This morning I passed a touristy apron at a stall here in Palermo. It featured a map of Italy with different regional types of pasta. I spotted the word reginetta (beauty queen/young queen). I’d never seen the word before, but assumed it was a diminuitive form of regina (queen), as the suffix -etta is often used as a (usually) feminine diminuitive form in Italian.

Just like the -ette suffix in English, borrowed from French, and found in words like cigarette, etiquette, majorette, among many others. Just after seeing reginetta though, a particularly interesting example came to mind: coquette.

It’s not a word I’d ever thought much about before, but I realised it must surely be a diminuitive, feminine form of the French word coq (cock/rooster). And that would make sense, as a coquette is a woman who is overtly flirtatious, behaviour which in the past would have been considered strictly masculine. And not only is a cock male, but is also of course a slang term for penis.

It turns out coquette is derived from coquet, a term dating back to the 17th century. Itself a diminuitive of coq, it referred to a flirt. The word was grammatically masculine, but was applied to both men and women until coquette came along late in the 17th century as a distinctly feminine form.

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