Tag Archives: sillykin

sillykin

What’s a sillykin? Is it an inane family member? No… well, it might be, but that’s not what the kin part is. A sillykin is any sort of fool or simpleton. It can be a term of endearment or mild reproach, when uttered towards a family member or friend (or perhaps paramour), but it can also be about as flatting as nitwit.

The -kin, in this case, is a diminutive suffix. It’s related to German -chen, as in Liebchen and Mädchen and Gretchen. It shows up in English words such as munchkin and bumpkin and gherkin. And you know silly, of course: it comes from the same Germanic root as modern German selig, ‘blessed’; the original sense in English was also ‘blessed’, but it shifted over time through ‘innocent’ and ‘naïve’ to ‘inane’. And you could say that in a way it has come full circle (or perhaps never fully went away from its origins), since a sillykin is the sort of person of whom you might say “Well, bless his little heart.”

The history of its construction also means that sillykin isn’t said like “silly kin.” The suffix is typically destressed to the point of neutralization (which, come to think of it, is what some of us are trying to achieve when we drink ourselves into sillykins), and the second vowel is also reduced, so that it’s more like “sillikin” or “sillakin” or “sillikan.”

We tend to have old-fashioned ideas about what a fool or simpleton might be: some buffoon in farcical clothing making obvious mistakes in the management of horses, for example. But in the modern era, a sillykin could be some guy sitting at his computer, thinking himself very smart but making something with very obvious security flaws – such as an “anonymous free speech” platform that’s easily hacked so the full identifying details of everyone on it can be downloaded – or perhaps thinking that he’s invented the convenience store of the future when he’s just re-created the automat, or thinking that the solution to traffic problems is a system that, among other things, moves only one car at a time and requires an elevator to get the car into and out of it. And that is why they call all those guys the Sillykin Valley.

What? Silicon Valley? Are you sure? They sound the same, you know…