To tickle


Senior Member
Belgium, Dutch
Just a brief question: how do you translate "to tickle" in your language?
Small extra question: is there sound symbolism in that word (see also below)? Or is it a metaphor? Or...?
If the tickling ia accompanied by words of sounds, please tell us too...

English: to tickle, archaic kittle
Dutch/ Nederlands: kietelen (historic / regional variation: kittelen, ketelen (e.g., in my Flemish dialect))
Said while tickling: kielekiele

Sound symbolism: all have an iterative suffix, signalling repetition: -(e)len), and a reduplication.(kielekiele)
Similar explanation: sound-expressive formation in Germanic.
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  • French: chatouiller, apparently derived from touiller, with the prefix ca- ; or from an onomatopeia k-t-l expressiing guiliguili [Dutch: kielekiele, said when you are tickling or trying to...], which of course links it with the above words]
    German: kitzeln
    Just a brief question: how do you translate "to tickle" in your language?
    Russian: щекотать schekotát' [ɕ:ɪkɐ'tatʲ]
    No immediate associations, but on the early Proto-Slavic level (*skĭkŭtati) it must be onomatopoeic (also combining the meanings "to tickle" and "to chirp").
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    It might be onomatopoeic in Arabic too. In MSA you have دغدغ (daghdagha) and Syrian Arabic كركر (gargar).
    I think onomatopeic and soundsymbolism are close, though I guess onomatopeias are more specific in that they try to imitate a sound, sound symbolism suggests something...

    /skikutati/ - I see a k and a t, which are the key elements of tickle/ kittle, but that might be a pure coincident. ski+ku and ta+ti seem like internal rhymes or something. or is that too crazy?

    Arabic seems to have a reduplication: /dagh+dagh/. No?
    In Spanish we have hacer cosquillas or just cosquillear, which is apparently an "expressive creation". Joan Corominas certainly agrees with that, stating in his Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico that (my own translation):

    "Other etymological explanations have been tried […], but the efforts that these etymologies demand in order to overcome the phonetic diversity of the different variants are in vain: we are dealing with a spontaneous creation of an expressive character, like the others that express the idea of 'tickling' in various languages: K-T-L > Fr[ench] chatouiller, Oc[citan] gatilhar, [German] kitzeln; T-T-L > Lat[in] titillare (alongside Italian solleticare and other Romance descendants); T-K-L > [English] tickle, etc."

    Here in Mexico we also have coticoti, which is a childish term for cosquillas and, in my experience, rather outdated by now.
    In Catalan, the noun is pessigolles [pəsi'ɣɔʎəs]. And although there is a verb, pessigollejar, people prefer to use the construction with ‘make’: fer pessigolles 'to tickle'.

    Synonyms for pessigolles, used in some areas, are cossigolles, cossiguetes, cuscanelles and cosquerelles. These synonyms are more clearly related to Catalan’s western sisters: Aragonese cozcas/coscas and zociguetas, Spanish cosquillas, Asturian cosques and the Galician-Portuguese cóxegas/cócegas.

    So unlike the French chatouiller, connected to the Germanic forms (k-t-l), Iberia seems to be on its own in using forms derived from an old onomatopoeic *kos(k)-, and preferring to use the ‘make + plural noun’ structure rather than one single verb. The Catalan pessigolles, though, and the local Aragonese variant pizquetas, are related to the verb pessigar ‘to pinch‘ (in Aragonese, pizcar), itself of likely onomatopoeic origin (probably connected to the Italian pizzicare, etc.)

    Verb: «Γαργαλάω» [ɣaɾɣaˈlao̞] --> to tickle, titillate < Byzantine verb «γαργαλάω-γαργαλῶ» /gɐrgɐˈlɐɔː/ (uncontracted)-/gɐrgɐˈlɔ̂ː/ (contracted) < Classical verb «γαργαλίζω» /gɐrgɐˈlid͡zɔː/ & «γαγγαλίζω» /gɐŋgɐˈlid͡zɔː/ --> to tickle, titillate (onomatopoeic formation with reduplication of «γαλ-γαλ» /gɐl gɐl/).

    Noun: «Γαργάλημα» [ɣaɾˈɣalima] (neut.), «γαργαλητό» [ɣaɾɣaliˈt̠o̞] (neut.), (AncGr) «γάργαλος» /ˈgɐrgɐlos/ (masc.), (AncGr) «γαργάλη» /gɐrˈgɐlɛː/ (fem.).
    I suddenly thought of something regarding sound symbolism.. The first words that have been mentioned in this thread were all /i/ words, and variations, i.e., the closest sound, suggesting something light, passing, etc. I thought there was some kind of logic in it.

    But chatouiller, now Greek /gargalao/, the Spanish and Catalan variants, in fact most variants do not show up this phenomenon, in spite my - supposed - logic ;-). Those vowels are basically open, I'd say, wide open, and thus are a counterpart of the /i/, which could explain why Romanians say "gadi-gadi-gadi" when tickling (#11)... I suppose the (guttural/...) plosive might account for the kind-of aggression that accompanies the tickling. But again...

    But I am afraid I'd better give up hypothesizing with regard to that...
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    Superficially, looks like a cognate with Russian чесать (chesát') "to scratch (to remove itching); to comb" < P.-B.-Sl. *kestei, ultimately from PIE *kes-.
    Interesting, this link with (a) scratch and especially with (b) itching. The latter one had come to my mind (I considered mentioning it in the question/ title), but itching in my view (or in my feeling) calls for more than tickling, more like scratching... Is your itching linked with tickling linguistically?
    Chinese seems to link itching and tickling indeed, but I'll first ask for more information.

    Your cosi/cosfa offers a wide (very wide) range of meanings, it seems to me: both verbs referring to causes (irritation, itching) and remedies (scratching, tickling, rubbing), the former intransitive, I guess, the latter transitive (maybe causative)...
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    So, the Russians remove the itch whereas we allude to the itch itself!
    The concepts aren't as remote as one could think. :) The main verb for "to itch" in Russian literally means (and may actually mean, depending on context) "to scratch oneself", with the reflexive-mediopassive postfix.