Origin of the word “kid”

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

The noun “kid” in contemporary English is mostly used to informally refer to a child, e.g. “she’s just a kid” or “only 90s kids will remember”. However, the original meaning (which still exists but is rarely used outside the context of agriculture) is “a young goat”.

The meaning was extended to a “child” (from a “young goat”) in the late 16th century slang and became established in the mid 19th century. However, the origin of the word before that is even more interesting.

“Kid” is actually not a native English word. It is an early borrowing from Old Norse “kið” (“young goat”), and its descendants can still be found in modern Scandinavian languages, e.g. “killing” (literally “kid-ling”) in Swedish (also meaning “young goat”). However, the word “kid” itself in Swedish now means “a young deer”.

Finally, the English verb “kid” is probably derived from the noun via the meaning “to treat as a child”.

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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