Forgive me if this is already answered.

As a little background, I use English as a second language and am a bit interested in etymology.

Recently I came up with an observation that many English words which are associated with tools end with '-dle'. For instance, we have words like 'bindle, cradle, huddle, griddle, saddle, paddle' to name a few. Maybe it is a hasty generalization, but I begin to suspect that this suffix is associated with certain meaning which is not known to me.

Unfortunately a quick googling showed nothing to me, so I would appreciate any clarification on this subject.

  • 1
    Go to etymonline.com and key in the various words you have. See if any of them seem to have a common origin. – Hot Licks Mar 10 '17 at 0:39

The suffix you are looking for is -le, not -dle

According to dictionary.com:

1. a suffix of verbs having a frequentative force: dazzle; twinkle.

2. a suffix of adjectives formed originally on verbal stems and having the sense of “apt to”: brittle.

3. a noun suffix having originally a diminutive meaning: bramble.

4. a noun suffix indicating agent or instrument: beadle; bridle; thimble.

  • 1
    Thank you for the clarification. That also explains why I did not get useful results from my googling. – Sangchul Lee Mar 10 '17 at 0:52

The suffix is actually -le or -el (which represent a variation in spelling, the -le being the more common spelling in modern English). Consult etymology online. The preceding consonant, as in your words is often a d, nd,...

See also the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives three different derivations of -le, including

1 The usual modern English form of Middle English -el(e, -le, representing Old English -el, -ela, -(e)le in nouns and -ol, -ul, -el in adjectives.

The Old English nouns and adjectives with l suffixes are probably in most cases of pre-English formation. The nouns formed on noun-stems have sometimes an originally diminutive sense, as in bramble; sometimes they express the notion of ‘an appliance or tool’, as in thimble, handle. In those formed on verb-stems the function of the suffix is either agentive as in beadle, instrumental as in bridle, girdle, or expressive of some less definable relation, as in bundle. The adjectives, which are formed on verb-stems, have the sense ‘apt or liable’ (to do what the verb expresses), as in brittle, fickle, gripple, nimble, †swikel.

By pre-English formation, it means the suffix was already part of the word when it entered English, whether from Old German, Old Dutch, even Latin (example, fiddle may derive from Latin vitula , vidula, whereas handle comes from Old German).

Note also

The form -el (suffix1) is retained where phonetic law or orthographical convention does not permit the change into -le, as after ch, g soft, n, r, sh, th, and v. After m the suffix becomes -ble.

Quotes from Oxford English Dictionary, emphasis mine; abbreviations spelled out.

  • Thank you for the detailed explanation. The emphasized phrase seems to suggest me that, although there is a common consensus on the meaning of the suffix -le, it is actually hard to track down because it is probably of an old origin. Still it makes me happy as it teaches me what kind of atmosphere this kind of words conjure. – Sangchul Lee Mar 10 '17 at 1:12
  • @Sangchui For most words with the ending, the etymology is clear; it's not as clear for some, such as fiddle. You should check etymology online and see what it says for fiddle. (I don't know what it says, I've looked only in the OED.) PS-link to fiddle, see the notes on the noun form (nominative). – AmE speaker Mar 10 '17 at 1:53
  • The nominatived formed on noun-stems This should be "the sbs [substantives] formed on noun stems" Substantive means a noun in the OED nomenclature. I'll leave that for you to fix. Upvote, in any case. – deadrat Mar 10 '17 at 5:09
  • @deadrat I've double-checked & proofread the abbreviations I had spelled out. Lower case ns actually stands for nouns (not "nominatives") in the OED. And the OED doesn't use the term "substantive" (or "nominative") in this definition. The phrase in question now reads correctly as The nouns formed on noun-stems. (E.g. bramble is from broom.) Thank you for your input. – AmE speaker Mar 10 '17 at 16:28
  • @Clare I'm guessing you're using the online version. Alas, all I have is the original printed version, which uses the idiosyncratic terminology. – deadrat Mar 10 '17 at 18:03

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