Sunday, December 04, 2011

What You’re Naming the Comic Villain in Your Children’s Fantasy Novel

And if not what I mention in the post title, then surely this may be helpful in securing a triple score in Scrabble when larked isn’t show-offy enough.
darkle (DARK-ul) — verb: 1. to become clouded or gloomy. 2. to grow dark. 3. to become concealed in the dark.
Seriously, who knew that sparkle had an evil twin? Darkle names an action that’s sinister in every way that sparkle is gaudy and bright. It’s actually quite true to the words’ meanings that while sparkle gets all the glory, next to nobody would know or even believe darkle was an actual word. But though darkle rhymes with sparkle, the former doesn’t share much etymological DNA with the latter. Darkle arises from the word darkling — a noun meaning “darkness,” an adjective meaning “dark” or an adverb meaning “in the dark” — as a result of back-formation, the same process that gives English words like euthanize (from euthanasia), buttle (from butler), diplomat (from diplomatic), pea (from the now obsolete pease) and the debatable, singular kudo from kudos.

You might feel like people don’t think that much about the words they use every day, and that’s probably true: They don’t think about it. But they don’t have to. Words like these show that the process of language is so ingrained that people can easily rebuild and reinterpret words using rules that similar-sounding words already follow. And that’s kind of neat.

One note about that word darkling: That’s not the verbal suffix -ing at the end. It’s actually the Middle English noun suffix -ling, which renders a word “a younger, smaller or inferior version of what is denoted by the original noun” or simply connected to that more familiar noun, according to Wiktionary. Examples? Of course. Consider duckling, fingerling, gosling, earthling, foundling, hatchling, sapling, suckling and yearling. Not an example? Lisa Ling. The Ringling Bros. probably are not, either, but maybe they should be?

Hat tip to Dina for the suggestion.

Previous words of the week after the jump.
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2 comments:

  1. I was going to suggest "gelfling" as another -ling word when I realized that that word proved your point about language being adaptive. Awesome.

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  2. Isn't that funny how it works? Even when people are attempting to name fantastical things in fantastical, fictional universes, they still can't escape the binds of their home world language.

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