A Little Skin

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

A diminutive (from Latin deminuere–to make small) is a cute-ified word that expresses fondness or describes something little and perhaps feminine. In English, suffixes such as -ette and -y create diminutives. A drum major is the big guy wearing the giant hat at the front of the band. Majorettes are usually smaller and cuter. (Speaking in traditional, circa 1960s terms here.) Doggy is a sweet term for a dog, and Daddy implies a special attachment to Dad.

I’ve written about diminutives before, as in this post from way back in 2012. Latin has diminutives, too. A homunculus, for example, is a little man (from homo).

The Latin word for skin is cutis. You’re probably thinking of cutaneous and subcutaneous right now, meaning “referring to the skin” and “under the skin.” If you put a cute diminutive suffix on cutis, you get cuticula, which, you guessed it, gave us cuticle, the little bit of protective skin around our nails, a word which became prominent in English at the beginning of the 20th century.

Here’s how WebMD says to take care of your cuticles. Despite the word’s first syllable, no cutting allowed!

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