For the Love of Words: Where do "Puppy" and "Kitty" come from?
Updated: Apr 27
For over 500 years, "puppy" has been used to describe a small dog, although in the late 15th century, it was specifically “a woman’s small dog.”
It likely came from the French word poupée, which means “doll” or “toy." The likely connection was that the small size of the dog resulted in it being petted and played with like a doll.
In the 1590s, its direct meaning shifted from a “toy dog” to a “young dog,” which is how we still use it today.
"Kitty", a term that is now used as slang for any cat, originated from the word “kitten,” which has been around for nearly 700 years. It is an Anglo-French variant of kitoun, from the earlier Old French chaton or chitoun, meaning “little cat.” The word “kitty” itself was first recorded in 1719 as another word for a "young cat."
The use of “Kitty” as a common nickname for “Catherine” started around the 16th century, and around that time, it was also used as a sort of synonym for a young girl. This means that using “kitty” to describe a young girl was actually used BEFORE “kitty” to describe a cat.
Other historic definitions of “kitty” include its use as a noun for “the pool of money in a card game” (from late 19th century American English) and as another word for “jail” (from early 19th century England).
Perhaps most obscurely, in the early 20th century, “to have kittens” meant “to lose one’s composure.”