The wee ones (was Re: badassery)

W Brewer brewerwa at GMAIL.COM
Sat Mar 17 16:37:51 UTC 2012

Larry Sheldon wrote:

> Are there rules for referring to the young of various animals"?  E. g.
> "poults" (turkeys and others including
> some where "chick" is common), "kits" (foxes), "kittens" (cats), "puppies"
> (dogs). What are those rules?

WB:  A rule of thumb is: the number of categories we differentiate for
animals depends on their economic/social importance. I am only concerned
about eating a chicken sandwich. A farmer would think about chick, pullet,
chicken, hen (hatch eggs), capon, rooster, at least. I am not a snake
breeder, so I do not have a particular label for a baby snake. Nor
a Hollywood rat wrangler. But I have had dogs, so I know a baby dog is a
puppy; adult: boy-dog, girl-dog (tabu-avoidance of b-word); no special term
for fixed dogs. Just two basic terms: dog, puppy. (Maybe doggie is a
hypocoristic blend?) But, is your question, What rule generated the word
puppy in my brain? Lautgesetz und Analogie, I suppose. Puppy < French
poupee (avec l'accent aigu)(doll).  Buck synonym dict sec.3.612:
the Germanic-inherited whelp has been replaced by puppy in the case of dogs
(in which case pup would be a back formation) and by cub in the case of
foxes, lions, tigers, wolves, while calf  pertains to any young bovine and
various large animals, moose, elephant, whale. (So why don't I say lion
kittens? Who is making up these rules?) Bird chicks, but duckling, gosling.
If you want to try and see if you can come up with any regularity in
Indo-European livestock terminology, have a look at Buck's tables for
cattle, sheep, swine, horse, chicken, all with 5 basic categories of
etymological interest; goat 3 categories.

The American Dialect Society -

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