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Doddy didn’t invent diddy, did he?

Image of a book written in Latin

Doddy didn’t invent diddy, did he?

No, there’s that of diddy in every man. Everyone’s got plenty of molecules (masslets, little big things: molecule is a modern Latin diminutive, from L moles, mass). Then there are little bodies or corpuscles bobbing about in our veins and arteries (Latin corpusculum, a diminutive of corpus, body). And we aren’t without a little sack (Latin folliculus) small versions of Latin follis, a bellows or whoopee cushion. Wind bag one may be, but follicles should be kept for hair et cetera. Other –icle things include a testicle (Latin testiculus, diminutive of testis a witness) or a vesicle, a small bladder, cyst (Latin vesicula, a little blister, diminutive of vesica, a bladder or football). In the heart the mitral valve is localized between the left auricle and the left ventricle. As blood passes from the left auricle toward the left ventricle, it’s comforting to know that in our heart there’s a mitre between a little ear (Latin auriculum, diminutive of auris, ear) and a little belly (Latin ventriculum, diminutive of venter belly).

Paradoxically some try to develop big muscles (Latin musculus ‘little mouse’, see Minimus or Maximus?). On the other hand, we are glad pustules are diminutive (pustule, a little pimple full of pus, Latin pustula, a blister or pimple, diminutive of pus, the white viscous stuff). Carbuncles (Latin carbunculus, diminutive of carbo, coal) are perhaps optimistically diminutive. We certainly don’t want nodules (lumps or tumours, Latin nodulus, a little knot, a knob). But what would one give for a built-in vineyard? Well, that small piece of soft tissue dangling down from the soft palate over the back of the tongue gets its name (uvula) from the late Latin uvula, diminutive of Latin uva, a bunch of grapes.

Grapes might be served on a kneecap or patella (Late Latin patella, a small dish or pan or plate, diminutive of patina), but only by a bear of little brain - yet even part of our brain is called the cerebellum (Latin cerebellum, small brain, diminutive of cerebrum). Little things please little minds, not brains, but Latin mens, a mind, seems to have no diminutive – or is there a possibility? Cicero begins ad fam IX.22 amo verecundiam (I just love your modesty) - by which he means that his friend Paetus is not afraid to call a membrum virile a mentula. After all (as he goes on to invent diminutives), take ruta (rue) and menta (mint): rutula is fine, but mentula! Want a little floor? Pavimentula! If Cicero can invent pavimentula, could we make mentula a diminutive of mens (accusative mentem)? Men think with ……….. ? No, surely not. Besides, mentula is not necessarily diminutive – that –ulus/a/um suffix can denote instruments like cingulum (a belt).

Neither Cicero nor our Ken invented diddy men: man already had enough diminutives to qualify as homunculus or homuncio.

About the author

Alan Beale

Alan Beale is a member of The Lit & Phil and runs one of our regular Latin classes.

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