appended to ns., adjs., vb.-stems, and (rarely)
advs., to form ns., is a Com. Teut. formative (OE., OS., OHG.
-ling, ON. -ling-r, Goth. -ligg-s in
gadiliggs). It doubtless arose from the addition of the suffix
ING3 to noun-stems formed
with the suffix -ilo- ( -LE 1), but in all the
historical Teut. langs. it has the character of a simple
-ling added to ns. forms ns. with the general sense a person
or thing belonging to or concerned with (what is denoted by the primary
n.), as hýrling hirelin g,
In ME. and mod.E. the suffix continued to be
freely employed with the same function as in OE.; examples are
atterling, deathling, fatling, firstling,
grayling, nestling, nursling, sapling,
suckling. The personal designations in -ling are now always
used in a contemptuous or unfavourable sense (though this implication was
not fully established before the 17th c.), as courtling,
earthling, groundling, popeling (= papist),
vainling, worldling. On the analogy of words like
nursling, where the grammatical character of the initial element is
ambiguous, a few ns. in -ling have been formed on vb.-stems (taken
in passive sense), being personal designations of contemptuous import,
such as shaveling, starveling; of similar origin is
stripling, though it has lost its primary derisive sense.
The suffix is no longer productive in the uses above explained.
In ON. the suffix had a diminutive force, of which there are only slight
traces in the other Teut. langs. (cf. OE. stærling mentioned
above, and G. sperling sparrow); chiefly in words denoting the
young of animals, as
In the formation of diminutives expressing merely smallness of size, -ling has never been extensively used; a few writers of the 19th c. have so employed it in nonce-wds. (1837) I. 147 Gentry dipped in Styx all over, whom no paper javelin-lings can touch.