In History, Words

jigsaw pieces

Did you do Wordle today? What about Quordle? Heardle? Worldle? Waffle? My current favourite is Turdle, where they show you a silhouette of an animal dropping and you have five goes to guess what creature it belongs to. It’s both educational and emotionally rewarding.

Have you noticed how much of our time we spend talking about puzzles these days? Once upon a time, if you went to a social gathering, you would break the ice by asking an open question about the wallpaper or the Test Match or the latest politician to be found guilty of lying. These days the default icebreaker is, “What word do you put first in Wordle then?”

I wanted to introduce some variety to the conversation so I decided to do some research on the word ‘puzzle’ and that’s when I came across ‘frequentative’. Apparently a frequentative word is a form of a word that indicates repeated action. So, for example, crackle is the frequentative form of crack, sparkle of spark, dazzle of daze and so on.

And apparently puzzle is thought to have originated as a frequentative form of pose. So, I suppose, where you might pose a single question, a puzzle poses a number of questions. Or something like that.

Perhaps surprisingly, given that they didn’t have the internet, the average Briton in the Middle Ages didn’t go much for puzzles. You would think they would have had all sorts of brainteasers and things to do with string to kill time during those long winter’s evenings but, in fact, the word ‘puzzle’ was rarely used as a noun until the 18th century, when the map engraver John Spilsbury invented the jigsaw puzzle.

We should just pause at this point to acknowledge what a great name Spilsbury is. John’s older brother, also a celebrated engraver, was called Jonathan. Apparently the two are often confused. Funny that.

If you want to spot a frequentative word, look out for the ‘le’ or ‘er’ endings. So ‘flitter’ (float), ‘glimmer’ (gleam), ‘nuzzle’ (nose), ‘sniffle’ (sniff). It’s fun to play and it costs nothing.

Wordle, by the way, is not a frequentative word. It just happened to be invented by a bloke called Josh Wardle. Turdle, however, is.

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