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.
5/6/2021 11:02:56 am
Back when someone threw a shoe at George Bush junior during a press conference in the middle east, we all learned shoe throwing is considered the highest insult in their culture: I understand the "lad" who threw it suffered serious injuries when he fell down the stairs on the way back to the police station....
5/6/2021 06:40:45 pm
Ann E. Lorenzen
5/6/2021 02:11:43 pm
When we were small, my Pennsylvania Deutsch Grandpa would often refer to us as "blatherskites," and I always just assumed that was because little kids do often run around blathering. It was not until much later in my life (like, recently) that I realized that "blatherskite" does not have to be reserved for talkative little children, and that I can use it with complete impunity to describe members of any age group. Relevant to the comments by the previous commentator (thank you, Tom Meadows), I can remember calling very young children "carpet crawlers" back in the late 60s and all of the 70s. Now I need to listen to Peter Gabriel's song!
5/6/2021 06:45:36 pm
Anne R. Allen
5/9/2021 11:30:20 am
I'm fascinated by the theory that "lad" means "socks" I wonder if adult males wore shoes with no socks like "cool" preppies of the 1960s with their sockless penny loafers. :-) But I think it's more likely that it comes from the Norwegian word for young man. I've been watching a PBS show that's mostly in Norwegian and I'm amazed at how much of it I can understand. It sounds like Scots English some of the time.
5/9/2021 06:56:54 pm
5/22/2021 08:51:16 pm
Trying to figure where "ladder" fits in, but coming up short.
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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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