instrumental word-forming element, expressing "appliance, tool," from Old English -ol, -ul, -el, representing PIE *-lo- (see -ule). In modern English usually -le except after -n-. As in treadle, ladle, thimble, handle, spindle, girdle; also compare dialectal thrashle "flail, implement for thrashing," from Old English ðerscel, Middle English scrapel "instrument for scraping" (mid-14c.), etc.
Related to Old Saxon spinnila, Old Frisian spindel, Old High German spinnila, German Spindel. As a type of something slender, it is attested from 1570s. As with distaff, sometimes formerly used as a metonym for "the female sex," as in Old English spinelhealf "female line of descent," distinguished from sperehealf "male line of descent."
Both these suffixes had occasional diminutive force, but this was only slightly evident in Old English -ling and its equivalents in Germanic languages except Norse, where it commonly was used as a diminutive suffix, especially in words designating the young of animals (such as gæslingr "gosling"). Thus it is possible that the diminutive use that developed in Middle English is from Old Norse.
It forms all or part of: butter; contumely; creosote; intumescence; intumescent; protuberance; protuberant; psychosomatic; somato-; -some (3) "body, the body;" soteriology; Tartuffe; thigh; thimble; thousand; thole (n.); thumb; tumescent; tumid; tumor; truffle; tuber; tuberculosis; tumult; tyrosine.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Avestan tuma "fat;" Greek tylos "callus, lump;" Latin tumere "to swell," tumidus "swollen," tumor "a swelling;" Lithuanian tukti "to become fat;" Lithuanian taukas, Old Church Slavonic tuku, Russian tuku "fat of animals;" Old Irish ton "rump."
species of tall herbs native to Europe and western Asia, 1660s, a Modern Latin translation of German fingerhut, the German name of the plant, a transferred use of the German word for "thimble," literally "finger-hat," the plant so called for the bell-shape of the flowers. Compare the English name, foxglove. The Latin name was given by Fuchs (1542). The medicine (originally extracted from the plant) is so called from 1799.
"small bag used by sailors for needles, thread, scissors, thimble, etc.," 1828, nautical slang, of uncertain origin, perhaps from the alleged British naval phrase commodity bag. Hence also ditty-box (1841).
Every true man-of-war's man knows how to cut out clothing with as much ease, and producing as correct a fit, as the best tailor. This is a necessity on board ship, for the ready-made clothing procured of the purser is never known to fit, being generally manufactured several sizes larger than necessary, in order that it may be re-cut and made in good style. [Charles Nordhoff, "The Young Man-of-War's Man," 1866]