yiddish has similar diminutives to High German dialects is because Yiddish is a High German dialect!

  15. pittmirg says:

    Also in Polish the word ‘wszystko’ – ‘everything’ has its diminutive form ‘wszyściutko’ which means ‘absolutely everything’ too. And I read somewhere that in Kashubian even some verbs have their diminutives.

  16. James says:

    the chileans use the diminuative to a ridiculous extent. It is generally seen as more “popular” or affectionate. ¿Quieres un cafecito? grande o ¡puequeño? nothing to do with size, all to do with the speaker. IN bakers you are asked if you want your empanada “calentito”, in restaurants “caliente”. O,and cos of the vowel streching that happens here it is “calentiiiiiiiiiiiiito”. both endearing and annoying at the same time.

  17. James says:

    you know after I posted I had this vague feeling that there was something wrong with the world, and then I realised on the metro what it was: the empanada would be “calentiiiiiiita”. I originally used “pan” and then changed the example without changing the agreement. This should teach me to re-read before posting

  18. James says:

    two more diminuatives that I came across since writing:

    (1) in an email from a Chilean: “pero acurdense que llegue enfermita” which has the same sort of sound to it as “but remember that I was poorly when I arrived” (rather than ill or sick)

    (2) an add on Colombian radio for loans “¿cuanto quieres: 5, 6, 7 millioncitos”, which has the mild suggestion (to me) that it´s no big deal to borrow that much (though clearly it´s pesos not dollars!)

  19. Polly says:

    @James: In that “enfermita” example, it almost seems like there’s an implicit instrumental case function being provided by “-ita.”
    It’s almost like saying “I came as a poor person. rather than the adverb “poorly.”
    Or, alternatively, it’s like the present adverbal participle, “I came as a being-poor one”
    Strange ideas with no relation to Spanish grammar. I know.
    Just interesting to compare the different ways languages make use of grammatical constructions to approach similar expressions.

  20. James says:

    hmmm…. “poorly” in this case is a way of saying “sick”, but has a particular ring to it in UK English (google “feeling poorly”). It is, how can I say this, not generally used by the higher levels of society (and is incidently one of my pet hate words, as to my ears it is horrible,as is the word “soup”)