Nursery words for father and related words
The main nursery words for English father [ˈfɑ.ðəɹ] are dad [ˈdæd], daddy [ˈdæ.ɾi], pop [ˈpʰɒp] / [ˈpʰɑp], poppa [ˈpʰɒ.pə] / [ˈpʰɑ.pə], and papa Br. [pə.ˈpʰɑ] / US [ˈpʰɑ.pə]. The word dad and its diminutive daddy were first recorded around the year 1500. The word papa in English is a late 17th century loanword from French papa. The word pop for ‘dad’, first attested in the 19th century, is derived from papa.
The word dad is first recorded in English in the 15th century, but it is no doubt much older. As we said earlier, pet names for parents in many if not most languages are often derived from the first sounds that an infant makes. The derived word daddy is just a ‘diminutive and endearing form of dad’ (OED), formed with the suffix ‑y (see Part I, Chapter 5).
The main nursery words for Spanish padre are (traditional) papa [ˈpa.pa] and (modern) papá [pa.ˈpa]. The latter, with final (oxytonic) stress, is a loanword from French, whereas the former, with penultimate stress, is the original, patrimonial word. Both descend from Lat. papas, a loanword from Greek πάππας (pappas), which meant ‘dad’. Actually, in Latin it first meant ‘bishop’. That is because in Greek, pappas, which meant ‘dad’, was the name given to patriarchs and bishops and, as such, it was adopted in Latin in the 3rd century.
Latin had a different word pāpa (variant: pappa) meant originally ‘an infant’s cry for food’, for it was ‘the word with which infants call for food’ (LS). That is the source of the Spanish word papa that means ‘mush, pulp, baby food, soft food’, a homonym of the other word papa. This word is archaic nowadays, but it is still found in its diminutive version papilla ‘mush, pulp, baby food’ and in expressions such as No entiendo ni papa ‘I don’t understand a thing’.
The word for the bishop of Rome and leader of the Catholic Church, Pope in English and Papa in Spanish, has this very same Greek source. From the 5th century on, this name came to be used only for the bishop of Rome in western Europe, namely, for the pope. In Spanish, the word for ‘pope’ is also papa, which is the traditional, patrimonial word for ‘dad’ as well. The English word pope [ˈpʰoʊ̯p] is the natural derivation from Old English papa, from the same source. The adjective derived from pope is papal [ˈpʰeɪ̯.pəɫ] in English and papal [pa.ˈpal]) in Spanish, two learned cognates, and the derived abstract noun is papacy [ˈpʰeɪ̯.pə.si] (Sp. papado).
The Spanish word papa meaning ‘potato’ is unrelated and, thus, yet another (a fourth) homonym of the other words papa we just saw. This one comes from Quechua. This was the original Spanish name of this vegetable, which originated in South America, and which became popular in Europe in the 18th century. It was at that time that in Spain it came to be known as patata, not papa like in the Americas. This seems to have been due to a confusion between this vegetable and a related one known as batata, a type of ‘sweet potato’ that originated in the Caribbean, not South America. The ‘confusion’ seems to have been common in Europe, which explains the English name for the vegetable, potato [pə.tʰeɪ̯.to] (late 16th century), and the Italian name, patata (18th century) (the word for ‘potato’ in French is pomme de terre, lit. ‘earth apple’, and is thus unrelated).
As we mentioned above, Latin pappa was a Greek loanword. The traditional pet name for ‘father’ in Latin was not papa, but tata (expressive variant: tatta), a name also formed from a primary children’s syllable. Related to this word was the Latin word atta that also meant father and which was used as a respectful term of address for an old man. These words were related to other words for ‘dad’ in Greek, besides πάππα (páppa), namely τατᾶ (tatâ) or ἄττα (átta), the latter of which could also be used as a salutation for an elder. (Two other words for ‘father’ in Ancient Greek were ἄππα (áppa) and ἀπφά (apphá).) The original source of these words in Proto-Indo-European has been reconstructed as *átta ‘father’, cf. Old Germanic *attô ‘father, dad; forefather’, Old Irish aite ‘foster father, teacher, tutor’, etc.
The Latin word tata survived into Spanish, presumably derived from the variant tatta, since Lat. ‑tt‑ always changed to ‑t‑ in Old Spanish, whereas Lat. ‑t‑ always changed to ‑d‑, though the special, reduplicative nature of this word could have caused to be an exception to the normal sound change. Sp. tata is still used today in some dialects of Spanish in the Americas, as well as in the Murcia region of Spain. (In some dialects of Spanish, the word tata came to be used for ‘nanny’, cf. Sp. niñera, chacha, And./Ven. nana.) In some indigenous American languages, such as Aymara, tata seems to be a patrimonial (not borrowed) word for ‘father’, something which should not surprise us, given how often the words for father (and mother) are derived from the same primal syllables. A dialectal variant of Sp. tata is taita, very common in Old Spanish and still used today in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. According to Corominas, taita is a cross of the word tata and the Basque word for ‘father’, aita. In dialects where tata is used, it can be used sometimes to refer to grandfathers, as well as fathers. In some places, tata is also used as an title or honorific of respect.
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