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Looking on the Leo, the verb stillen means to breastfeed.

The English verb contains the word breast. Something similar happens in Italian (allattare, which contains latte-milk).

What is the etymology of stillen? Does it have anything to do with the English word still?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You are on the right track. The verb "stillen" indeed originates from the same stem with the English and Old English "to still". Both are also found in Old Saxonian (stilli) and West Germanic (stellja-).

Originally it only had the meaning of to calm, to satisfy. In Middle High German only this meaning shifted towards to allay hunger or thirst, and to nures a child in the 16th Century. Since then it is used for a mother (breast) feeding her child.

From Grimm's Wörterbuch we find the following very early examples of this usage:

"mater lactat seuget oder stillet das kind" Steph. Riccius Terent. com. Andria (1586) 382; "und die mütter also auszgesogen werden, dasz sie nicht mehr stillen können" J. Ruoff hebammenbuch (1580) 152; "Erassmus ... hatte eine seugamme bestellet, das kind zu stillen" Grimmelshausen 2

It was indeed used in the meaning of to calm down the otherwise crying child with a considerable overlap with the other meaning of to allay one's thirst.

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Yes, it is related to still, originally meaning make silent, calm down etc. See the entry in Deutsches Wörterbuch (section 2c, far down in the article).

There are alternative expressions, such as (einem Kind) die Brust geben.

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I use stillen only in these situations:

  • breastfeed

Die Mutter stillt ihr Baby.

  • to allay so.'s (thirst/hunger)

Ich stille meinen Durst und Hunger, indem ich etwas trinke und etwas esse.

  • to satisfy curiosity

Ich konnte meine Neugierde stillen, indem ich das Geschenk endlich auspackte.

  • to soothe a pain

Die Tabletten halfen, den Schmerz zu stillen.


Rarely I hear:

  • to stop a bleed / to staunch a wound

Der Arzt konnte die Blutung der Wunde stillen

(in my opinion "Der Arzt konnte die Blutung stoppen" would be better, but stillen in this case is also correct I think)


Update:

Sorry, while thinking too much about the examples, I forgot about to answer to the etymology of stillen:

Beside some sources telling you it's coming from still sein (being silent), it "feels" for me that's just one possible part. When thinking further, it has also a kind of relationship to the words "beruhigen" and "mäßigen" (to moderate) and to the phrase "wieder im Einklang sein mit etwas" (to be again in line with sth., to harmonize, to resonate)

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Always interesting to hear about the connotations that people associate with individual words. It gives one a chance to compare these to one's own mind-map. Nonetheless, connotations are not etymology; just thought I'd mention it. –  Eugene Seidel Jul 22 '13 at 10:26

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