Friday, October 8, 2010

Word of the day: tyke

Tyke is a happy word in our family: the dependent clause “when you were a tyke” has prefaced various recollections of our children’s early years. Just this morning, I said in an e-mail to my daughter Rachel and son Ben that I wished Chicago’s Puppet Bike had been around when they were tykes. The corporate respelling of tyke has an honored place in our family lore: a piece of videotape from 1988 has Rachel, then all of two and a half, speaking of her dream third-birthday present, a Little Tikes Kitchen:

What’s so special about a Little Tikes Kitchen?

Because I like it.

What do you like about it?

Because it has a telephone.

It has a telephone. What else does it have?

It has a lot of cooking.
I wondered this morning: where does tyke come from? I’m sort of sorry to have found out. The Oxford English Dictionary gives this etymology:
ON. tík female dog, bitch (Norw. tik, also she-fox, vixen, Sw. dial. tik, older Da. tig); also MLG. tike bitch.
And the word’s oldest meaning (dating to 1400):
A dog; usually in depreciation or contempt, a low-bred or coarse dog, a cur, a mongrel.
But as early as 1400, tyke applied to men and women:
Applied opprobriously to a man (rarely with similar force to a woman): A low-bred, lazy, mean, surly, or ill-mannered fellow; a boor.
And it later applied to children:
Also said in playful reproof to a child; hence (unreprovingly), a child, esp. a small boy; occas., a young animal (U.S.).
I’m reminded now that kid too applied first to an animal, “the young of a goat,” as the OED creepily puts it.

If you’re wondering, Rachel got her Kitchen.

comments: 2

Daughter Number Three said...

Ahh, sometimes it is better not to know. I would have thought it was Dutch.

Michael Leddy said...

Weirdly enough, Anu Garg’s A.Word.A.Day today looks at Dutch uncle, which has its origin in English-Dutch hostilities.