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Years and years ago, I remember reading in a book on AmE usage that the phrasal turn a baby creeps before it walks was to some extent more common to AmE than to BrE, which preferred exclusively the "crawl" version.

And so, I just recently checked on the accuracy of that information on NGram Viewer, and it actually was fact...more than a century ago!

What I would like you to tell is if it would sound sort of weird to hear someone say today in the US that a child "creeps" before walking and running (see Synonyms) rather than it crawls.

Also, what's the story to those terms? How did "to crawl" come to prevail and supersede "to creep" to describe the way a baby moves around?

As with a plant, so with a child. His mind grows by natural stages. A child creeps before he walks, sits before he stands, cries before he laughs, babbles before he talks, draws a circle before he draws a square, lies before he tells the truth, and is selfish before he is altruistic. Such sequences are part of the order of Nature... Every child, therefore, has a unique pattern of growth, but that pattern is a variant of a basic ground plan. (Bigge & Hunt, 1962, p. 166)

My impression is that "to creep" instead of "to crawl" for how a baby moves around might have made a lot of sense in the old days if you consider the way babies were dressed back then. Think also of Swee'Pea's outfit in Popeye the Sailorman cartoons.

Besides, here is a article I just found on Parent.com, which asserts a difference between saying "to creep" and "to crawl."

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    Nowadays, you mostly only hear creep for things that are creepy (eerie) or at least unexpected. Perhaps the connotations have changed? This is the first I've seen it for a baby's crawl. – Bradd Szonye Apr 1 '14 at 19:49
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    It just occurred to me that baby creeping sounds wholly unnatural but baby creeping along does not. The connotation is totally different with along. – Bradd Szonye Apr 1 '14 at 19:53
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    Both creep and crawl fit quite nicely with the phonosemantics of the KR- assonance. – John Lawler Apr 1 '14 at 21:02
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    I'm British and, though I have visited America many times, and worked with Americans a lot, and have almost reached three score years and ten, I have never heard of a baby 'creeping'. They 'crawl' before they walk. – WS2 Apr 1 '14 at 21:04
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    𝔒𝔫𝔩𝔶 𝔦𝔣 𝔶𝔬𝔲 𝔥𝔞𝔳𝔢 𝔠𝔯𝔢𝔢𝔭𝔶 𝔟𝔞𝔟𝔦𝔢𝔰. – tchrist Apr 1 '14 at 23:10
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NG, as an Ame speaker who has (as a doctor) delivered ~100 babies then taken care of them as they grew up, needing to know the stages of development and milestones, and needing to discuss them with (usually mom), I think I can attest with some authority to which one is common in my part of the US.

A baby crawls before it cruises (walks by holding on to things) before it toddles (takes a few unsteady steps and falls - where we get our word toddler from) before it walks. (We used the Denver Development Milestones Test, or DDII, to keep track of progress.)

Having said all that, I'm aware of creeps (alone or with along/across) and do not find it odd. In general, though, things that creep along the floor are doing so stealthily (the cat crept up on/to the bird and sprang), or horrifyingly (the severed hand crept across the floor) - generally. We even have a name for this for kids: creepy-crawly. In addition, I had a toy when I was young called Creepy Crawlers, which allowed me to make/bake plastic bugs, and, as I was a good mon, my kids did as well. (To see how this worked, visit here.)

Fun question!

  • I find some of these terms to be dated... just saying. It is AE but not modern. – RyeɃreḁd Apr 1 '14 at 23:33
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    @RyeɃreḁd Of course it’s modern. Do you think your interlocutrix a time traveller? – tchrist Apr 1 '14 at 23:53
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    @RyeɃreḁd The funny thing to it is I just found that MW's Dictionary of Synonyms, Ed. 1984, validates "to creep" as the most frequent option to refer to quadruplets or humans who move on all fours, and proceed slowly, stealthily, or silently. If indeed "crawl" is more common than "creep" in modern day AmE, some authoritative sources apparently state "creep" as an appropriate alternative in that sense. books.google.com.br/… – Elian Apr 2 '14 at 0:00
  • @NourishedGourmet Despite their strange example of babies creeping, you should take that definition to heart, especially the part about crawling stealthily. That's what makes it creepy. Not all crawling is creeping. – Bradd Szonye Apr 2 '14 at 0:38
  • @NourishedGourmet - I am not sure where medica is from but no one from around my region would ever describe their baby as creeping unless they baby was being creepy or they were making a joke. And like I said in my answer - if you use it to describe another person's baby, that is not a good thing. – RyeɃreḁd Apr 2 '14 at 1:28
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As a dad to two recent crawlers in the US I can say that they crawled, but I never saw a creep.

If a parent said to me "My little 7-month-old was creeping along." I would seriously have no clue what that baby was doing. I might guess they were in a baby walker and moving around slowly. I have never heard it used as a synonym for crawling.

There is also the term military-crawl when babies scoot along on their tummies using their knees and feet to push them forward inch by inch. When they are crawling we tend to think it is just hands and knees (and down) hitting the ground.

Baby movements in usual order (one of my kids crawled after walking):

  • roll
  • squirm
  • tummy time
  • military crawl
  • crawl
  • cruise - might also say wobble
  • walk

I am not saying that creep was never used or could not be used by an older generation but none of my friends with kids would appreciate me saying their kid was "creeping".

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