Having recently learned about frequentative forms, I began to wonder, is fiddle a frequentative form? I've seen the suggestion that -le in this case was a pre-English formation, but the meaning "to touch or handle something in a nervous way," as well as some of the others (such as playing a violin) have a distinctly frequentative idea which makes me question that claim. Also, it makes me wonder: how far back in the history of English does -le to form frequentatives go?

Is there compelling evidence to decide the question of whether fiddle should be considered a frequentative form? If it is, what is the root form? (Or perhaps that assumes too much and I should also ask: Does a frequentative form always have a root, or would some actions only exist in a frequentative form?)

  • 1
    Can you explain what possible difference it could make?
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 30, 2019 at 18:45
  • The Wikipedia article you link says most present-tense verbs in English are frequentative, and fiddle as a verb is present tense, so there's your answer. I agree with @HotLicks, though: who cares?
    – Robusto
    Jan 30, 2019 at 20:14
  • It is frequentative but not iterative as the article, to which you link, explains.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 30, 2019 at 20:34
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    @Robusto The fact that the simple present carries a frequentative meaning by default does not make all verbs frequentatives. There’s a difference between a frequentative verb (one which usually has a frequentative derivational suffix, but which doesn’t necessarily carry a transparently frequentative meaning) and frequentative meaning (a purely semantic category applicable to more or less any verb). The question here is asking whether fiddle is the former, not whether its simple present forms are the latter, which is trivial. Feb 28, 2019 at 0:49

1 Answer 1


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) indicates that fiddle the verb (first OED citation from 1377) is derived from fiddle the noun (first OED citation "c1275", second from 1377).

If that is correct, then the -le cannot have been added in English as the frequentative verb suffix.

Unfortunately, the etymology of the noun seems to be unclear. The OED gestures at Latin "vitula, vidula", which looks to me like it has the common Latin diminutive suffix -ula. There was a question on Latin SE about vitula.

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    The diminutive sounds likely to me. After all the mediaval fiddle (possibly a rebec) was gradually replaced after the 17th century development of the Amati viols by the violin but the name was retained in popular speech and applied to the modern violin. The point is that the 'in' ending indicates that the violin is a small viol so a similar process applying to the earlier fiddle is quite possible.
    – BoldBen
    Feb 8, 2019 at 12:11

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