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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Who loves ya, baby?

Happy New Year to all Wordlady readers! The New Year is traditionally symbolized by a baby. Before 1377 this couldn't have happened... because we didn't have the word “baby”! It and the related “babe” cropped up in the 1300s, possibly as a short form of an earlier word baban, which in turn probably arose in imitation of a baby babbling. Of course, they did have a word for newborns before then: child. But as it gradually came to apply to older children, something was needed to fill the gap, and “baby” did it. Incidentally, the use of "babe" to mean a woman, particularly a good-looking one, dates from the beginning of the 20th century.


  1. Happy New Year!

    In children's slang in E.T. country, "baban" means ... big! Not sure if this comes from Russian or RRomani ...

    But, since you brought this up ... isn't this "baby" related to "bébé" ? Isn't this 1377 one of the famous (over) 100 of Anglo-French War ? And isn't "babe" a distortion of "baby" too ?


  2. Baby wasn't borrowed from bébé; it was the other way round. The French borrowed the word from English at the time of the French Revolution; who knows why they suddenly felt the need for it then!
    Babe is not a shortening of baby; they arose at about the same time.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.