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, & in or around 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 our 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 Etymonline.com 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 in the comments.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED (baby image by Nicole Zeug).
Some time ago, fellow writer and friend Angela Russell asked where we get the words we use to label our parents. Since this is a family-friendly blog, I’ve stuck with traditional words, leaving out those terms of non-endearment that might be used by children under duress.
Mother comes from the Old English word, modor, which comes from Proto-Germanic. Chances are good mother was born of ma, that first sound many babies make (many etymologists associate ma with suckling), paired with –ther, known as a kinship suffix (sometimes showing up as –ter).
That ma sound gave us most our words for mother. It seems almost all Indo-European languages have some form of ma or mamma:
Persian, Russian, Lithuanian & others: mama
In 1844 in American English the word mommy grew out of mamma. And in 1867 mom was born of mommy. In Britain it seems mamma morphed first in to mummy in 1815, and then into mum by 1823.
And on to the dads.
In the 1200s the word sire appeared in English, meaning lord or liege. Within fifty years it came to also mean father.
The OId English word fæder came from Proto-Germanic and gave us our modern word father. Fæder ‘s original meanings included he who begets a child, nearest male relative, & supreme being. Other words that share father’s etymological lineage include:
Dutch: vader (the surname of the chap who said, "Luke, I am your father.")
Old Irish: athir
Old Persian: pita
Greek & Latin: pater
In multiple sources I find commentary that the word dad is thought to be “prehistoric” – far older than written records could possibly show. I am astounded to find no similar claims for mama, which forces me to question whether this mostly reflects solid research, or mostly reflects sexism. Hmmm. My musings notwithstanding, about 1500 the word daddy appeared.
The Old French word papa made its way into English in the 1680s. By 1838, Americans had shortened papa to pop.
Back in 1200 the term old man came to mean boss, father or husband, though it took until 1775 for old lady to come to mean mother or wife.
It was no surprise that I was unable to find the terms of endearment my sister & I used for our parents, Muz & Puz. This causes me to wonder whether other offspring labeled their parents in a similarly odd or unique fashion. Good readers, I’m hoping you’ll address these wonderings in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Dictionary.com, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
After three previous craziness posts (March 25, April 1, & April 8), we've finally reached the last one.
Good friend and fellow writer Bruce West wrote in & submitted these:
Dinky dau, a term Bruce & his fellow Viet Nam vets brought home with them. The direct translation is crazy head, though dinky dau is used as a synonym for crazy.
The universal sign language of the index finger spinning at the temple, which Bruce points out was first reported in 1885 by Captain “White Hat” Clark of the US Cavalry when documenting the sign language of Native Americans.
Plus a pile more. Due to the abundant number, I’m skipping the word histories (& dozens more crazy synonyms)..
Late 1600s – to be half-baked
1810 – to have a screw loose
1850s – to be off one’s chump
Late 1800s – to be off one’s base
Late 1800s - to be off one’s kadoova
Late 1800s -To not have all one’s buttons
Late 1800s – To slip a cog
Late 1800s – to be out of touch
1870 – to be off one’s conk
1890 – to be off one’s onion
Early 1900s - to be off one’s kazip
Early 1900s - to be off one’s bean
1929 – To be round the bend (or around the bend)
1940s - to be off one’s nana
1950s - to be off one’s nob
Having so many ways to say crazy is, well, crazy! In the comments section, I’m hoping some of you might note the term above that most took you by surprise.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: The Sixties Project, WP Clark’s The Indian Sign Language, Dictionary.com, English Language & Usage, Word Wizard, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
It’s sad social commentary that we English speakers have nearly an infinite number of ways to tell someone he or she is unbalanced. We looked at some in the March 25 post, then a few more in the April 1 post. And we continue...
The literal meaning of batty (full of bats) appeared in English in the 1580s. It took until 1903 for its figurative meaning to take hold. Batty, meaning nuts or crazy grew from the idiom to have bats in one’s belfry, an American phrase born just a decade before batty.
In 1861 the British established one of many military outposts in India. It was called Deolali, a local word for which I can’t find a definition. The story goes that after their tours of duty, soldiers sitting around at Deolali got a bit stir-crazy. And thus, in 1917, the word doolally was born, meaning crazy or eccentric.
Kooky is an American term that showed up in 1959. Though etymologists aren’t certain, kooky most likely came from an American twist on the word cuckoo, which initially (mid-1200s) referred to a bird with an annoyingly repetitive call. In the 1580s a British figurative form of cuckoo was born, meaning stupid person, a reflection of the never-changing nature of the call. Then in America in 1918, the crazy, unbalanced meaning of cuckoo came to life.
In 1705, the crazy-meaning buggy was born before the automotive buggy, though by all reports, the erratic behavior of early automobile drivers certainly could have inspired the crazy meaning of buggy. Truth is, nobody knows why buggy means unbalanced.
In 1610 the meaning of unsound mind was added to the existing word crazy, a word which first showed up in the 1570s, meaning diseased or sickly, & in only another ten years began to mean full of cracks or flaws.
Some crazy-based meanings & idioms include:
-1873 – to drive someone crazy
-1877 – Crazy Horse – A moniker I’ve always incorrectly assumed slapped the craziness on the Oglala Lakota leader who bore the name. In fact, a more accurate translation of Tȟašúŋke Witkó’s name is “His Horse is Crazy”.
-1927 – crazy - cool or exciting, from the world of jazz
-1935 – crazy like a fox
I’m hoping you’ve got something to say about all this craziness. If so, please do so in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Thesaurus.com, The Phrase Finder, Etymonline,Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, & the OED.
Though it shows poor form to question someone’s sanity, we English speakers have a steaming heap of ways to do just that. Last week’s post on synonyms for crazy didn’t even begin to plumb the depths, so here are some more.
In 1853 the American English word loony came to be. Though it was simply a shortening of the word lunatic, it may have been influenced by the wild, cackling call of the loon &/or its unlikely and mysterious manner of escaping danger. Loons can dive to depths of 200 feet & can stay underwater for up to three minutes – a crazy feat indeed.
In the 1300s the word daffe was used to mean half-witted. Daffe is the likely parent of daffy, which showed up in 1884. Daffy might alternatively have come from the word daft, which initially meant gentle & becoming, mild, well-mannered, & came from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning to fit together. We can see this older meaning in the modern meaning of daft’s sister-word deft. Over the course of 300 years the well-mannered meaning of daft morphed to mean dull & awkward, then foolish, & then crazy.
Barmy comes from the alehouse. Barm is an Old English word meaning yeast, leaven or the head on a beer. In the 1530s the literal adjective barmy was born, meaning frothy. 1600 saw the birth of the figurative barmy, bubbling with excitement, & in 1892, a second figurative barmy began to mean foolish or crazy.
Mad made its way into English in the later 1200s, meaning out of one’s mind. It came through Proto-Germanic from the Proto-Indo European moito-, meaning to change. The angry meaning of mad showed up in the 1300s. Some mad idioms include: mad as a march hare (1520s), mad as a wet hen (1823), mad as a hatter (1829), & mad scientist (1891).
I’m hoping you’ve got something to say about all this madness. If so, please do so in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, Wisconsin Natural Resources, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.