Ramekin, napkin, bodkin and bumpkin

I came across a discussion about the word pig, originally about its etymology, but as with such things the conversation spread across many different pig connected and not so pig connected and eventually I made a comment.  The discussion had moved on to the use of ‘kin’ as a suffix to mean small or young; I think it’s gone out of common use, except in surnames such as Hopkin, Tomkin, Parkin, etc. However,  when I looked it up I found a list of over sixty words; some are in such common use it might not be obvious that there is a suffix or that it means small – although the item might be small such as ramekin, napkin, bodkin and bumpkin. Some of the list seemed artificial and modern, such as fictionkin and essaykin, some of them seemed so obscure I had to think about what they might mean such as canakin (used by Melville in ‘Moby Dick’) and griskin which, back to pigs, is some cut of pork. Adding an ‘s’ to kin is still used as an endearment, babykins, mummykins, boykins, but I guess the recipient of such would prefer it to be private!

In the discussion I made a comment of two ‘-kin’ suffixes which sprang to mind; in the Inspector Alleyn mysteries by Ngaio Marsh, Alleyn calls his sergeant, Fox, Foxkin, which these days sounds very arch and peculiar. Going back to a book I read as a child, ‘The Coral Island’ by R. M. Ballantyne, the three boys who are stranded on the island are Jack, Ralph and Peterkin. It was one of my favourite books, which I read so innocent of themes which now seem more than outdated,  and definitely on every level politically incorrect and racist. The book was published in 1857, and obviously was an inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson and his book – another childhood favourite of mine, ‘Treasure Island’, published twenty-five years later. Another writer who took ‘The Coral Island’ as a starting point for a deserted island adventure with children as teh main characters, was William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’. His characters even have Ballentyne’s names, Jack, Ralph and Piggy not Peterkin and ‘was written as a counterpoint to (or even a parody of) The Coral Island’ (Wikipedia)

Strange isn’t it, how a discussion about one thing – in my experience today, the etymology of the word ‘pig’ to the novels of Ngaio Marsh, and memories of books I read as a child!


  1. Lois

    I wish I had my old books – a whole box of them got lost when I moved and someone was looking after them for me, but then didn’t! I only have a couple left – wonderful for you to have yours. Yes, I guess they must seem dated but at the same time so familiar! x


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