Last week’s post on synonyms for child was just a start. Here are some ways we might refer to young folk older than babies, but still quite young.
In 1793 the word toddler came to English. Its source was the English verb toddle, which showed up in 1600. Toddle may have come from totter, or from another English verb from the 1500s meaning to toy or play.
Lass came to English in 1300 from a Scandinavian source, though etymologists can’t decide which one. Some suggest the source was an Old Swedish word meaning unmarried woman, some posit lass came from a West Frisian source meaning light & thin, and some suggest a Norse source for lass – a word meaning idle & weak. Though I hold nothing against the Norse, it would be nice to hear some future word historians disprove that possibility.
Though many of us might assume the English word lad had its source in the Scottish words lad & laddie, the Scots borrowed those words from English in the 1540s, more than two centuries after ladde appeared in English. In 1300 it meant both foot solider & young male servant. Like lass, lad’s source has etymologists’ collective knickers in a twist. Some suggest lad comes from a Middle English word meaning one who is led. Other word sleuths argue for a Norwegian word meaning young man, while those aforesaid Norse provide the most unlikely & intriguing possibility. There was a time when associating someone with shoes, socks or stockings was an egregious putdown (I’m not making this up). The Old Norse word for woolen stockings or hose was ladd, and may have been the source for our modern word lad, though if so, it came through a somewhat negative view of boys. And how does that explain lass?
Of course, there are the deliciously negative terms born in 1960s, rugrat & anklebiter.
Any thoughts about all these childish words? Please say so in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Collins Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, & 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.
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