-ling diminutive suffix, early 14c., from O.E. -ling a nominal suffix (not originally diminutive), from P.Gmc. *-linga-; attested in historical Germanic languages as a simple suffix, but probably representing a fusion of the suffixes represented by English -le (Cf. ICICLE (Cf. icicle), THIMBLE (Cf. thimble), HANDLE (Cf. handle)), from O.E. -ol, -ul, -el; and -ing, suffix indicating "person or thing of a specific kind or origin;" in masculine nouns also "son of" (Cf. FARTHING (Cf. farthing), ATHELING (Cf. atheling), O.E. HORING (Cf. horing) "adulterer, fornicator"). Both these suffixes had occasional diminutive force, but this was only slightly evident in O.E. -ling and its equivalents in Germanic languages except Norse, where it commonly was used as a diminutive suffix, especially in words designating the young of animals (e.g. gæslingr "gosling"). Thus it is possible that the diminutive use that developed in Middle English is from Old Norse.

Etymology dictionary. 2014.

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