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"A Response"

[This is a response to what has been written at the Disputatio:Planetulus page at Vicipaedia.]

I am going to dispute it once more, but this time with feeling.

  • I think it is very strange that you all were so quick to change Planetula to Planetulus after finding a single source on Google Books. Sure, you can find various other inflected forms of planetulus (e.g. planetulorum), but I can just as easily find sources showing planetula and its inflected forms there as well (planetulae, planetularum, planetulas). The earliest attestion of either planetula (with its inflected forms) or planetulus that can be found is planetula from around 1048. All other instances of either form of the word either cannot be dated or are much later. There is also the fact that planetularum was used by the notable astronomer Pierre Gassendi. Johann Jakob Scheuchzer used planetula in a letter to Gottfried Leibniz. Finally, the form planetularum was used by Nuntii Latini.

  • The reasoning that planetulus is "better" in some way than planetula has problems. It seems to be based on the mistaken notion that the diminutive suffixes in -us/-a/-um are properly adjectival and behave like bonus-type adjectives, so that a masculine diminutive noun naturally ends in -us, etc., just like what is seen with the masculine adjective bonus. But whatever their origins are, these diminutive suffixes, when added to nouns, are nounal, and make nouns, not bonus-type adjectives. And as we know, among nouns, the link between termination and gender is much more fluid than that of those bonus-type adjectives (as words like the masculine planeta show us). Moreover, among the nouns, these terminations function as visual representations of their respective words' genders (after all, why else do the grammar books tell us things like "nouns in -us are masculine except..."?). So, the -a in the masculine word scurra is the visual representation of the word's masculine gender; when speaking of scurra in reference to its gender, we imply the termination linked to that gender: -a. Neither is this -a the "feminine" termination when dealing with the word, nor does the masculine gender imply the -us termination here. This would be why we have masculine diminutive forms like scurrula and vernula and Scaevola from the masculine nouns scurra, vernula, scaeva: the gender of the primitive is indicated by -a, and when the diminutive takes that gender, it takes the gender-implied termination also. The existence of these words tells us that we ought to wean ourselves from forcing nouns to behave like unanalogous adjectives.

  • It is pretty clear that the masculine nouns -a regularly have diminutives that also end in -a, even when the latter take their primitives' genders. So:

    Mosella (m.) from Mosa (m.),
    Scaevola (m.) from scaeva (m.),
    scurrula (m.) from scurra (m.),
    tatula (m.) from tata (m.),
    vernula (m.) form verna (m.).

    Vernaculus is properly an adjective without any particular diminutive force, although it can be used substantively. The substantives can be used as diminutives of verna, but the form vernaculus is masculine and the form vernacula is feminine, just as we would expect from substantive adjectives. And yet diminutives do not normally have that sort of relationship with their primitives. But, at any rate, the point is clear about these masculines in -a from antiquity: we just do not regularly see things like scurrulus, tatulus, vernulus, and such.

  • The diminutives ficula [sic] and prunella are apparently being used as examples that feminine second-declension words have diminutives in -a, but both words have problems. The nominative singular form of ficula is not known, and the TLL rightly says, "fīcul(-a an -us?)," indicating that the -a is not really certain. (The ficula is being assumed apparently because of the mistaken notion I mentioned above.) And Souter's Later Latin shows that prunella/prunellum is the same as prunulum ("small plum," the fruit, not the tree), where prunella implies as its primitive the post-classical pruna ("plum," where we got our word prune, according to the OED), created by a gender and declension confusion of the plural form of prunum. So, prunella does not come from prunus. (There is another word prunella, with various etymological theories, but all of these are hardly relevant.) And yet we do have vallus (f.), the diminutive of vannus (f.). Unlike ficula, at least we can know that the nominative singular form of vallus is vallus, and unlike prunella, vallus is not being associated with the wrong primitive. (George Kleppinger Strodach's Latin Diminutives in -ello/a- and -illo/a- also cites a faganellus from fagus, by the way.) Vallus corresponds to vannus in the same way that scurrula corresponds to scurra: the termination, the visual representation of the gender, is given to the diminutive. And so, going by that logic, the expected diminutives of ficus and prunus are ficulus and prunulus (if we want to use the -ul- "family" of diminutive suffixes), not ficula and prunella.

Of course, you are free to keep the Planetulus instead of changing it back to Planetula, and you are free to cite as many sources as you want for the former, but be aware that not only does it promote a misunderstanding of the use of those diminutive suffixes (i.e. -us is the masculine termination of diminutives, etc.), but also it does not reflect either the theoretical basis of words like scurrula and vernula (i.e. gender is tied to termination like that in the primitives) or the actual empirical evidence (i.e. the consistent existence of words like scurrula and vernula and the others, and the consistent lack of words like scurrulus and vernulus and the others).


Sailor Saturn/Hotaru Tomoe

November 2013



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