Is ulula (an owl of some kind) a diminutive? It looks like one, but I'm not familiar with a Latin word looking remotely like ula. The word appears to be onomatopoetic to some extent, but it's hard to judge whether this is the whole story. For example, ulula might be "a little thing that says 'ula'". The entry in L&S lists some cognates, and they make me suspect that the diminutive or reduplication is a Latin (and Greek?) invention. What do we know about the etymology of ulula, especially concerning diminutives? There are some related words (eg. ululare and ululamen), but they all seem to be derived from ulula.

Derivation of verbs from diminutives is not unprecedented: artus > articulus > articulare.

  • 1
    You literally just edited an answer six hours ago "A few of these are fairly clearly based on the sound: [...] , ululo 'howl'" Or was that the root cause of asking this question?
    – tox123
    Oct 9, 2017 at 23:39
  • 1
    @tox123 When I came up with this question, I searched for relevant older ones. I ended up editing one. It's fairly clear that there is an onomatopoetic aspect to it, but I began to wonder if diminutive is involved too.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Oct 10, 2017 at 4:45

2 Answers 2


No, the form is accidental. Instead it's onomatopoeic, which can be deduced by it's cognates in:

Greek ololyzein [ὀλολύζειν], Sanskrit ululih "a howling," Lithuanian uluti "howl," Gaelic uileliugh "wail of lamentation," Old English ule "owl".

Greek diminutives aren't formed by a lambda. That Latin's diminutives do is coincidence.


Ululatus - defined in "The new college Latin and English Dictionary" as howling (of dogs and wolves), wailing(mourning), war cry. 2. Howl out, howl at, wail. To me since ulula -ae is owl, I assume a more accurate definition would be night howls. The root and words built on it appear to be mainly for creatures that howl, wail, or cry after dark. To answer more specifically your question, my hypothesis would be that ulula is the diminutive of ululatus, the most commonly and regularly heard creature of the night. I've not generally seen this word used for mourning, only referring to a nocturnal activity.

  • 3
    I'm not quite sure what you mean by diminutive, because, according to my prior knowledge (which may be flawed, who knows? :) ) the diminutive of ululatus would be ululatulus, which makes little sense. Also, ululatus could be a substantive (I believe that's the term for it) of the verb ululare, rather than the origin of all related terms.
    – Sam K
    Oct 10, 2017 at 1:38
  • Ululatus is the past participle of ululare.
    – cmw
    Nov 9, 2017 at 14:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.