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Ficula an Ficulus?

"Ficula an Ficulus?"
"Ficula or Ficulus?"

As I mentioned in my previous posts, many (if not most) modern dictionaries show the diminutive of ficus (feminine) as ficula. I also pointed out that this particular form is problematic because the passage that is cited with this form (from Plautus' Stichus) actually shows this:

nucibus, fabulis, ficulis,

We have ficulis here, which is ablative plural, not actually ficula. We also do not have anything that specifically indicates the gender of the word.

So, theoretically, the word could be:

  • ficulus, masculine
  • ficulus, feminine
  • ficula, feminine

The first and third are based on the common notion that -us is fixed to the masculine gender and -a is fixed to the feminine gender (as seen in bonus-type adjectives), while the second is based on the gender and termination of the primitive ficus (where the -us is a visual indication of the gender that is unique to that word).

Here is a little bit of a process of elimination: since diminutives normally take the genders of their primitives, it seems that the diminutive of ficus ought to be feminine.

(The word ficus itself is a piece of work. It can be also masculine and of the fourth declension. But since its diminutive has -ul- instead of -cul- as in diminutives formed from fourth-declension words, I am willing to go with the idea that it, the diminutive of ficus, is based on the second-declension use of ficus.)

The termination is tricker. Whoever wrote the ficula/ficulus entry for the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae rightly realized the ambiguity:

fīcul(-a an -us?) f. [a ficus deminutive. Th.] PLAVT. Stich. 690 convivium est...nucibus, făbulis, -is.

Again, the ficula form comes about by treating the -ula like a bonus-type adjectival suffix (with -a assigned exclusively to the feminine gender). One could think that the default gender-to-termination assignment for -us, -a, -um (seen in corpusculum from corpus) is at work here, but it ends up being the fixed assignment seen among bonus-type adjectives anyway because -a is used regardless of what the termination is of ficus, and that termination is assigned to just one gender and not another. And yet the problem here is that we are using a bonus-type adjectival suffix when it is really a nounal suffix, and thus we are misusing the suffix.

And ficulus, as previously mentioned, comes about because it takes its gender and termination from ficus, since the -us of ficus is a visual indication of the gender that is unique to that word. When the gender of the word is carried over to its diminutive, we see the visual indication in the form of the -us. This is the reasoning behind the diminutives scurrula from scurra, and vallus from vannus. Classical examples that consistently and flat-out violate this reasoning (e.g. forms like scurrulus and valla) have not come forth.

We can come up with a nominative singular form of the diminutive of ficus according to already-established rules and conventions. By treating the diminutive suffixes as nounal instead of bonus-type adjectival (since ficus and its diminutive are nouns), and by noting the diminutive vallus, ficulus is the form we end up with.

Theory (morphological rules) and fact (Classical attestation) support ficulus, but they do not support ficula.


Sailor Saturn/Hotaru Tomoe

November 2013



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