Frequentatives: Crack and Crackle

April 13, 2016

snapcracklepop

CRACK AND CRACKLE

A crack of lightning.
Snap, crackle, and pop.

Crack and crackle are self-clearly close in both form and meaning. They both refer to a loud noise. But what is the exact relationship and the difference between these two words?

crack v. to break … make a sudden, sharp sound…

crackle v. to make slight, sudden, sharp noises, rapidly repeated.

So crack is a one-time sharp noise, whereas crackle is a similar noise repeated in quick succession.

FREQUENTATIVES

Linguistically speaking, crackle is the frequentative derived from crack. Frequentatives are a repetition of the action happening in quick succession.

In English, the morphological devices to form the frequentative are no longer productive. That means we can’t readily make new frequentatives. None-the-less, there are a great deal of frequentatives still found in English and still very much in use. It is/was formed by adding –er or –le to the word. Pat on the head. Patter of tiny feet.

One of my favourite examples: wrest, wrestle. Wrest means grab, pull, or seize: think “wrest control”. Wrestle means to grab, pull, or seize many times in quick succession.

FREQUENTATIVES IN -LE AND -ER ARE EVERYWHERE!

This appaently exotic-sounding form is in fact extremely common in English, although sometimes the non-frequentative and frequentative are slightly different in form. And sometimes the link in meaning between the two forms is no longer close. Here are just a few examples. I invite you to think about the meaning of each of the following pairs.

beat, batter
bob, bobble
chat, chatter
climb, clamber
clot, clutter
crack, crackle
crumb, crumble
dab, dabble / dapple
drip, dribble
daze, dazzle
flit, flitter
gleam, glimmer
gob, gobble
grab, grapple
hack, haggle
jig, jiggle
nest, nestle
nose, nuzzle
pad, paddle
prate, prattle
spit, spittle/spatter
throat, throttle(!)

See here for more.

WHEN -LE, WHEN -ER?

Sometimes –le is added, sometimes –er. Truth be told, I cannot make out a pattern for when one is used or not. Both forms seems to pop up in the same phonetic environments.

If we were to make new words in the frequentative, it might be best to go with whichever ending causes least confusion. For example, let’s invent a new word for to ‘constantly nap’, that is, to go in and out of sleep like an elderly person. The word would be nap plus either –er or –le. However, napper would likely be understood as a noun meaning someone who naps (baker, teacher, drinker). Therefore, we could say napple instead which would not have this ambiguity.

BUT THIS MORPHOLOGICAL DEVICE IS NO LONGER PRODUCTIVELY USED

But for some reason, despite the widespread use and usefulness of –le and –er to form frequentatives in English, this morphological device seems to be underused to the point of nowadays being extinct. Why is this so? Perhaps the common use of –er to form comparatives (taller) and agent nouns (killer) and the general occurence of –le with no discernible meaning (cattle, bottle, tale) took away from the force of these word endings and helped lead to their death.

Yet the frequentative is very useful, and nothing else in English quite captures the frequentative like –er and –le.

NEW WORDS?

The frequentative is used in so many words that still exist. And as you can see, quite often there is a clear link in form and meaning between the non-frequentative and the frequentative forms of a word (for example, crack and crackle). So for me, the frequentative is a classic example of what Project Wrixlings is all about: making use of extant Germanic roots and word-making mechanisms. New words can, and according to this project, should be made.

What words can you think of for new frequentatives? Here are some suggestions with Standard English translations.

nap: napple ‘to nap a lot, to go in and out of naps or sleep like an elderly person sat in their chair in front of the television’

shit: shittle ‘to shit in dribs and drabs like spittle, either solid or watery’

sip: sipple ‘to sip continuously from a cup without pause’ [this is how my wife drinks a lot of the time]

smack: smackle ‘to smack many times, esp. effeminately as in a ‘bitch fight’; to kiss all over as when playing with a child’

think: thinkle ‘to dance from thought to thought’

throb: throbble ‘pulsate, palpitate’

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/08.12/images/snapcracklepop.jpg

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