‘Little Fat, Lazy, Old Woman’

I have a cartoon figure on each shoulder; one whispers “you aren’t” in my ear and the other whispers “you’re not” in my ear. I don’t know which is the devil. If you aren’t swayed by this contrived tease, you’re not likely to read further.


The prefaces to Wright’s Grammar of the Arabic Language are dated 1874 and 1896, which situates it in time. I want to give you a flavor of this monument in its English aspect. I hope you’ll savor Wright’s majestic pedantry (still helpful to the student), and marvel with me at how weirdly granular and specific it is for a language to have (or have had) a word for “fat, lazy, old woman,” in the first place, plus a way to make it diminutive.


The Arabic word for quince (the fruit)


turns into this


when it’s made diminutive (little quince). It illustrates the rule for forming the diminutive of quinqueliterals:

“When the noun contains five letters, of which the fourth is strong, or more than five, the diminutive [fuƸaiƸil-un] is commonly formed from the first four, and the rest are rejected.”

(Wright, p. 168)
[fuƸaiƸil-un] — template for the diminutive of qinqueliterals.

But exceptions to the rule include the term for a fat, lazy, old woman:


A little fat, lazy, old woman can be either this:


or this:


Wright states that the diminutive is used “not merely in its literal sense,… but also to express endearment… or contempt…, and even enhancement….”

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
This entry was posted in Anthology, Commentary and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.