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
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
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
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
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
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.