Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When I read period authors, i.e., Dickens, or Verne, or Hugo, etc., I always see things like:

My dear child/Child, come here/He is but a child!

But I don't see kid. In fact, I didn't see kid even in the contemporary work A Series of Unfortunate Events when I was reading it (unless I missed it). Children was still used there. So, my question is:

  1. When did "kid" become used to mean "child"?

  2. Is it less formal to use "kid" than "child"?

share|improve this question
    
LOL @ Jasper Loy, yeah, that's what happened with my Mom. Interestingly though, why don't we call our children "lamb"? –  Thursagen Jul 4 '11 at 11:19
2  
@Ham -- Hi Ham, "lamb" is quite common in England (and even in Australia, I would have said - perhaps your experience differs). Yes, "kid" is more casual than "child". –  Joe Blow Jul 4 '11 at 11:32

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Kid as young goat is from the 1200s with

Extended meaning of "child" first recorded as slang 1590s, established in informal usage by 1840s.

Dictionary.com defines kid as (informal) child.

You would use it in direct conversation with persons you know well

"Does your kid collect stamps?"

although I don't see it as too informal to ask someone, "Any kids?" instead of, "Any children?"

share|improve this answer

"Kid" is definitely less formal than "child", although the proportion of people for whom it is offensive is probably small now.

As to the timing, I have no information.

share|improve this answer
3  
@Jasper: Apparently your English teacher was offended. –  Marcin Jul 4 '11 at 11:59
1  
@Marcin: True, but she may have been offended by inappropriate use of an informal term (implying disrespect, or at least over-familiarity), rather than the word being offensive in of itself... –  psmears Jul 7 '11 at 7:14

According to Etymology Online, the use of "kid" to refer to a human child was established in informal English usage by 1812, but was used as slang (not sure what the difference is in connotation here between "informal" and "slang") as early as 1590.

The term may have first been applied to human children in reference to similarities between a goat kid's cry and a newborn's. Or, simply, as reference to the child as young, similar to use of the term "pup" (the name for many mammals' young, mainly canine but also otters and other aquatic mammals)

share|improve this answer
1  
Two other possibilities -> from the Germanic "das Kind", dropping the soft "n", or also because children make a mess and frolic about in similar fashion to goat kids... –  Martin S. Stoller Jul 18 '11 at 22:54
    
@Martin: Note that Germans now also tend to say "Kids" instead of "Kinder". –  Hendrik Vogt Jul 19 '11 at 12:06
    
@Hendrik - Ich habe schon immer behauptet die Deutschen schauen zu viel Ami Fernseher... (and in English->) They watch too much American TV :) –  Martin S. Stoller Jul 19 '11 at 15:10

I think “kid” was used for “child” in America some time before it began to be used in England. It might have been beginning to be used in the 1950s. I was a child then and don’t remember hearing it much; certainly I was never allowed to use it. I still don’t; it still seems to me to be a slang and/or American term (as opposed to informal; there is a difference). I’d be interested to know when it first started to be used in Great Britain and wonder whether it was introduced by American GIs in WWII.

share|improve this answer
4  
If you go through the other answers, you will find that the first recorded use was as far back as 1590, which would date it before English settlement. –  coleopterist Jul 31 '12 at 17:58
1  
And sort of circling back from the 1950s to the 1590s, “kid” was used in this sense by the well known English author – and medievalist – C. S. Lewis in his book Prince Caspian in 1949. The book was completed after Christmas 1949, and work on Voyage of the Dawn Treader was then begun in January 1950, according to C. S. Lewis: A Biography (cited by Wikipedia). –  MετάEd Jul 31 '12 at 22:45

protected by RegDwigнt Jul 31 '12 at 19:48

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.