The Origins of Batter, Patter, Stutter, Flutter and more

That batty Batman was long gone but I was still pondering. What about the verb batter, meaning ‘to strike with repeated blows of an instrument or weapon, or with frequent missiles; to beat continuously and violently so as to bruise or shatter’? The OED says it’s the verb bat- ‘to beat’ + the “frequentative suffix” –er. Okay, a frequentative suffix takes a verb and puts it on repeat, but why does the OED say, “Compare stutter, patter.” To patter is to pat over and over, but can one “stut” only once? Turns out, stut is an obsolete word for – wait for it – stutter, so the –er is redundant.

Rafting_MezzanaThere are more interesting examples of the frequentative –er. For example, flutter used to mean ‘to be borne or lie tossing on the waves; to float to and fro.’  It comes the obsolete verb to fleet, meaning ‘to float,’ which is, naturally, the source of the noun fleet, ‘a sea force, or naval armament.’

Wander is related to wind and wend. Wend means ‘to go in a specified direction, typically slowly or by an indirect route’ and is now heard almost exclusively in the expression ‘to wend one’s way.’ If you’ve ever wondered why the past tense of go is went, it went astray; it was originally the past tense of wend.

But I’ve wandered astray. Back to bats later.

 Photo: Rafting in the ”Val di Sole” near Mezzana, Trentino, Italy  Herbert Ortner, Vienna, Austria, via Wikimedia Commons

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