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24 Fantastic Frequentative Words And Where They Come From

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Bobble, sniffle, sparkle. Blabber, chatter, flicker. English, along with many other languages, has a delightful class of verbs called frequentatives. Fancy name aside, these words simply show some sort of small or intense repeated action. Chattering, for instance, involves incessant chatting, and sniffling, slight and ongoing sniffing.

English can mark its frequentative verbs with the endings -le and -er. And once you spot the pattern, you’ll start noticing these curious words all over the place. Be careful, though, as English has many more words ending with -le and -er that aren’t frequentatives.

Here’s a list, by no means exhaustive, of 24 of the most unusual and surprising frequentatives hiding right in our everyday speech.


A twinkling star looks like it won’t stop winking and blinking. That’s exactly what its root, the Old English twincan, meant.


Crinkling involves lots of little cringes. Cringe originally meant to shrink or flinch.


Fizzle first meant “to fart silently.” The fizz- comes from fist, an old word for fart, related to feisty.


Slither is a creeping and crawling way to slide.


Back in the 16th century, straddle meant “to spread the legs apart,” especially while one was striding.


The root of waddle is wade. We can picture a penguin, after wading out of the sea, taking small and short steps as it waddles onto shore.


The root of flutter is fleet. Fleet is an old word meaning float. A baby bird flutters as if to keep itself afloat in the air.


If a cat skitters up a tree, it’s doing quite a bit of skiting. Now uncommon, skite means “to run off lightly and quickly.”


And if kids clamber up a wall, they’re climbing up it, hand over foot, with difficulty.


The little pushes and shoves of jostle come from joust—in all of its original horseback collision.


Tousle, which we largely use in tousled hair, is a frequentative of touse, “to handle roughly.” It’s related to the word tease, which originally meant to pull or pluck.


The ming in mingle is an Old English word for "mix." It’s also cousin to the -mong in among. Think of mingling, then, as a bustling sort of mixture.


Back in Middle English, to slumber was "to sleep lightly." Its base is an archaic verb slumen, to doze.


Sweltering heat makes it oppressively hot. Swelter is the frequentative of the Middle English swelt, to faint—and yet earlier, to die.


Swagger, first recorded in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is likely the frequentative of swag, to sway, especially from side to side. This action was later likened to a boastful gait.


Linger has lingered in the English language, but the root of this frequentative verb, leng, to length, is no longer around.


To swaddle is to snugly swathe, or wrap up, a baby.


We nestle in the sheets like a little critter forming its nest.


Wrestle is a very old frequentative verb. It’s formed from wrest, to twist, turn, or wrench, as wrestlers do on the mats.


When we haggle, it’s as if we’re chopping away at the price. Haggle is a frequentative of the obsolete verb hag, to cut or chop, related to hack.


Something dazzling puts us in a daze.


A stickler was originally a moderator or umpire, literally “one who stickles.” The now-rare stickle is a frequentative based on an old verb stight, “to set in order,” as rule-keepers are charged with doing.


A number of English frequentatives are actually borrowed from Dutch and German. Take swindler, from the German Schwindler, “a giddy and extravagant schemer.” In German, Schwindler is the frequentative of swintan, “to languish or disappear” (due to extreme light-headedness and disorientation, apparently).


Finally, we always joke we can be disgruntled but never gruntled. Well, we used to be. The “dissatisfaction” of disgruntled is rooted in gruntle, a little, low grunt. Gruntle was once an active verb in English—and perhaps it could do with some more frequency.

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]


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