Forming nouns, often with diminutive or depreciatory implications.
[Old English or Old Norse.]
Nouns have been formed from other nouns, from adjectives, adverbs or verbs. In older formations, the sense is of a person or thing connected with the stem: foundling, hireling, nestling, suckling. In many cases the stem is rare or archaic and the link is now unclear: sibling originally meant a relative, from the Old English sib, related by descent; sterling, British money, derives from Middle English steorra, star, because some early Norman pennies bore a small star.
The ending has long had implications of smallness, especially when speaking of the young of animals or plants: duckling, gosling, fledgling, hatchling, oakling, spiderling, yearling. Occasionally terms are meant affectionately, as in darling (Old English dēore, beloved). More commonly, the associations are negative: underling, weakling, princeling, lordling, godling.
The suffix is now only used to make new words in this depreciatory sense, and not often even then: tycoonling, weedling (a person who is weedy, or weak of stature).