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In languages where the diminutive is productive (such as Slavic languages), many words derived as a diminutive have a meaning completely decoupled from their origin, and do not anymore "convey the smallness of the object or quality named, or a sense of intimacy or endearment" (diminutive). Even if the native speakers still might feel the relation, you cannot simply "de-diminutivate" them, you must use them in the exact diminutive form to get the new meaning.

Does this phenomenon have a name?

Examples in Czech:

  • kohout (rooster) → kohoutek (tap)
  • hlava (head) → hlávka (a piece of cabbage) → hlavička (head of nail, header in soccer)
  • pomlka (pause) → pomlčka (dash)
  • panna (virgin, also an obsolete term for a girl) → panenka (doll)
  • slečna (miss) → slečinka (squeamish)
  • hřeben (comb) → hřebínek (bird's crest)
  • pár (couple) → párek (sausage)
  • minuta (minute) → minutka (short order)
  • kolo (wheel) → kolečko (wheelbarrow)
  • zahrada (garden) → zahrádka (restaurant with outside seating)
  • A number of Romance lexical items derive from Latin diminutives, particularly for short words, which tended to get lost with sound changes. One famous example is French abeille 'bee', from Latin apiculus, dim of apis 'bee'. – jlawler Sep 23 '20 at 15:55
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    @jlawler That's a little distinct from this phenomenon, where the meaning of the diminutive is no longer compositional. In your example, both the derived term and the original term have the same meaning. That said, I think we should be able to find examples of the above phenomenon in Romance too. – jogloran Sep 23 '20 at 19:58
  • Funny enough, we call a bird's crest a comb in English :) – Luke Sawczak Sep 23 '20 at 21:43
  • @LukeSawczak Well, in Czech only the diminutive form means the birds' crest. So you must say something like "small comb". But the diminutive form still also means "small comb" or expresses your fondness for the comb. – Honza Zidek Sep 24 '20 at 8:05
  • This is so common that one could argue that it's not strictly a diminutive, but a derivative suffix, more like -nik, and one of its functions is diminution. – Adam Bittlingmayer Sep 25 '20 at 5:17
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These have been referred to as "lexicalised diminutives" in the literature. The terms "fossilised/frozen diminutive" also occur in other works.

This paper by Bagasheva-Koleva is specifically about the phenomenon you're describing in Slavic languages.

This dissertation by Katramadou uses the same term to refer to words like Greek κορίτσι (historically the diminutive of κόρη "daughter").

References in the literature to lexicalisation of diminutives in other languages:

  • Yes, that's exacly what I mean: "a diminutive noun loses its meaning of diminutiveness and acquires a new lexical meaning different from the lexical meaning of the diminutive form or the base noun." (Bagasheva-Koleva). Thanks! – Honza Zidek Sep 23 '20 at 7:12
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    Anything in there about re-dimunitization? – Azor Ahai -him- Sep 23 '20 at 19:39

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