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A large variety of suffixes were used to form diminutives in English. The Wikipedia page on diminutives shows these:

* -k/-ock/-uck: balk, bollock, bullock, buttock, fetlock, folk, hark, hillock, jerk, mark, mattock (OE mattuc), milk, mullock, pillock, smirk, snack, spark, stalk, talk, whelk, work, yolk
* -n/-en/-on (accusative or feminine): burden, chicken, even, heaven (OE heofon), kitten, maiden, morn, oven, steven, vixen, weapon (OE wæpen)
* -le (defrequentative -l): beetle, boodle, chortle, doodle (shares root with dude, P doudo, dolt, dull, dote, dotterel), fizzle, giggle, kibble, little, mickle, noodle, oodle, puddle, riddle, sparkle
* -ish (disparative): boyish, fiftyish, girlish, largish, mannish, noonish, reddish, smallish, tallish, twelveish, womanish
* -s (degenitive): Becks, Betts, Wills
* -sie/-sies/-sy (babytalk assimilative or from patrici- of Patsy): bitsy, footsie (1930), halfsies, onesies, popsy (1860), teensy-weensy, tootsie (1854), twosies, Betsy, Patsy, Robsy
* -o (American devocative, later Commonwealth): bucko, daddio, garbo, kiddo, smoko, wacko, Jacko, Ricko,
* -er/-ers/-ster (agentive, intensive, hýpocoristic, also elided hrotic -a): bonkers (1948), preggers (1940), starkers (1905), Becker[s], Lizzers, Hankster, Patster
* -a (Geordie assimilative -er): Gazza, Macca
* -z (geordie degenitive -s): Bez, Chaz, Gaz

That same page also contains a list of suffixes of diminutive loanwords, such as:

* -ling (Norse defrequentative-patrinominative): darling, duckling, fingerling, gosling, underling

The suffix -ling, for example, was used to form the following words:

Most of the words shown above are old words that have been used for centuries. Are there any more recent English words (let's say, from the past few decades) that have been formed with diminutive suffixes? If yes, which words and suffixes are those?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Edit: it is important to distinguish between two senses of "diminutive": it can be neutral, as a smaller version of something; or it can be mocking, affectionate, etc; in many cases, a suffix is diminutive in both senses, because the latter often follows the former. I am mostly talking about the neutral sense here, which might not be what the original poster intended.


I'd say there are no truly productive (capable of producing new instances) diminutive suffixes in modern English. As Mitch mentioned, -y/-ey/-ie is the suffix that comes closest, but that is still not quite close when compared with suffixes in other Germanic languages, such as German and Dutch. For one thing, this English suffix is never quite neutral, it is always a bit childish or mocking, etc.. And it can only be used with selective nouns, not just any noun.

Dutch: televisie (regular), televisietje (dimin.) or router, routertje is perfectly acceptable, i.e. it is even used with new words of foreign origin. I believe the same applies to German Fernseher, Fernseherchen, etc..

It should be noted, however, that the diminutive is in many languages inherently a little bit informal, because a smaller version of a normal thing is inherently less "impressive" than the normal thing, unless the smaller version is an old word that has gained some sense of "normalcy", or some distinguishing qualities, through time.

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2  
I frequently see -ish appended to words that don't normally take that suffix. (I've also seen "ish" used as a word in its own right, but that's a different matter.) –  Marthaª Dec 23 '10 at 17:25
    
Right, that suffix is very productive nowadays, though it usually does not sounds like a truly diminutive suffix, or does it? –  Cerberus Dec 23 '10 at 17:36
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@Cerberus: I'd call it an "approximative" suffix, for lack of another term. -ish is like -esque, but with more emphasis on approximation than style. –  Jon Purdy Dec 29 '10 at 4:48
    
@Jon Purdy: Right, that term describes it well. On a side note, I sometimes need a term to describe a suffix that merely means "having something to do with x": any ideas? –  Cerberus Dec 29 '10 at 4:54
    
@Cerberus: I'm finding it hard to come up with anything right now. You should post it as a question. –  Jon Purdy Dec 29 '10 at 5:08

(EDIT: Actually none of groupie, techie, Trekkie, and buckyball are diminutives. Ah well, I'll leave them up in case others are tempted to make the same mistake.)

Here are some words along with year of first known use:

Also, there is Trekkie, but I couldn't find a "first known use" date. Certainly it can't be earlier than 1967, the year of the show's premier.

Maybe it's because of a mental bias that -ie and -y words are the only ones I've come up with.

FURTHER EDITS

Well, taking a hint from Cerberus: telly (1939) is definitely diminutive, although 1939 isn't exactly the past few decades.

Ah, something five years closer to the present: homey (1944), diminutive form of "homeboy". And a little closer, Yorkie (1946) for Yorkshire Terrier. Closer still, Westie (1959) for West Highland White Terrier.

Found something closer: jammies (1973) for pyjamas. Also veggie (1955) and commie (1940).

Okay, a truly recent diminutive: applet (1990), short for application.

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2  
I don't really think the first two qualify as diminutives. Those suffixes express membership in a group or class. And buckyball is not a diminutive at all, but a slang term for buckminsterfullerine. –  Robusto Dec 23 '10 at 15:49
    
I mean buckminsterfullerene. Sorry, writing this on my Droid X. –  Robusto Dec 23 '10 at 15:59
    
@Robusto: Thanks for the correction. –  Mitch Schwartz Dec 23 '10 at 17:18
    
@Mitch: the -ie suffix does not sound as a diminutive suffix to me. It does sound like an informal version of the original word though. I'm not sure if this is enough to classify it as a diminutive. Other examples are Aussie for Australian and Staffi for the dog breed Staffordshire. –  b.roth Dec 29 '10 at 9:27
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@Mitch Schwartz: I thought the same as you when I first read the examples from the Wikipedia - most of them did not sound like diminutives to me. However, the Online Etymology Dictionary seems to support the argument, at least for the words that I checked. For example, for talk the site says "probably a dim. or frequentative form related to M.E. tale" –  b.roth Dec 30 '10 at 13:08

You left out -let a in •starlet• or • eyelet•. Also -kin, equivalent to German •-chen•, as in bodkin or firkin.

I'm not aware of any recent coinages unless •-cakes• qualifies, as in •babycakes•, but I'm not altogether certain that's more affectionate than diminutive. Still, diminutives are often used to express affection. I think we pretty much make do with what we already have.

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More -kin(s) examples: lambkins, bunnykins, spillikins,… Also, it seems to be at least occasionally productive: when I was little, my parents would affectionately call me Peterkin. On the other hand, arguably -kin(s) was already in the OP’s list: it’s cognate to at least some of their -en examples, e.g. kitten, maiden. –  PLL Dec 24 '10 at 0:46
    
@PLL: -kin(s) is actually rather common with names, it seems. Let's not forget "Where is Thumbkin?" –  Jon Purdy Dec 29 '10 at 4:43

I think that other than -ie/-y (mostly for personal names), the productive form nowadays is the prefix mini - e.g., mini-CD, miniskirt, and so forth.

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