Vulpes --> Vulpecula, all right, but:

Sorex --> Soriculus, not Soreculus


2 Answers 2


Latin has various diminutive suffixes. Although both words are spelled with "cul", the "c" in vulpēcula is part of the diminutive suffix, while the "c" in sō̆riculus is part of the root of the base word. We don't have *sō̆reculus because the orginal noun sō̆rex doesn't have an e after the r in forms like sō̆ricis, sō̆rices, sō̆ricum (i.e. we don't have forms like *sō̆recis, etc.)

The formation of Soriculus

The third declension noun sō̆rex has the genitive singular sō̆ricis (since the vowel alternation between short e in the nominative singular and short i in the other forms is usual for words whose nominative singular ends in -ex). If you take off the -is from the genitive singular form, you get sō̆ric-. Then add -ulus, and you get sō̆riculus.

I think Sō̆riculus may have first been coined as a taxonomic name (it doesn't seem to be in any Latin dictionary, although I was able to find an example of soriculorum being used outside of binomial nomenclature) so it isn't really the same kind of linguistic evidence as words that native Latin speakers formed themselves. However, it does seem to be regularly formed: The Formation of Latin Diminutives of Nouns and Adjectives, by Ian Andreas Miller, says that third-declension nouns with stems ending in -c- regularly form diminutives with -ul- (page 11).

The formation of vulpēcula

The third declension noun vulpēs has the genitive singular vulpis; take off the -is, you get vulp-.

Aside from the genitive singular, the nominative singular is also sometimes relevant to the formation of Latin diminutives, and it is in this case: third-declension nouns with nominatives ending in -ēs (which are mostly feminine) often form diminutives in -ēcula (Miller page 14). Miller notes that, just as some words with nominatives ending in -ēs have variants ending in -is (so in addition to vulpēs we can find vulpis used as a nominative singular) some of the derived diminutives of words of this kind end in -icula instead of -ēcula.

The form vulpiculus is listed by the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources as a synonym of vulpēcula. We can view this variant as being formed as vulp-iculus or vulpi-culus. Aside from showing -icul- instead of -ēcul-, this form has a different gender from vulpēcula. It's regular in Latin for a diminutive to match the gender of its base, and since vulpēs in Classical Latin is feminine, we expect its diminutive to be also. Variability in the gender of nouns for animals is not too uncommon, so it is not strange that either vulpēs or its diminutives were used as masculine nouns at some point in history, but for Classical Latin, it seems safest to stick to the feminine gender for vulpēs, and therefore to the ending -cula in its diminutive. (It is possible but not common for the diminutive gender-matching rule to be broken.)

If we were starting from a word *sō̆rēs, sō̆ris f., then a diminutive form *sō̆rēcula would not be unexpected.

  • One issue that's not addressed, and I think was addressed elsewhere before, is that we have Classical attestations of musculus and paterculus that don't go off the genitive. Perhaps if not here then your other post could account for the former two?
    – cmw
    Sep 21, 2022 at 0:06
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    @cmw: A complete description of Latin diminutive formation would be pretty long (as the linked guide by Miller seems to indicate). I tried to avoid outright saying here that diminutives are always built on the stem found in the genitive singular form, since as you say that's not true. But I don't know of any simple way to describe which stem they are built on.
    – Asteroides
    Sep 21, 2022 at 0:15
  • I don't think anyone does! It perhaps even changed over the years (my guess, but I don't think we can get that from textual information). Just thought it was worth mentioning considering they both had a particular kind of diminutive ending.
    – cmw
    Sep 21, 2022 at 3:03

The diminutive is formed from the genitive stem and the genitive of sorex is soricis.

The genitive of vulpes is vulpis so the diminutive can definitely be vulpiculus and it is so found in many manuscripts. For example, in the Codex Pithoeanus, the most important manuscript of Phaedrus' Fables, the spelling vulpiculus is used.

In general, formation of diminutives has a range of variation as has been discussed previously on this site.

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    I don't have access to a modern critical edition of Phaedrus' fables right now, but it would be very surprising to me if the Codex Pithoeanus used vulpiculus; Pithou's own editio princeps certainly doesn't—it has vulpecula. Can you provide some evidence? Vulpiculus was certainly in use in some variety of Vulgar Latin at some point post-classically (it's the reconstructed ancestor of French goupil), but I've never seen it without an asterisk before it. (Also the genitive of vulpes is vulpis.)
    – Cairnarvon
    Sep 21, 2022 at 2:15
  • @Cairnarvon The Codex Pithoeanus has vulpiculus, but don't let that stop you from downvoting me. Sep 21, 2022 at 2:35
  • @Cairnarvon FWIW, Holder's edition of Pomponius Poryphyrio's commentary on Horace's Epsistulae has vulpiculae. I don't have a critical edition of that text, though, so I can't say what he's basing that off. Certainly Guaglianone has vulpec- in Phaedrus.
    – cmw
    Sep 21, 2022 at 3:07
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    TD: Not everyone who asks for evidence is downvoting you. I didn't, but I doubt C. did here, either, considering it was downvoted long before his comment. C.'s question is valid: I too wonder why it's vulpiculus in the Codex Pithoeanus if Pithou's editio princeps has vulpecula. I don't have an apparatus criticus for Phaedrus' text handy, so I can't say, but it is surprising.
    – cmw
    Sep 21, 2022 at 3:12

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