Etymonline traces wink to Old English wincian, with Old High German cognate winkan "move sideways, stagger, nod". By the same souce, twinkle comes from OE twinclian "twinkle, wink", with MHG cognate zwinken.

The two verbs seem closely parallel in sound, meaning, and history. Do they have a common ancestry? Is there a t- (German z-) prefix involved somewhere along the path, and is it an instance of a regular word formation process?

  • Isn't G zwinkern a common root? books.google.it/… – user66974 Sep 23 '15 at 20:56
  • Twinkle : books.google.it/… – user66974 Sep 23 '15 at 21:03
  • @Josh61 If so, how do you account for dropping the z-, and why do the sources not mention the connection? – anemone Sep 23 '15 at 21:11
  • Middle English Dictionary: books.google.it/… – user66974 Sep 23 '15 at 21:13
  • 4
    Probably they've been related for a long time. Wink, twink, and twinkle all refer to small repeated movements, and their effects, and their causes. The TW- assonance refers to this, among other senses. The -INK rime refers also to "dimuendo" (shrink, kink, trinket, wrinkle), especially of noise (tinkle, plink, clink). When lexemes have been linked together phonosemantically for so many centuries, it's a moot point about original origins. – John Lawler Sep 23 '15 at 21:34

May I direct readers initially to the OED in relation to 'twink', the simple stem of 'twinkle':

twink (twɪŋk).

▪ II.twink, n.1 (twɪŋk) Forms: 5 twynk, 5–6 twynke, 6–7 twinke, 7 twinck(e, 7 twinch, 6– twink. [f. twink v.1]

  1. A winking of the eye; transf. the time taken by this; a twinkling; now always in phrase in a twink; formerly at, in, with (a or the) twink of an eye; also with a twink; in the twink of a bedstick: cf. bedstaff. 14.. Cov. Corp. Chr. Plays i. 506 Myne enmyis to vanquese.. And with a twynke of myn iee not won to be lafte alyve. 1471 Ripley Comp. Alch. Pref. ii. in Ashm. Theatr. Chem. Brit. (1652) 127 In twynke of an Eye most sodenly. 1556 J. Heywood Spider & F. lii. A a iv. (heading), Wherat with twynke of an iye (as it were) the head spider..hath builded a strong castell in that copweb. Ibid. xci. Oo iv b, Change (by chance) brought him (at twinke of an iye) From twig top of the tree, at the rote to lie. 1561 Norton & Sackv. Gorboduc iv. ii. (Shaks. Soc.) 142 A pereles prince..Euen with a twinke a censeles stocke I sawe.

According to the OED the verb 'twink' also has long usage:

▪ IV.twink, v.1 (twɪŋk) Forms: see twink n.1 [ME. twinken (= MHG. and G. zwinken to wink), repr. the simple stem from which twinkle v.1 is formed.]

  1. intr. To wink, to blink. Obs. c 1400 Gamelyn 453 Whan I twynke [v.r. twynk] on the, loke for to goon. c 1440 Promp. Parv. 505/2 Twynkyn, wythe the eye.., conniveo. 1600 J. Lane Tom Tel-troth 262 Some winke, some twinke, some blinke, some stare. a 1652 Brome Covent-Garden iii. i. Wks. 1873 II. 47, I will..set mine eye against his, that he shall not twink, but I'le perceive it. 1681 W. Robertson Phraseol. Gen. (1693) 567 To wink or twink with the eye, nictare.

  2. To twinkle, sparkle. 1637 N. Whiting Albino & Bellama 3 The curled tapers of the Firmament Did cease to twinke. 1795 Cicely of Raby I. 195 The last star had twinked in the west, ere we had gone half our journey. 1856 Aird Poet. Wks. 194 The wings of birds Twink with illumination. 1884 Browning Ferishtah, Cherries 80 Like yon blue twinkle, twinks thine eye, my Love. 1896 C. K. Paul tr. Huysman's En Route iv. 54 Durtal faintly saw..stars twinking in the air.
    Hence ˈtwinking vbl. n. 1519 W. Horman Vulg. 27 Ouermoche twyngynge [sic] of the yie betoketh vnstedfastnesse. 1627 May Lucan vi. 863 The eyes with twincking hard Are op'd.

Now compare 'wink' from the OED:

▪ V.wink, v.1 (wɪŋk) Forms: 1 wincian, 3 winken, 4–6 wynk(e, 4–7 winke, winck, 6–7 wincke, (4 Sc. vynk, 5 wynkyn, pa. tense wanke, wonk, 6 wynck(e, 9 pa. tense and pa. pple. wunk), 4– wink.

[OE. wincian wk. vb. = OS. wincon to nod, MLG., MDu. winken, related to OHG. winchan str. vb. (MHG., G. winken) to move sideways, stagger, nod; cf. OHG. winch (MHG. winc, G. wink) m. nod, OE. wince winch n.1: f. Teut. wiŋk-, older weŋk-:—Indo-Eur. weŋg-. Other formations on the base wiŋk- (weŋk-): waŋk-:—weŋg-: woŋg-, to move sideways or from side to side, are OHG. wanc, wanch, MHG. wanc turning, return, instability, OS., OHG. wankôn (MLG., MDu., MHG. wanken); OHG. wenkan, OS. wenkean to waver, vacillate (MLG., MDu., Du. wenken to nod), whence OF. guenchir winch v.1; Lith. véngiu to do unwillingly, avoid, vangùs inactive, vìngis m. bend, curve, Albanian vank (vang-) felloe. See also wankle a., wenchel. Examples of a strong conjugation in English (pa. tense wank, wonk) are very rare. The modern pa. tense and pple. wunk are jocular.]

  1. a. intr. To close one's eyes. (Also in fig. context: cf. 5, 6.) Obs. c 897 ælfred Gregory's Past. C. xxxix. 287 Se stæpð forð mid ðam fotum & wincaþ mid ðæm eaᵹum [orig. oculos claudit]. c 1000 ælfric Gram. xxvi. (Z.) 156 Ic winciᵹe, conniueo. a 1225 Ancr. R. 288 Hwon þe heorte draweð lust into hire, ase þing þet were amased, & foð on ase to winken & forte leten þene ueond iwurðen. c 1374 Chaucer Troylus iii. 1537 Al for nought he may wel lygge and wynke But slep ne may þere in his herte synke. c 1386 ― Nun's Pr. T. 486 He wolde so peyne hym, that with bothe hise eyen He moste wynke, so loude he wolde cryen. Ibid. 611 For he that wynketh whan he sholde see, Al wilfully god lat him neuere thee. 1390 Gower Conf. I. 54 For ofte, who that hiede toke, Betre is to winke than to loke. c 1480 Henryson Two Mice 333 Quhylis wald he lat hir rin vnder the stra; Quylis wald he wink, and play with hir buk heid. c 1500 in Rel. Ant. I. 289 Sore me for-thinked, that I so moche wynked, For had I never more nede than nowe for to loke. a 1542 Wyatt in Tottel's Misc. (Arb.) 57 For cause your self do wink, Ye iudge all other blinde. 1562 [see winking ppl. a. 1]. 1584 Lyly Campaspe v. iv. 4 Though I winke, I sleepe not. 1611 Shakes. Cymb. v. iv. 194 There are none want eyes, to direct them the way I am going, but such as winke, and will not vse them...

This entry from Freidrich Kluge's 1891 'An Etymological Dictionary of the German Language' might also be of interest:

From Freidrick Kluge's 1891 'An Etymological Dictionary of the German Language'

I leave it to others to respond to the OP's question.

  • 1
    I accept that generally if we go beyond the OED searching for meanings or origins we are in speculative territory, but I also note that the OED does not claim for itself absolute authority. One also has to accept that the development of language does not flow from a single source, or run in a single stream, but rather acknowledge that it is essentially a braided river with many twists and turns, and not a few misapprehensions that bifurcate the flow or co-join unrelated elements into new understandings or usages. 'Wink' and 'twinkle' are clearly related, but could we know more about how? – John Mack Oct 13 '15 at 12:55
  • Just for the sake of clarity, the extract from the online OED source for 'twink' (findwords.info/term/twink) has been cut back by me so as to match the content of my print version of the OED. The deleted material related to a U.S. slang expression. – John Mack Oct 13 '15 at 13:04
  • It is not wholly true that if OED has no support either way, then there is no way to go on. For example, a good German etymological dictionary might add to the discussion considerably, given that the German words are direct cognates (including the initial t-/z-). Thanks for providing the OED input, since I cannot access OED. – anemone Oct 14 '15 at 17:10
  • @anemone Ok, here is what I suspect might count as a 'good German etymological dictionary': archive.org/stream/etymologicaldict00kluguoft#page/414/mode/2up. Look at page 415, referencing both wink and twinkle. As for the OED, this link references it (and always matches or betters my printed copy): findwords.info/term/converse. If Kluge's Etymological Dictionary has provided the answer all someone needs to do is put it IN an answer and they get the bonus. Cheers... – John Mack Oct 14 '15 at 19:15
  • Thanks for the attention you've given to this question, and for the bounty. – anemone Oct 19 '15 at 10:27

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