Is there something intrinsically amusing about a diminutive? I mean the process of adding an 'ie', 'y' or 'ey' on to the end of something to somehow make it more appealing, or smaller (in size, that is), or less intimidating.
So when we call a redhead 'Blue' (only another ginger can call a ginger ginger*), would it mean that we're on more familiar terms with them if we call them 'Bluey'?
Then too, the diminutive can be used in contempt, as a way of deliberately belittling someone or something, or of making them somehow less important, or even less credible.
Of course, like any other part of language, the diminutive is used in jokes. The ancient Greeks had a word for it, and an example. I was looking up the 'obol' the other day, finding it to be a weight or coin in Ancient Greece, originally in a long rectangular shape - though, interestingly, while the Athenians moved to lighter coinage, apparently the Spartans retained the irritating connection between weight and value with iron coins designed to be so inconveniently heavy as to discourage the perceived social fault of accumulating too much wealth. But I digress.
The 'obol' or 'obolos' (and 'obelos') gives the notion of rod-shape and the 'isk' is a suffix indicating size - not quite a diminutive, perhaps, but nonetheless, convincing evidence of a sense of humour when you see the word 'obelisk' (perhaps blame Herodotus).
But how did I get to the diminutive being funny in itself?
Well, I keep finding comedians called 'Jimmy'. Not James. There are nowhere near as many funny Jameses as there are Jimmies. Think Durante, Clitheroe, Tarbuck and Edwards not to mention Jimmy Carr and Jimmy Fallon more recently. Do we call them 'Jimmy' because they're comedians? Or did the name itself, with all its diminutive connotations, make them funny?
And who, by the way, is your favourite Jimmy?
* Thank you, Tim Minchin
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