Fun Etymology Tuesday – Babe

Welcome back to the HLC!

It’s Tuesday and that means another Fun Etymology! Today’s word is babe!

Nowadays, this word is often superseded by the form baby, which is actually the diminutive form of babe. Baby was used figuratively from the 1520s. The slang baby, referring to an attractive young woman, didn’t actually occur until around 1915.

Anyway, back to babe.

From the late 14th century, this word means infant or young child of either sex. The word itself is a shortened form of baban, from early 13th century.

Its etymology is uncertain, but, much like babble from last week, it is likely imitative of baby talk.

You see, the combination ba is considered one of the easiest ones to pronounce. If you have kids, you’ll probably recognise that children tend to begin talking by combining the vowel a with some consonant. Specifically, this is usually the labial or dental consonants.

The result?
“Words” like ba, ma, pa, ta, da.

And that is pretty much what we know about babe!

An interesting side-note, though, is that, in some languages, similar words mean something along the lines with old woman. In Russian, for example, babushka means grandmother. Whether that has any relation or not, I’ll leave unsaid (though Etymonline appears to suggest that this might be the case).

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