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"?

  • LOL @ Jasper Loy, yeah, that's what happened with my Mom. Interestingly though, why don't we call our children "lamb"?
    – Thursagen
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 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".
    – Fattie
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 11:32
  • Look harder: Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (1839), p. 158: "So you've got the kid," said Sikes, when they had all reached the room, closing the door as he spoke. "Yes, here he is," replied Nancy. "Did he come quiet?" "Like a lamb," rejoined Nancy. Commented Feb 25, 2018 at 3:48

4 Answers 4


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?"


"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.

  • 3
    @Jasper: Apparently your English teacher was offended.
    – Marcin
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 11:59
  • 2
    @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
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 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)

  • 2
    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... Commented Jul 18, 2011 at 22:54
  • @Martin: Note that Germans now also tend to say "Kids" instead of "Kinder". Commented Jul 19, 2011 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 :) Commented Jul 19, 2011 at 15:10
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    Or it’s a reference to children being as unruly as baby goats. Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 23:59

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.

  • 5
    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. Commented Jul 31, 2012 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).
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 31, 2012 at 22:45
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    Nevertheless it was a common belief in Britain (especially in schools) that "kid" was American and/or slang and not to be allowed in "proper" speech or writing. This belief was held even in the early 1990s. Whether the belief was correct is a different question though. Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 21:45

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