Word of the Week (190): MORKIN (probability 12316), by David Sutton

A MORKIN is an animal that has died by accident. It is not to be confused with a MERKIN, which is a hairpiece for the pubic area.

The -KIN sounds like the usual diminutive suffix - 'ah, the poor little morkin' - but in this case it is not so: the word derives from the Latin morticina, carrion, an adjective from mors, death. Similarly, BAWDKIN is not, as you might think, a small prostitute, but a kind of rich embroidered material, originally woven with woof of silk and warp of gold thread; it has variants BALDACHIN, BALDACHINO, BALDAQUIN and BAUDEKIN.

But there are plenty of words in which -KIN is indeed the diminutive, which may now seem rather quaint or even pejorative. It is probably unwise now to refer to a LADYKIN, or little lady, even in the slightly disguised form LAKIN, which also pops up in the mediaeval oath BYRLAKIN, by our little lady, i.e. by the Virgin Mary. Similarly a royal scion might take offence at being called a PRINCEKIN.

We no longer take our beer in a CANIKIN, CANNIKIN or CANAKIN, and pubs no longer get away with serving CIDERKIN, a kind of weak cider made by steeping the refuse of cider-making, POMACE, in water There is little opportunity now to refer to a DOITKIN (or DODKIN), a Dutch coin of small value, and I suspect that a CUTIKIN, COOTIKIN or CUITIKIN is no longer to be found gaitering the manly Scottish leg. A cat is no longer referred to as a MALKIN or MAWKIN (from a diminutive of Matilda) or GRIMALKIN (which simply means grey malkin), and even those fond of mice or wolves are unlikely to speak of a MOUSEKIN or WOLFKIN.

I suppose an endearing child might still be referred to as a LAMBKIN, and a less endearing one as a DEVILKIN. And of course MANIKIN or MANNIKIN is still going strong in shop windows; this is actually a double diminutive, deriving from the Dutch. And I cannot leave Dutch etymology without mentioning the SOOTERKIN, an imaginary afterbirth of which Dutch women were supposed to be delivered, believed to be the product of the stoves over which they huddled.


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