I was at Eriksdal Baths yesterday with the kids as a half-term treat, and as my daughter bounced around in the bubbles in one of the magic caves, I pondered the suffix –ling. It’s a full time job being a language nerd.
My line of thought was sparked by the invented word youngling which is rather cleverly used in the new In Flight Safety video by Air New Zealand to mean child. It sounds suitably archaic. Tolkien also used the word halfling to refer to the hobbits.
The suffix –ling is added to a word to make it a smaller version of something as in duckling, gosling, princeling, stripling, yearling, fledgling
This is one meaning.
But the suffix has been around since Elizabethan times and originally it just meant something or someone who had a connection of some kind to the root word. As in groundling, a poorer member of the audience in Shalespeare’s time who stood on the ground.
Changeling, weakling, darling (from dear) and foundling all belong to this group.
The very old word earthling got a new lease of life when aliens in 1950s sci-fi movies started to use it to describe inhabitants of our planet.
One of the most famous –lings has nothing to do with either of the explanations: Quisling, the surname of the Norwegian Nazi collaborator. Such was his infamy that quisling is now used to describe all treacherous puppet governments.
If you enjoy this kind of thing, you’ll love this very comprehensive article.
And now, readerlings, that epic Air New Zealand Hobbit clip.