inkling

Edgar Frick and Marilyn Frack appeared to be wrinkling their brows more than usual. And, in fact, their brows appeared to be more than usual. As I neared the leather-clad duo, who were also looking even more than usually feral – yet still urbane – I discerned that they had Star-Trek-derived rubber prostheses on their heads. And their leather suits had somehow managed to acquire a number of loose socks and other light fabric items, apparently (if unbelievably) held on by static.

Well, what the heck. It was the Order of Logogustation’s pre-Hallowe’en masquerade. If I could come as ogham (in a rather scratchy suit), they could come as…

Kling-ons,” Edgar said, raising his glass of sparkling wine. He tapped it with Marilyn’s and they simultaneously chimed “Kling!”

“Oh, yes,” Marilyn said, chuckling, “we’re having a crackling good time this evening.” She made a little frisson that caused her fizzy wine to slosh.

“Careful, dear,” said Edgar, “you’re sprinkling.”

“And apparently you’re both pickling,” I observed. “But I see you’re testing the limits of our truckling and stickling, coming as a pseudo-morpheme.”

“Are you heckling?” asked Marilyn, her eyes twinkling.

“Oh, no, no,” I said. “Any word taster with so much as a darkling inkling will pick out the tickling of a good pseudo-morpheme. Of course one most usually uses pseudo-morpheme to mean something that’s a morpheme in one place and appears falsely as one in another, such as car in carpet.”

“But copter in helicopter can be called one,” Edgar pointed out. “And so why not kling, which shows up in so many places?”

“Although sometimes across syllable boundaries, and sometimes with a long or even syllablic /l/,” I reminded him.

“Well,” Marilyn said, “they really all fall into one of two sets: verbs with the frequentative le suffix, with ing added, like tinkling, and nouns ending in k that have the diminutive or relational ling suffix added, like duckling.”

“And they have that stop-liquid movement of the tongue that sets your skin prickling,” Edgar added, running his finger up Marilyn’s spine. Marilyn obliged with another frisson.

“You’re certainly not missing the echoes,” I said, looking at their static cling and their glasses. “But you are missing one word that doesn’t fit either pattern.”

“Well,” Marilyn said, eyebrow arched, “I don’t have an inkling what that would be.”

“You rather do,” I said. “You just said it, in fact.”

“But inkling comes from inkle!” Marilyn protested.

Inkle is really a backformation,” I said.

Edgar raised an index finger. “It’s you against the OED, old boy.”

I raised an index finger right back at him. “But even the OED gives only two citations that they don’t themselves describe as backformations, and they can’t say where those come from. Whereas the American Heritage Dictionary has a rather anfractuous explanation that follows it from niche through nik, ‘notch’ or ‘tally,’ through nikking, meaning ‘slight indication’ or ‘whisper,’ to ningkiling, which, through false splitting, went from a ningkiling to an ingkiling, or an inkling.”

“Well, that’s a bit of linguistic swashbuckling,” Marilyn said, crinkling her nose.

“And we nonetheless have to deal with the ink, which is an indisputable pseudo-morpheme,” Edgar said. “There’s no ink in this word, but who can’t think of an ink spot when saying it? Or perhaps a little pen imp peeking from the inkpot?”

“Ah,” Marilyn purred, “a darkling little darling.”

“And there’s a word that goes both ways,” Edgar said, almost leering. “Darkling, such a nice poetic word, suckling at the teat of Erato.” (Marilyn gave another frisson and tossed back her sparkling.) “Originally dark plus ling, but more recently backformed to darkle.”

“No need to engage in wanton Eraticism while tackling these words, you Greekling,” I said.

Marilyn winked and stroked the back of a fingernail down my cheek. “Oh, don’t be a weakling,” she said, cackling.

“We cling? Oh,” I replied, “I’m glad to let you cling.” Which they were. To each other. But they were closing on me, too.

Marilyn gave me an elevator look, and I don’t think she was reading my ogham. “Edgarrrrr,” she mrowled, “I think someone needs a spankling.”

At which point I made myself scarce in a twinkling.

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