or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Grab Bag

The other day I was watching a film on Netflix, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which you may remember is a film noir parody carefully constructed so that scenes from old black-and-white movies can be edited into it, complete with dialogue, and have the whole thing make at least some sort of sense. At one point, star Steve Martin puts on blonde-lady drag so he can be in a couple of scenes (as Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Deitrichson in "Double Indemnity") with Fred McMurray. He drenches himself with a perfume called "Fondle Me", and of course at that point I had to stop the movie for a minute while I pondered, and then looked up, the etymology of "fondle".

It certainly looks like a frequentative: "fond" plus the usual "-le" suffix. But "fond" isn't a verb! How can it be the source of a frequentative verb?

The obvious answer is that "fond" once was a verb, way back in the late seventeenth century: it meant "to dote upon". Its frequentative therefore meant "to perpetually treat in an affectionate manner", and only a hundred or so years later came to have its current meaning, "to caress", which is not much of a stretch. As an adjective, "fond" started out meaning "silly" (it may have an etymological connection to "fun"), and only later came to its current meaning, which is, approximately, "made foolish by affection".

"Fondant", of course, is unrelated, being the French adjective from the verb "fondre", "to melt", the source of English "foundry".


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