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The word "pet" has a few different definitions (my own paraphrase):

  • n: An animal kept for companionship.
  • v: To affectionately caress.

My question is, which of these usages originated first? Do we refer to companion animals as "pets" because we pet them? Or is the act of "petting" so dubbed because it is what we do to pets?

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In Australia we keep pets, but we don't pet them.. We pat them. There is no such thing as petting. – user5797 Mar 7 '11 at 16:30

Etymonline to the rescue:

"tamed animal," originally in Scottish and northern England dialect (and exclusively so until mid-18c.), of unknown origin. Sense of "indulged child" (c.1500) is recorded slightly earlier than that of "animal kept as a favorite" (1530s), but the latter may be the primary meaning. [...] The verb is 1620s meaning "treat as a pet;" the sense of "to stroke" is first found 1818.

So the noun came first.

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