February 3, 2016

Case File #016.02.03: FONDLE

When the verb fondle first entered the English lexicon in 1694, it meant “to pamper” or “to regard with great affection.” This is because it came about as a back-formation from the now obsolete noun fondling, which in the seventeenth century meant “a much-loved or oft-petted person”—it had previously been used to mean “a foolish person,” but that's the subject of another story—and was itself the descendant of a now obsolete verb form of fond that meant “to lavish affection or dote on (someone).” Fondle didn't acquire its contemporary sense of “to handle or touch tenderly, lovingly, or erotically” until circa 1800, and its now more common licentious sense of “to molest sexually by touching or stroking” is even newer, having first come into use during the latter half of the twentieth century.

©2016 Michael R. Gates

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