21

Both the Oxford English dictionary and Merriam Webster give the definition of "pop" (singular) to mean "father" in an informal manner and give "pops" to be the plural form of pop, thus "fathers".

If I am not mistaken, however, many Americans seem to use "pops" in a singular sense to call their own fathers. I only found two online sources that support what I heard, but I am curious if people on this forum can share more information.

This link for Wiktionary has an article about father with the title "Dad? Pops? Father? Why are there so many name for the same person?"

This source simply defines "pops" as "father" (singular).

  • 3
    I would have said it was the other way ‘round. “Pop” to address one’s own father, “Pops” to address an elderly stranger. – Jim Mar 21 '18 at 23:42
  • unlikely you will hear a man say to a woman 'my women'. in America that is lol. True, i call my pop pops or dad, depending. – lbf Mar 21 '18 at 23:54
  • 3
    I'd guess it's more a tongue friendly shortening of a familiar diminutive that words better with some sounds than others for people. When I mean diminutive I mean like "Tommy" for Tom (or adding an 'o' or "ito" at the end in other languages) . I think its more like "popsie" or "tootsie" (toots is a short pet name) .. I've heard plot of people say "pups" when refering to their dog but rarely "kits" for their cat .. .. so much at work on these little familial "pet" or nicknames - nothing to do with plural imo – Tom22 Mar 21 '18 at 23:56
  • 1
    It's the same explanation for why there are dad and daddy and dada and da and all the other variations. – Robusto Mar 22 '18 at 0:09
  • 4
    To give context to "many Americans seem to use 'pops'", I've never actually heard anybody ever refer to their own father as 'pops'. Only used in movies/TV which is made up. Which is to say it is very rare and at most regional if used currently at all. – Mitch Mar 22 '18 at 15:12
34

According to the OED, the s in pops is:

A shortened form of the hypocoristic dim. suffix -sy, added to the same classes of words, as Babs, Toots, ducks, moms.

Also, the earliest citation in the OED for pops is from 1893:

Yes, Libby; while you have been galivanting around Europe gettin' your edication, your old Pops has been peggin' away until he has grown rich as mud.
Puck (N.Y.)

(In comparison, according to this answer, toots is first attested in 1891.)

18

"Pops" seems to have originated as a variant form of "pop", which is itself a clipped and altered form of the longer "papa". In English, a number of informal clippings have an "s" suffixed to them; I'm not sure exactly why, but this -s does not indicate that they are plural nouns.

Examples:

  • totes < totally (discussed in this Language Log post: Totes, where commenters also mention adorbs < adorable).

  • preggers < pregnant and turps < turpentine (mentioned in "Clipping from the word-formation, word-class, stylistic/register, semantic and translational perspectives", by Richard Skala, 2006)

The Oxford English Dictionary entry for pops indicates that it is formed from the clipping pop combined with a suffix -s that it says is

A shortened form of the hypocoristic dim. suffix -sy suffix, added to the same classes of words, as Babs, Toots; ducks (see duck n.1 3c), moms.

I wasn't familiar with the referenced singular use of moms, but the OED entry for that word provides some examples that are similar to the use of pops:

In quot. 1976, addressed ironically to a man.

1925 W. Faulkner Let. 20 Feb. in Thinking of Home (1992) 185 What's the trouble, moms? I know something is wrong from your last letter.
1946 M. Mezzrow & B. Wolfe Really Blues 47 Moms always used to make sugar sandwiches for me when I was a kid.
1976 N. Thornburg Cutter & Bone xi. 260 ‘Now, don't you fret, moms,’ he said.
1992 Premiere Jan. 101/1 Because of him and my Moms, Jacquelyn, I was introduced to the arts at a very young age.

6

Author William Safire, in a New York Times article, suggests that the use of the final “s” in terms like pop and mom probably adds a connotation of “detached intimacy” to those familiar terms:

What has become of Mommy and Daddy, and Mom and Dad?'' asks Isabelle Bradley, an irate mother from Birdsboro, Pa. ''We are becoing a nation of 'Moms' and 'Pops.'''

I have been wondering for some time why my teen-age children have been calling me ''Pops, '' which is the name of an orchestra in Boston. My suspicion is that the addition of an ''s'' to either Mom or Pop connotes an irreverent affection, or detached intimacy, that enables a young person to address a parent in a manner familial yet cool.

''Mama'' and ''Papa,'' the endearments of earlier generations, are becoming rare; they recall immigrant days, or our parents' recollections of their parents. ''Ma'' is used occasionally, ''Pa'' rarely. Like ''Dad,'' from ''dada,'' ''papa'' is rooted in baby talk, and led to an 1838 citation for ''pop,'' meaning ''father.'' Nowadays, ''Pop,'' when capitalized and used as the name for someone who is not your father, refers to a likable geezer or the grizzled night watchman.

The declension of filial address begins with a breezy ''Howzit goin', Pops?'' to a more respectful ''About my allowance, Dad,'' to a resigned and resentful ''Yes, Father.'' Going back up the scale, it is ''Thank you, Mother, I can do it myself'' to ''Mom - can you come over and baby-sit?'' to ''Seeya, Moms!''

If you are disconcerted by the addition of ''s'' to Mom and Pop, try answering by calling your son ''Sons'' or your daughter ''Daughters.'' If they seem puzzled, tell them it's the new middleaged lingo.

  • Not convinced that "papa" is totally rooted in baby talk. The Latin for "father" is pater. – Martin Bonner Mar 23 '18 at 12:23
  • 1
    @MartinBonner The underlying hypothesis is that pater itself ultimately goes back to baby talk. – Charles Mar 23 '18 at 14:24
1

"Pops" is slightly disrespectful. It is often used not only for one's own father, but for men who are old enough to be one's father or grandfather.

"Hand over your wallet, Pops!"

  • It’s contextual. When said in that context is it used to highlight age, yes. When said to one’s father there is respect but also a measure of familiarity or closeness. – TomDunning Mar 23 '18 at 9:19
-1

It's just linguistic variation. There's no difference in meaning just by definition. Tomayto tomahto, I'd say. Linguistically speaking, humans have a tendency to add consonants to letters to the ends of words. Weird jargon.

I have seen some reserve "pops" for older folks, though.

  • 5
    "humans have a tendency to add consonants [...] to the ends of words". Could you give some exampleskrpflngwbbl? – David Richerby Mar 22 '18 at 17:33
-3

Merriam Webster give the definition of "pop" (singular) to mean "father" in an informal manner and give "pops" to be the plural form of pop, thus "fathers".

Pop, in a more formal definition is a short bursting sound, like a balloon pops. It can also refer to cans of soda in some American dialects. I think when they says that "pops" is the plural form of "pop" they mean one of these other two definitions, not the slang term for father.

  • No, "pops" is also a singular when it means "father", as well as being the plural of burst and soda. – David Richerby Mar 23 '18 at 8:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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