I'm looking for a A 17th century colloquial term for children, in the way we use 'kids' today. The best I've yet found is striplings, which seems to connote male teens more specifically, or possibly goslings.

edit: Great suggestions. Thank you very much. All are helpful. Really appreciate the link to the Canting book.

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    Is there an associated culture or country that you're looking for answers from?
    – spacetyper
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 16:54

10 Answers 10


I think you may use kid; the term is from the late 16th century:

  • c. 1200, "the young of a goat," from a Scandinavian source such as Old Norse kið "young goat,"
  • Extended meaning "child" is first recorded as slang 1590s, established in informal usage by 1840s. Applied to skillful young thieves and pugilists since at least 1812.


  • Note the common ancestry with the German kind (child) and kinder (children), as in kindergarten. Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 23:57
  • The OED also attests the use of the verb kid: to give birth (to) from c1400. Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 0:02

The chiefly Scottish word bairn may satisfy your request, defined as:



  • Middle English bern, barn, from Old English bearn & Old Norse barn; akin to Old High German barn child

  • First Known Use: before 12th century

Source: Merriam-Webster

  • Been watching/reading Outlander?
    – stannius
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 16:29
  • @stannius: Maybe vanderpn is Scottish Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 19:30
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    @stannius, YES!
    – vpn
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 20:47
  • Bairn, yes. In my Yorkshire childhood, 50 years ago, a variant of this, pronounced approximately as 'bane', was in common use. Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 23:00

"tots", first known use in 1725, has been in use for almost three hundred years.

"little child," 1725, Scottish, of uncertain origin, perhaps a shortened form of totter, or related to Old Norse tottr, nickname of a dwarf. OED

"Tiny tots with their eyes all a-glow, Will find it hard to sleep tonight. They know that Santa's on his way..."

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    The question was about the 17th century, not the 18th Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 5:57
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    In modern usage at least 'tots' refers to children below about 3 or 4 years of age, which might be a bit more specific than what the OP is looking for.
    – dbmag9
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 12:07
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    Yes I am on my way. Not to worry, the visit will be completely platonic.
    – Santa
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 15:53
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    @ErwinBolwidt I know and everybody knows it. But this was the oldest I could find. And very close to the late seventeenth century.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 16:08


Wean is used today in both Scotland and Ireland.

The first source below refers to a written example of wean from early C18th.

The second source mentions that wee for small (which is a root of wean) dates from C15th.

So hard to say when wean became common but probably it was in use in C17th.

wean n. a child, especially a young one

Scots has a number of words for children and young people, the most well-known being bairn and wean. While bairn is traditionally associated with dialects of the north and east of Scotland, wean is more often found in the south and west, and both terms occasionally appear in northern English dialects, reminding us of the fluidity of linguistic 'boundaries'. Wean is a good example of an entirely Scots compound, deriving from wee ain 'little one', unlike the term bairn, which was inherited from Old English bearn, and reinforced by Old Norse barn.

Wean therefore reminds us that Scots, as a living language, can generate new vocabulary from its existing word-stock and does not always borrow new terms from other sources. Early uses of the word, including the following example from Alan Ramsay's The Gentle Shepherd (1725) evidence this shift from two words to one:

Troth, my Niece is a right dainty we'an.

A young man might also be described as a chiel or chield, as in Robert Burns' description of his friend Francis Grose, the noted antiquarian:

Hear , Land o' Cakes, and brither Scots, Frae Maidenkirk to Johnie Groat's, If there's a hole in a' your coats, I rede (advise) you tent (pay attention to) it: A chield's amang you takin notes, And faith he'll print it.

The two men were good friends and Burns' epic poem Tam o'Shanter was created to complement the illustration of Alloway's Auld Haunted Kirk in Grose's Antiquities of Scotland (1791).

EDIT: Regarding pronunciation and etymology from caledonianmercury.com:

The Scots word does not share a pronunciation with the English verb (ween).
Instead, it is pronounced to rhyme with gain
Wee first came into Scots in the late-14th century as a noun in the phrase a lytil wee meaning “a small distance”.
Derived from the Old English waeg, a weight, wee did not make an appearance as an adjective until the middle of the 15th century.

  • 2
    It might be worth adding a note on the pronunciation. ie that it rhymes with 'rain' rather than with the 'wean' of 'weaning'.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 11:37

What, all my pretty chickens and their dam?

OED 1 cites uses of chicken and chick from 14th century into the 19th. MED suggest that the term was contemptuous in Middle English, and the OED 19th-century citations smack of revivalism to me; but the Tudor and Stuart uses seem to parallel today's kid pretty well.

And practically any term for a small or immature animal might be used along the entire spectrum from affection to contempt: lamb, urchin, sprat, kit. Brat was only mildly derogatory: it connoted insignificance rather than misbehavior or bad attitude.


If you are looking for a term specific to seventeenth-century London underworld cant, you might find these two terms from Richard Head, The English Rogue: Described, in the Life of Meriton Latroon (1665) useful:

Lullabie-cheat A Childe

Palliard One whose Father is a Beggar born

According to Francis Grose (writing in 1785) a lullaby-cheat referred more specifically to an infant.

A New Canting Dictionary: Comprehending All the Terms, Ancient and Modern (1725) notes multiple terms for children, many of which undoubtedly date back to the seventeenth century:


BRAT, a little Child

A CHIP, a Child. A Chip off the old Block; A Son that is his Father's Likeness; more particularly the Son of a Cooper, or one brought up to the same Trade.

CHITTIFACE, a little puny Child.

CLAPPERDOGEON, a Beggar born and bred [presumably normally applied to adults]. ... The Children of these Villains are stil'd PALLIARDS.

FOUNDLING, a Child dropt in the Streets for the Parish to keep.

FUBBS, a loving, fond word used to pretty little Children and Women.

KID, a Child.

KINCHIN, a little Child.

LULLABY-Cheat, a Child.

RUM-Bob, a young Apprentice; also a sharp, sly Trick. Likewise a pretty short Wig.

SOW-CHILD, a Female Child.

SQUEEKER, a Bar-boy; also a Bastard, or any other Child.

TIM, a young Lass.

TIT, a Horse; also a young prim Lass.

Additional Google searches find seventeenth-century instances of bantling (from 1635), brat (from 1642), kinchin (from 1608), and squeeker (from 1692). I did not find an example of kid in the relevant sense from before 1700, but the expression surely existed in the seventeenth century. Interestingly, Nathanial Bailey, Dictionarium Britannicum: Or a More Compleat Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1730) defines (human) kid far more narrowly than the New Canting Dictionary does:

KID a young Goat, Dan[ish] also a young Person trepanned by a Kidnapper.

I'm not sure what to make of the disparity there. But in any case the New Canting Dictionary gives you quite a few options for referring informally to children.


There's the very to-the-point "youngling", which is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as

A young person or animal.


Infant has been used since Roman times

infant (n.) late 14c., infant, infaunt, "a child," also especially "child during earliest period of life, a newborn" (sometimes meaning a fetus), from Latin infantem (nominative infans) "young child, babe in arms," noun use of adjective meaning "not able to speak," from in- "not, opposite of" (see in- (1)) + fans, present participle of fari "to speak," from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say" (see fame (n.)). As an adjective in English, 1580s, from the noun.

The Romans extended the sense of Latin infans to include older children, hence French enfant "child," Italian fanciullo, fanciulla. In English the word formerly also had the wider sense of "child" (commonly reckoned as up to age 7). The common Germanic words for "child" (represented in English by bairn and child) also are sense extensions of words that originally must have meant "newborn."

Source Online Etymology

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    Can you prove that infant is "colloquial" in the same way we use kids? Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 17:01

A couple of suggestions: dears or darlings, both of which come from Old English, though obviously not exclusively used for children.

Another one I found is birds in Cotton Mather's diary.


Not too sure if it relates to children specifically, but whippersnapper originated in the 17th century.

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