Thursday, 14 August 2014

Dad - A Baby's Most Common First Word

Cute 1980s photo of a boy sitting on his dad's lap
Me and my Dad. They don't make moustaches likes that anymore.


Noun. Mid-16th century.
[Perhaps imitative of infants' first speech.]

1 Father. colloquial. M16

2 Used as a form of address to a man other than one's own father. slang (esp. JAZZ). M20

Dad is a fitting first word as Lexicolatry embarks on the letter D. Why? Because dad is a baby's most common first word. Yes! It's true. And it gets even better: my daughter's first word was dad. That's quite a moment in a man's life - when he experiences that transition from being a son to being a dad; when another little person looks him in the eyes and sees their Dad.

Dad is the most common first word for the same reasons that mum (or one of its variants like mama) is the second most common - it's a relatively simple sound for a baby to make. That, of course, and the fact that mum and dad are virtually a child's entire universe for the first 18 months or so.

Interestingly, the dad sound is ubiquitous: Welsh tad, Irish daid, Latin tata, Greek tata, Sanskrit tatah. But these words aren't necessarily cognates; the OED notes that they arose independently. Language, it seems, is universally accommodating to babies' linguistic abilities. Of course, perhaps none of the above is the real reason dad is the most common first word. Maybe it's just that dads are great. Yeah. That's it I reckon. Dads are great.

Was dad your or your child's first word?

Do you (like me) capitalise dad when talking about Dad?

Do please leave your most paternal comments in the box below.


  1. One of my grandchildren called me Daz. This was the result of him being very inquisitive and poking his fingers into treasured things of mine like model trains, vintage radios etc. His mum was always saying “don’t touch, that’s Grandad’s” which when simplified to child speak and since I was the possessor of the objects, I became known as Daz. I’m surprised that my own children didn’t call me that too. Guess their Mum gave up telling then not to touch Dad’s things as there were too many of them; children that is.

    Anyway, Dad is best, but always with a Capital.

    1. I tried to use Google Translate to find out if 'daz' means anything in any other languages. Apparently, it means 'skinhead' in Azerbaijani and 'bash' in Zulu.

      I'm now working on the theory that you might be a violent skinhead, and your grandson was growing up in a bilingual Azerbaijani-Zulu environment.

      Am I close?

    2. No. Edward Street never struck me as being an Azerbaijani-Zulu environment.

    3. Ah well. I suppose there were some flaws in my process of deduction.

  2. I have a papa. Not sure if papa was my first word though. It doesn't flow as easily as "da".

    1. That initial 'puh' sound of the P is very nice and easy, requiring only that the lips be closed and a little pressure built up behind them. But you're right - somehow that repeated 'pahpahpah' does seem a bit harder than the 'dah' of daddy, dad, dada, etc.

      I'm going to stop now. There are other people in the room and I'm getting looks.

      (puhpuh, dahdah, puhpuh, dahdahdah, pahpah ...)

  3. Very sweet post! :) Awwww! :)

    But what do you mean with Greek "tata"? Because we use the word "baba" (Turkish origins I think). When I was 4-5 I wanted to marry my Dad. I was reading recently that that is a phase a lot of kids go through. Phew!

    1. Eek! Digging up references now ...

      One here: Online Etymology (which is usually reliable)

      I had another reference for that, but now I can't find it, but I was lead to believe it was Ancient Greek. Is this wrong?

      I can't remember ever wanting to marry my Mum (maybe I did), but I do remember being horrified at the notion that I would one day leave home and live on my own. Why would I ever even think of such a thing!?

    2. Nice! I looked it up too. τατα gave me a really hard time, but then I found τεττα!! :)τεττα&la=greek#lexicon

      It's interesting how it became "baba" through the years. Also, thanks for that (again) Lexicolatry! You made me discover this pretty cool dictionary for future reference.

    3. Modern Greek "dad, father" μπαμπάς (bampás) is from Ancient Greek πάππας (páppas, “father”) while Ancient Greek had τατᾶ (tatâ) - "daddy" and also τέττα (tétta) - "father" or a friendly, respectful address of youths to their elders.

      The word "baba" which has spread to many other languages Greek, Albanian, Turkish, Hindi etc. is ultimately derived from Persian بابا (bābā, “father”) and is linguistically related to the common European word papa having the same Indo-European origin.

    4. There you go! Now we know! The first part of your comment is very interesting. Our Greek teacher in high school came in one day and she started going on and on about how it's such a disgrace to use babas when the Greek word is pateras and babas sounds horrible because it's Turkish blah blah blah. I remember everyone was silent. I guess we were all wondering what was wrong with her that day. :) Never bothered to look the etymology up, up until yesterday.

    5. She wasn't Greek Cypriot by any chance, was she? ;-)

    6. No, not that one. My Greek teacher in middle school was Greek Cypriot. Are you by any chance from Cyprus?

    7. No, I'm not Greek Cypriot but my family have lived in Cyprus for a long long time now which is how I'm familiar with the island and the Greek language although I speak it really badly.

  4. It's Dad their first word or in babies "speaking" other languages it's the word associated with Dad?

    In my kids the first was Papa... which meant Dad and/or Food (the difference would be in a vowel - for Dad is PapÁ and for food is PapA). :) Which I think it's the reason for being their first word. Whatever you get you can't loose ahahahah

    That number 2 on the definition is disturbing LOL

    And that photo is priceless... thank you for sharing the toothless Eddie :)

    1. That's an interesting question, Teresa, and nobody knows is the unsatisfactory answer.

      It seems that 'da' and 'ma' are (relatively) easy sounds for babies to make, and seeing as (one assumes) this has always been the case since humans have been speaking, it would mean that babies have been yabbling 'dadada' and 'mamama' since time immemorial and fawning parents have been thinking: "Awwwww! He's talking about me!"

      I'm glad you liked the photo - it's one of my favourite childhood pics : o )

    2. ".......toothless Eddie". Looks as though Eddie had an argument with the front step. His Dad is better looking than I imagined though. That 'tache is like something out of a Wyatt Earp movie.