A reader informs — without getting my goat

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I love receiving snail (or rather, real) mail, but when you work at a newspaper a letter can cause both delight and anxiety. Is it from a reader upset about a story? Did someone catch a typo?

Turning over a recent letter on my desk, a happy-face sticker on the back of the envelope put my mind mostly at ease. Inside I found a note about a story I'd done on the training of altar servers.

Robert McLaughlin Sr. of Springfield wrote:

That was a fine article about altar servers that you published in the Catholic Herald. You may not know that when I was altar boy age (I'm 97 today), servers also had to learn Latin in addition to all the functions you described in your article and give the appropriate responses in Latin during the Mass.

I would like to mention one other thing: The page 6 headline, "A dedicated bunch of kids," gave me cause to inform you that in those days, boys and girls were called boys, girls or children. The only creature referred to as kids were young goats usually found in some backyards.

What a gem of a letter. I love that this nearly century-old gentleman took the time to share his experience as a server at Mass; I love that the writing builds to its primary point at the very end - and mixes it with good humor; and I love that its subject is linguistic evolution.

After sharing the note with a few co-workers, it inspired me to look up when, exactly, "kid" was first used to describe a child.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (and backed by Merriam-Webster), the origin of the word as a term for "young goat" has roots in Scandinavia, circa 1200. It first was recorded as slang for "child," according to the online dictionary, in the 1590s and was established in informal usage by the 1840s.

Although "kid" as "young goat" got a nearly 400-year head start on "kid" as an informal version of "child," I couldn't quickly determine when the latter nestled itself into common usage.

But I'm thankful to Mr. McLaughlin for sharing his thoughts, making me smile and inspiring me to dabble in etymology - and I'm not kidding.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016