I read the following content in the Oxford Latin Dictionary:

lacteolus = lacteus+ -olus, where -olus is a diminutive suffix.

The ‘normal’ form lacteus and the diminutive form lacteolus share a common interpretation milky white. I am wondering the difference of meaning between the two forms. The notion of ‘diminutive milky-white’ does not make sense to me.

Here’s an example from OLD:

nunc te lacteolae tenent puellae.

I am wondering whether the diminutive form lacteolae suggests the youth of puellae in this example?

  • 2
    My own impression from seeing this in my own reading is that the diminutive suffix on an adj. is sometimes an alternative, esp. in poetry, to the non-diminutive adj. paired with a diminutive noun. The diminutive notion is just 'transferred' from noun to adj. Still, at other times, the diminutive ending on an adj. actually seems to change the meaning, to 'somewhat x.' I guess it's your call whether you think the passage is talking about 'somewhat milky girls' or 'milky little girls.'
    – cnread
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 1:08
  • @cnread yes, exactly, you have rephrased my question neatly and accurately
    – Eunice
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 3:05
  • @cnread may I ask for your opinion on this question? which interpretation would you stand for, ‘somewhat milky girls’ or ‘milky little girls’?
    – Eunice
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 3:08
  • 1
    I'd probably go for 'milky little girls,' but context matters. I think that the line that you've quote is from Catullus, but I don't remember which poem. Usually, I think, C. would use candidus to describe the light skin that's so prized in the erotic poets; so perhaps the fact that lacteolus is used instead suggests some difference, possibly inferiority, in quality. In that case, the diminutive could serve to reinforce the inferiority: not only are the girls not strikingly white (candidae), but they're merely somewhat milky (lacteolae).
    – cnread
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 4:43

1 Answer 1


The OLD quote is a line from poem 55 by Catullus, written in the hendecasyllabic metre. Metric constraints are one reason to choose a diminutive instead of the original adjective, even if there was no difference in meaning.

The context of poetry is not only important for metric reasons, but also because it brings poetic licence to syntax. As cnread comments below the question, I would read puellae lacteolae not as "small-milky girls" but as "milky small-girls", shifting the diminutive semantically to the noun.

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