Thursday, April 7, 2016



After last week’s look at terms referring to parents, we’ll take a couple of weeks considering some of the words we use to refer to children.

The Old English word cild had a broader meaning than our modern word child. It meant infant, newly born person, unborn person, & fetus. It came from a Proto-Germanic word whose descendants from various languages include words meaning womb, pregnant, children of the same marriage, & litter. It wasn’t until later Old English that cild/child came to mean young person before the onset of puberty. Our modern plural children (born in the 1100s) was predated by the 975 AD plural of child, cildru.

Both baby & babe, meaning infant, showed up in the 1300s from the Old English word baban, most likely a term imitating an infant’s babble. Baby also came to mean childish adult person about 1600 & about 1915 babe came to mean attractive young woman. Interestingly, the French word bébé came from the English word baby.

The Old English word geoguð meant junior warriors, the young of cattle, & young people, & morphed in time into the modern word youth. Related words include geong, which became the word young, & geongling which morphed first into youngling, & by 1580 into youngster.

The Old Norse word kið, meaning the young of a goat, gave English speakers the word kid as early as 1200. It took until the 1590s for kid to refer to the offspring of humans. Kid was not always a term of endearment, as our friends at tell us it was “applied to skillfull young thieves and pugilists since at least 1812.” The more endearing word kiddo showed up in 1893.

The word tyke probably came from Old Norse & made its English debut in the 1300s, meaning mongrel or cur. Tyke didn’t start meaning child until 1902.

I’m planning on investigating more childish words next week. Any you’d like to know about? Leave a request under comments.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.


  1. I did not know that the French bebe came from English. There aren't a lot of words that go in that direction. I've always thought tyke was kind of an adorable word. I guess calling a child a puppy is kind of cute, even if it's a mutt.

    Hey, you could explore words for "dog". I think English has a lot of them.

  2. Howdy Anne - we do have a heap of words for dog. A fine suggestion. Thanks. And I agree about tyke -- it's a phenomenally friendly-sounding word.

  3. It is amazing how a word like tyke can go from meaning mongrel to an endearing word for child. How does it happen? Someone had to be the first to call a kid a mongrel endearingly. I guess. Fascinating stuff!

  4. Ha! My terms of endearment for my 7th graders included "Slime" & "Snorkelhead" -- life's funny.