Words at Play

8 Words for Other People's Children

On spoiled brats, ankle biters, and other holy terrors
Last Updated: 13 Apr 2022

words for other peoples kids enfant terrible yelling photo

Definition - a child whose inopportune remarks cause embarrassment

The first thing you should know about enfant terrible is how to pluralize it, since these beasties often travel in packs: it is enfants terribles. The word has other, non-childish meanings, including “a person known for shocking remarks or outrageous behavior,” and “a usually young and successful person who is strikingly unorthodox, innovative, or avant-garde.” These came about in the early 20th century; the oldest sense (your brother/sister’s spawn) dates back to the middle of the 19th century. Enfant terrible was taken directly from the French, in which language the literal meaning is “terrifying child.”

”Well, she wath in her pinnafaw, wathn’t she, ma?” says Hugh, quite unabashed; which question Lady Hawbuck turned away with a sudden query regarding the dear, darling daughters, and the enfant terrible was removed by his father.
The Era (London, Eng.), 18 Oct. 1846

words for other peoples kids killcrop girl with fork and knife

Definition - an ill-mannered annoying child

There are a number of different brats in the English language: a sausage, a child, an article of clothing (such as a cloak), and several others besides. The “annoying child” sense is thought to be related to the “article of clothing sense,” while the “sausage” meaning (a shortening of bratwurst is distinct from these. Should you have need of specifically referring to a small annoying child, the word bratling is defined as “a little brat.”

A great Name for such a little Brat. But prithee Jo. if thou wert Godfather to thy own Baby, tell me, How it came into thy Head to give it this Name?
— George Trosse, The Sauciness of a Seducer Rebuked, 1693

other peoples kids mammothrept spoiled kid

Definition - a spoiled child

This useful word comes from the Greek mammothreptos (“child brought up by his grandmother”). In spite of the ubiquity of spoiled children this word never really caught on, with few instances of use outside of the 17th century.

”You impudent mammothrept,” she cried. Disabled but with exposure No. 1 in his possession the photographer retreated, not knowing what he had been called, but fearing the worst.
Los Angeles Times, 11 Aug. 1916

MORE: 22 Charming Words for Nasty People

words for other peoples kids holy terror photo

Definition - a child who behaves very badly

The words holy and terror have certainly been used in conjunction with each other many times over the centuries, thanks to various ecclesiastical conflagrations. However, we’ve not included any of these uses in the dictionary, as they tended to not be fixed phrases, but instead are just instances of someone using the one word to modify the other. The Inquisition and the Crusades may have failed to combine these words to significant enough degree that they merit a dictionary entry, but spoiled children have succeeded in this regard.

Comparison is especially trying, but truth obliges me to say that no country that I ever heard of can lay claim to such a “holy terror” as the American child.
New York Tribune, 26 Aug. 1904

words for other peoples kids ankle biter little babies

Definition - a young child

Ankle biter frequently refers to a child, but also carries the meaning of “a small, aggressive dog.” The “child” meaning is older, dating in use back to the first half of the 19th century; the “dog” sense doesn’t come up for another hundred years or so.

To his honest neighbour, and equal in worldly matters, he extends his broad hand, and gives him a shake that it felt to the bottom of the heart:—“Well, and how are ye, John? and how’s Molly, and all the little ankle-biters? And how goes the pig on, and the garden, eh?”
Heads of the people: or, Portraits of the English, 1840

words for other peoples kids whelp baby and dog

Dictionary - a young boy or girl

At first glance whelp appears to be a somewhat more generous description of a child than some of the others on this list, and there is nothing overtly critical in its definition. However, it is one of those words (such as spawn) which, while they may accurately refer to a person’s offspring, will not be welcomed by most of the parents you meet at a playground, should you apply them to their children. Before it was used to refer to human children, whelp meant “any of the young of various carnivorous mammals and especially of the dog” (and still has this meaning), and also functions as a verb, with meanings such as “to bring forth young“ and “to give birth to — used of various carnivores and especially the dog.”

By the time the father had put on his coat, armed himself with his heaviest cane and had almost reached the door, with the declaration upon his lips that he would seek “that impudent whelp and beat an explanation out of him,” and that his daughter was not to show her face on the street again until she was ready to leave the city.
The came the denoument (sic).
Deadwood Evenin Independent (Deadwdood, SD), 2 Aug. 1895

words for other peoples kids jd juvenile delinquent huck finn

Definition - juvenile delinquent

JD (which can also mean “justice department,” or refer to a doctor of law degree) is an abbreviation of juvenile delinquent. The longer form has been in use since the early 19th century; the abbreviation does not become common until the 20th.

Upon which a further scrutiny took place, and it appeared that the juvenile delinquent some time ago had actually stabbed one of his play fellows for as trifling a cause, with a pen knife.
The Morning Post (London, Eng.), 15 Oct. 1803

”If we had a center we could eliminate a lot of JDs running around the street,” Ferraro said. “Children would have a place to meet and wholesome activities in which to participate.”
The Jersey Journal (Jersey City, NJ), 15 Sept. 1959

words for other peoples kids killcrop baby eating cake

Definition - a voracious infant

Killcrop came into English in the 17th century, from the Low German kīlkrop, and for most of its time in our language has not been used to simply describe a hungry baby. The killcrop was thought to be a fairy changeling, a small demon substituted for a real baby, which would eat endlessly.

It is on record that, being once called in to see a little weazened child with an enormous appetite, that was never the fatter for all its food, he declared it had a devil—was, in fact, that sort of thing called, in Germany, a kill-crop.
The Daily Kansas Tribune (Lawrence, KS), 7 Mar. 1869


These words have definitely been around longer than the people they describe.

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