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Is the "-ney" in "hackney" a diminutive suffix?

What are some other words with the same suffix? Honey, Whitney,...?

5

Hackney is a placename, once a parish northwest of London in the County of Middlesex; the name derives from OE Hacan ieg, Haca's isle, designating the meadows rising out of the marshes along the Thames.

The superior grazing afforded by these meadows made the area famous for its horses, which became known as hackneys. The term designated a light horse: not a small horse but an ordinary riding horse, as opposed to the heavy horse which was used for drawing heavy loads or ridden by a fully armored knight in combat.

That name subsequently passed from the horses to a form of light carriage which was the ancestor of the modern taxicab.

The shortened version, hack, came to designate horses offered for hire; this use was eventually extended, figuratively and derogatorily, to hired workers, particularly prostitutes and writers.

  • But what I have learned is that hack means horse, and hackney means small horse. – Tim Dec 21 '13 at 3:57
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    @Tim I'm afraid you are misinformed. – StoneyB Dec 21 '13 at 4:11
  • I searched "define Hackney" in Google. – Tim Dec 21 '13 at 4:31
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    @Tim Well, the first half-dozen sources I get on that search have no such distinction; but Google respondes differently in different locations. Point me to a source and I'll address it. – StoneyB Dec 21 '13 at 13:53
  • Followed the search, the top result returned by Google says "a horse or pony of a light breed with a high-stepping trot, used in harness." – Tim Dec 21 '13 at 14:44
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No, this ending is not dimiutive. A partial list of words (including names) can be obtained on an Ubuntu Linux system easily:

$ grep 'ney$' /usr/share/dict/words
Barney
Britney
Brittney
Cagney
Carney
Chaney
Cheney
Cockney
Courtney
Delaney
Disney
Haney
Hockney
Kinney
McCartney
McKinney
Mooney
Mulroney
Orkney
Penney
Rodney
Romney
Rooney
Sidney
Sweeney
Sydney
Taney
Tawney
Tunney
Whitney
attorney
baloney
blarney
boloney
boney
chimney
chutney
cockney
gurney
hackney
honey
jitney
journey
kidney
looney
money
phoney
stoney
tourney

No obvious pattern emerges among these words which would suggest that "ney" functions as some kind of independent unit.

Nouns that end in the [n] sound can often form adjectives ending in [ni]. This is usually written "ny". Note that in the above list, "boney" and "stoney" are just misspellings. The correct spellings are "bony" and "stony".

"Baloney" was derived from "bologna", probably by way of "bologna sausage" which is just called "bologna", a confusing spelling to semi-literates who turned it into "baloney".

There is no obvious connection among nouns like "money", "honey", or "attorney". Moreover, there are nouns which end with the same syllables, but are spelled just with a "y", rather than "ey", like "pony" or the flower "peony". "Pony" could just as easily be spelled "poney". There is no rule by which we can deduce that "honey" and "money" do not sound like "pony" or "phony". The "ey" spelling is not what encodes the difference. They just have to be memorized.

  • Let's focus on nouns ended with "-ney". Does it have some meaning? – Tim Dec 21 '13 at 3:08
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It's a guess. A shot in the dark, so to speak.

If I had access to the Oxford English Dictionary I'd check there first, but I don't. I'm left with etymonline dictionary. It could be that -ney is a deviation or reflects the morphological change of the word, new.

Old English neowe, niowe, earlier niwe "new, fresh, recent, novel, unheard-of, different from the old; untried, inexperienced," from Proto-Germanic newjaz (cf. Old Saxon niuwi, Old Frisian nie, Middle Dutch nieuwe, [...] Danish and Swedish ny, Gothic niujis "new")

Otherwise it could derive from the Dutch ny

Adjective ny (neuter nyt, definite and plural ny or nye, comparative nyere, superlative nyest)

  • new
  • fresh
  • recent
  • novel
  • other
  • different

Hypothesis (I'm guessing here) It could be that "ney" was tagged onto the names of British towns that were growing and developing from the the middle ages and onwards. But as I'm not a historian, I am not going to spend the next two or four hours researching into the dates of towns, to see whether a smaller or older town/village existed earlier. I trust someone more expert than I will provide an answer.
Definitely, food for thought.

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