Kids! Children! Little ones! Drape apes!
Whether you have children or just were one once, it never hurts to have more words to describe tykes. Most of us spend at least some of our breath talking about young’uns, whether to say the children are the future or the rug rats are a pest—so you may want to consider adding these slang terms for children to your vocabulary for the next time you need to discuss wee ones.
Many slang terms for kids, like rug rat, involve the short height of children. That’s true of the term ankle-biter, which has been around since at least this 1840 reference in William Howitt’s book Heads of People Vol. 1: “And how are ye, John? and how’s Molly, and all the little ankle-biters?”
The term was so successful that it spawned a secondary meaning later in the 1800s, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as “A person regarded as relatively unimportant but nevertheless irritating or annoying.” A use from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in 1872 shows that sense in action: “He believed that all private companies and undertakings could be worked more economically than limited companies or Corporation works, as there were not so many ‘ankle biters’.” The common denominator of those meanings is nuisance.
2. Saucepan Lid
In rhyming slang, this term can refer to either a quid or a kid. An advertisement from 2000 shows the second meaning in use: “Congratulations on the birth of your first saucepan lid.” Another rhyming term for kid is gawd-forbid.
3. and 4. Breadsnapper and Breadsnatcher
In slang and in reality, children cannot live on ankles alone, as attested by the existence of these related terms that have a Scottish and Irish background. Green’s Dictionary of Slang defines these terms as meaning, “a child who can eat their weight in groceries” and provides an example from the 1935 book No Mean City: “There’ll be nae more bread-snappers if I can help it,’ he resolved grimly. ‘Kids are all very well for a woman, but they’re a bliddy nuisance to a man.’”
5. and 6. Crumb-catcher and Crumb-snatcher
Similarly, crumb-catcher and crumb-snatcher were slang terms for a baby—according to Green’s, “[usually] one that is just beginning to eat solids”—that originated with Black Americans in the late 1950s. They can also be used as slang for something children lack: a mustache.
Since at least the 1870s, half-pint has referred to either a child or a short person. The term appeared in Joaquin Miller’s 1876 book First Fam’lies in the Sierras: “Here’s to it! Here’s to the Little Half-a-pint [...] they did not know the baby’s name.”
8. and 9. Quinquennarian and Sexennarian
Quinquennarian is an amusingly literal word for a 5-year-old child. It appeared in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1821 along with a similar term, describing a group of “mostly quinquennarians, or at most sexennarians.” That’s a cute way to refer to the kindergarten crowd.
10. Hasty Pudding
Since slang generally deals with the racier or taboo sides of life, illegitimate parentage informs quite a few child-centric terms, including hasty pudding (which may be related to the British euphemism for pregnancy, in the pudding club). A 1617 use from John Fletcher’s play The Chances employs the term in this sense: “Your Brats got out of Alligant and broken Oaths? Your Linsey Woolsey work, your Hasty Puddings?”
Small characters in film have often inspired terms for children. Take, for example, munchkin, a term coined by author L. Frank Baum in his 1900 novel The Wizard of Oz. The 1939 movie spread awareness of the term, which has been used since at least the mid-1970s to refer to rug rats.
The word muppet—which Jim Henson said he arbitrarily made up but has also been explained as a combination of marionette and puppet—has been used similarly, according to Green’s, but has several unrelated meanings recorded in the OED: They include a squid-like fishing lure, a psychiatric patient in a prison, an incompetent person, and “someone enthusiastic but inept; a person prone to mishaps through naivety.”
13. Doorstep Baby
Since at least the late 1800s, doorstep baby has been a term for an illegitimate child, and it’s pretty self-explanatory. An example from Samuel Ornitz’s 1929 book Haunch, Paunch and Jowl: An Anonymous Autobiography shows a variation that makes the meaning obvious: “He was nobody’s child—a door-step bastard.”
14. Beef Baby
It’s not as well-known as going to the mattresses, but the phrase beef baby also comes from the crime lexicon, and also involves a mattress. Green’s defines a beef baby as “a child fathered by a gangster who is living temporarily with a girlfriend or mistress while hiding from the authorities.” The beef is presumably between those authorities and the new father. This term is first found in George Pelecanos’s 2003 novel Soul Circus: “Durham [...] saw his son, Laron, a beef baby he had fathered four years ago, once or twice a year.”
15. Yuppie Puppy
Green’s defines this rhyming term as “a child of a yuppie, for whom children were seen as something of a fashion accessory in the early 1990s.” Happy, Pappy?
16. Drape Ape
Continuing the theme of rhyme, the term drape ape is at least as old as the mid-1970s, when it was recorded in L. Dills’s book CB Slanguage. Drape ape is a lexical sibling of other terms for children such as house ape, rug rat, and carpet rat.