Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, November 27, 2014



Two weeks ago in the comments after the Onomatopoeia post, Christine asked about the words dive, mucus, cough & flutter. Of the three, only cough is onomatopoeic, & appeared in English somewhat dubiously in the 1300s from a German source. Though it didn’t pass the onomatopoeic test, the word flutter led me down the path that introduced me to the topic of this post. Thank you Christine.

Flutter  appears to have been around since we started calling our language English. Linguists refer to flutter as a frequentative verb. This particular sort of verb is built from a verb that communicates a single action. The frequentative verb communicates that same action, repeated. Flutter’s parent verb is float. With a bit of imagination we can see how fluttering is a bit like floating over & over again.

Ripple came to English in the 1400s from the word rip. It hadn’t previously occurred to me that ripples in a stream could be perceived as many, many rips in the water’s surface.

In the 1580s, the parent verb drip gave us the frequentative verb dribble. Soccer players applied this word to their sport as early as 1863, & it made its way onto the basketball court by 1892, only one year after the “invention” of the sport.

To sway from side to side, as a duck does, is to waddle. Given the definition, it’s no surprise that waddle’s parent verb is wade. Waddle appeared in English in the 1590s.

Another frequentative word that came about in the 1590s is puzzle. We can see the associated shade of meaning in its parent verb, pose within the phrase pose a riddle.

Straddle is most likely a frequentative form of the verb stride. English users first wrote straddle about 1560.

The 1590s brought us the wonderful figurative word muddle, frequentative of mud. It seems likely that muddle initially meant to bathe in mud, then by the 1600s, muddle picked up its figurative meaning, to destroy the clarity of.

The frequentative verb ogle showed up in writing in the 1680s & comes from the OId English word for eye, oege.

Frequentatives abound! Even as I finish this entry, I feel more posts on this theme bubbling under the surface of my blogworthy self.

Had any of you heard of frequentatives? Any thoughts on them?

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Wordnik, Etymonline & the OED.


  1. I've never heard of frequentative verbs, And neither has my spell checker. I like the word frequentative itself. Great word. And the words it describes are pretty great too. Waddle, Ogle, muddle and of course flutter! Thanks for the Friday after turkey day enlightenment!

  2. Hey Christine - thanks for coming by. May you only be ogled by those you'd like to ogle!

  3. Thanks for teaching me about frequentatives, Charlie.