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Cur Scurrula, Non Scurrulus?

"Cur Scurrula, Non Scurrulus?"
"Why Scurrula, Not Scurrulus?"

Someone may (and should) ask, "Putting aside DGT and GTR for a moment, why should we think that the form scurrula (a masculine word) is a more cogent diminutive form of scurrla (a masculine word) than scurrulus?"

I believe that this is a legitimate question. It seems to me that I have not provided a particularly good answer to it yet. In this post, I indeed to provide a complete answer.

As we know, among the Latin nouns of the first two declensions, the Latin terminations -us (stem -o-, second declension), -a (stem -ā-, first declension), and -um (stem -o-, second declension) are usually assigned, respectively, the masculine, feminine, and neuter genders.

However, that "gender-termination" assignment is not universal. Different assignments can be made:

  • -us: feminine, as in vannus; neuter, as in virus
  • -a: masculine, as in scurra; neuter as in the one-termination adjective ruricola used substantively
  • -um: masculine, as in Paegnium; feminine as in Glycerium

(Paegnium and Glycerium may be Latinized Greek names, and we may not be able to cite an example of ruricola being used substantively as a neuter, but these facts have no bearing on the main point being made here about genders and terminations.)

What these examples show is that just because a word ends in -us does not mean the word is masculine, etc.

We should not confuse nouns of these types with adjectives like bonus (-a, -um), which always associate the particular terminations with particular genders. As adjectives, bonus is used only for masculine nouns, bona only for feminines, and bonum only for neuters.

In the noun vannus, for instance, the -us is not a masculine termination, but a feminine one. The gender of the word has been morphologically tied to that particular termination, and the termination is the means by which the gender may be conveyed. As far as vannus goes, its -us implies its gender, and its gender implies its -us. The word itself regulates this link in termination and gender.

When added to nouns, the diminutive suffixes -ulus, -ula, -ulum (and their variants) form nouns, and these new nouns take the gender of their primitives. Since they are nouns, they follow whatever applicable rules of gender and termination, including those mentioned above. It is important to realize that while the -us in -ulus may be a masculine termination, it may be a feminine one. Likewise, while the -a in -ula may be a feminine termination, it may be a masculine one. And so on. But we need to fight the urge to treat these suffixes as if their genders and terminations behaved like in bonus, bona, bonum.

In the word scurra, the -a is not a feminine termination, but a masculine one. That -a of that particular word implies its gender, and vice versa.

And when the diminutive suffixes are employed to form a diminutive from the primitive scurra, the gender of the primitive becomes an important point. But the gender of scurra is tied to the termination -a. Since the -a in the suffix -ula has the ability to function as the -a in scurra, and the termination -a in scurra is the means by which the gender may be conveyed, the -a in -ula, in this case, is the means of conveying the gender that has been passed down from the primitive.

In other words, the -a in scurra is a token of the word's gender, and the gender of the primitive, after taking that gender of its primitive, by implication takes that token.

Thus we have the diminutive form scurrula, masculine, taking the gender of its primitive, indicated by the token -a.

We also have other diminutives formed in the same way:

  • Mosa, -ae, m.Mosella, -ae, m.;
  • Scaeva, -ae, m.Scaevola, -ae, m.;
  • Sura, -ae, m.Sulla, -ae, m.;
  • tata, -ae, m.tatula, -ae, m.;
  • verna, -ae, m.vernula, -ae, m.;
  • fagus, -i, f.faganellus, -i, f.;
  • vannus, -i, f.vallus, -i, f.;
  • vannus, -i, f.vannellus, -i, f..

We have here, then, a way of arriving at this method of formation without even having to evoke GTR. The phenomenon involving common terminations and genders happens as a result, anyway.

Now, it is entirely possible to come up with forms like scurrulus, valla, and so forth. But they were formed with the idea that the diminutive suffixes are purely adjectival in nature (with terminations behaving like in the adjective bonus, -a, -um), rather than nounal. Moreover, this sort of formation seems to miss the entire point that words like scurra, vannus implicitly make in their forms:

Nouns have some quirks that do not apply to adjectives, and nouns cannot really be classified into the sort of categories applicable to adjectives, especially when we are dealing directly with those that do not.


Sailor Saturn/Hotaru Tomoe

November 2013



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