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Use of "petit" in French nicknames

I noticed that "petit" is used kind of like a nickname, for example, the traditional French song "Petit Papa Noel." I don't think you would call Santa Claus small, so I'm not sure if that is like a nickname, or something else. Also there are French characters with "petit" in their names, e.g. "Le Petit Prince." Can someone please tell me why this is the case?

February 6, 2018



I'm fairly certain that this is an example of diminutization.

Here's some information that I obtained from Wikipedia:

A diminutive is a word which has been modified to convey a slighter degree of its root meaning, to convey the smallness of the object or quality named, or to convey a sense of intimacy or endearment. A diminutive form (abbreviated dim) is a word-formation device used to express such meanings; in many languages, such forms can be translated as "little" and diminutives can also be formed as multi-word constructions such as "Tiny Tim". Diminutives are used frequently when speaking to small children or when expressing extreme tenderness and intimacy to an adult. As such, they are often employed for nicknames and pet names. The opposite of the diminutive form is the augmentative. Beyond the diminutive form of a single word, a diminutive can be a multi-word name, such as "Tiny Tim" or "Little Dorrit".

In many languages, formation of diminutives by adding suffixes is a productive part of the language. A double diminutive (example in Polish: dzwon → dzwonek → dzwoneczek; example in Italian: casa → casetta → casettina) is a diminutive form with two diminutive suffixes rather than one. While many languages apply a grammatical diminutive to nouns, a few—including Dutch, Latin, Polish, Macedonian, Czech and Russian—also use it for adjectives (in Polish: słodki → słodziutki → słodziuteńki) and even other parts of speech. In English the alteration of meaning is often conveyed through clipping, making the words shorter and more colloquial. Diminutives formed by adding affixes in other languages are often longer and not necessarily understood as colloquial. Some languages can form even triple diminutives.

In some contexts, diminutives are also employed in a pejorative sense, to denote that someone or something is weak or childish. For example, one of the last of the Western Roman emperors was named Romulus Augustus, but this was diminuted to "Romulus Augustulus" to express his powerlessness.


Thanks for the informative!


You're welcome, however, this really only describes and classifies this phenomenon. Thinking more deeply about this makes me wonder about the origins behind it. Things such as if whether it's inherited or memetic, and if it's memetic, what the psychological function is. There are obviously other methods that could be used to express endearment in most languages, so why do so through projection of reduced size?


Thanks for this wonderful answer!


Well, I am not sure if it has to do with culture but you are correct. It isn't logical to call Santa Claus small. Maybe it just has to do with the way the word is used.

Example: "petit-fils" means grandson while "une petite souris" means a small mouse.

It confuses me too but I hope it helped a little.


We can use it for someone or something cute or someone very young (a child or a baby) . Your 2 examples are for an audience of children .

This song is very popular , this is how we call Santa only in this song , ortherwise we call him "Père Noël" . We could use this term "petit Papa Noël" only when we talk to a child . Actually I think we use petit a lot with babies or young children , everything is petit everything is cute . As FastFrench3 said : "Ohhh le petit chien ! Ohhh la petite bête !! " That sort of things . Don't we say tiny is cute ?

Le Petit Prince is also a story made mainly for children , and the character himself is a child (not even 10 yo I would say) .

I call my nephews and nieces like that ; I would call them "p'tit Adam" or "p'tite Sophie" ; but I stop when they become older.

If we like cats and see one , we can call it "petit chat" even if it's an adult and has a normal size . Just because we like them and think they're cute .

I hope I helped , maybe can you give us more examples ?


When we lived in France (1958-1963?), we had a cat. We brought the cat back with us when we returned to the United States. The cat's name? Petit Ami.


"petit ami" is a good example of a phrase where "petit" has nothing to do with smallness. "petit ami" means boyfriend, a romantic partner, not a "small friend".


I guess we were just ugly Americans. Our relationship with our cat was hardly romantic.


i love your user hahhahahahhahahahahahah. also, i think its like a nickname for a reason that i dont know :) sorry


أكره الناس البيض


أجيت باي يعرف الطريق


ترامب للرئيس


كيف الجحيم لا إسباك الفرنسية


language bird is crying :(

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