Fun Etymology Tuesday – Babble

As promised, your weekly Fun Etymology remains!

Today’s word is babble.

Recorded from the mid-thirteenth century, this verb refers to the practice of uttering words indistinctly or talking “baby-talk”.

Similar words are found in other Western European languages (such as Swedish babbla, Old French babillier) which are attested from roughly the same time (though some are likely borrowed from other languages). Though one might wonder if the name Babel might be related, there is no such evidence. However, the OED notes that the perceived connection may have come to affect the sense of the word.

The word is likely imitative of baby-talk. According to the OED, the syllable /ba/, which is often used by babies in early vocalisation, came to be seen as typical of childish speech. It then combined with the suffix –le, a verbal formation from Old English –lian and from Proto-Germanic *-ilôjan, with a frequentative1  or, sometimes, a diminutive2 effect.

And suddenly, we have babble!

It is recorded with the meaning “to talk excessively” from around 1500.

But let’s not forget that there is also a noun! The noun babble, meaning “idle talk, foolish or incoherent talk”, is, however, derived from the verb and therefore follows the same etymology. It is recorded from around the 16th century.

And that’s our Fun Etymology for today!
  1. Meaning a word that indicates repeated action.
  2. Meaning a word that has been modified to convey the smallness of the object or quality mentioned. It is commonly used to convey a sense of intimacy or endearment, such as Spanish –ita/-ito in words such as chiquita (meaning “little girl/little lady”) from chica (meaning “girl”.

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