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Word for the Wise July 26, 2006 Broadcast Topic: Take a hint

If we'd had even the slightest hint that inkle and inkling both refer to something small and of little consequence, we'd have been sure to have been using both terms by now. (来源:英语杂志 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

We only discovered the existence of inkle when a listener asked us to confirm its legitimacy. It is indeed legit, although lexicographers characterize inkle as chiefly English dialectal and note that it is a back-formation from the older inkling. To inkle is to "have an inkling of." These days, an inkling is "a faint or slight suggestion; a hint or intimation." Before we move on to hints and intimations, we'll look at the original meaning of inkling. Inkling has kin in the Old English word meaning "suspicion; doubt; quarrel." Its original (now dialectal) sense was "a faint perceptible sound" or "undertone."

The word hint—which comes from the now-obsolete hent, meaning "act of seizing"—originally named an "occasion that can be taken advantage of; opportunity." That sense is now archaic, but hint seized the opportunity to stick around in our lexicon with the senses "clue; suggestion; a statement conveying by implication what it is preferred not to say explicitly."

And that's enough hinting around for us. We'll close with an explicit explication of the tale of intimate. Originally, to intimate was "to make known publicly or formally; announce." That sense was soon followed by what is now its more usual meaning: "to make known delicately and indirectly; hint."

 
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