The Grammarphobia Blog

Does your heart belong to daddy?

Q: The first grown-up I heard refer to his father as “my daddy” was Lyndon Johnson (I was new to America) and I took it to be a Texan thing until I noticed that it was common in the Southern states and in books by Southern writers – who could forget Big Daddy? For some years now, I’ve noticed that women who would not dream of calling their mothers “mommies” speak of their fathers as “daddies.” Comment, please?

A: The term “daddy” isn’t a Texan thing or a Southern thing or even an American thing. It’s an English thing that was around well before the days of Shakespeare.

The first published reference in the Oxford English Dictionary is from the Chester Mystery Plays, a cycle of biblical plays from the 15th and 16th centuries, and perhaps even earlier.

In The Death of Abel (circa 1500), the Cain character says, “As my daddye hath taughte yt me, / I will fulfill his lore.” And here’s a 1529 citation from the poet John Skelton: “Now God save these dadyes / And all ther yong babyes.”

The Chester plays, named for the town in Cheshire where they were performed, were banned as “Popery” by the Church of England during the Elizabethan era but they were revived in modern times.

I haven’t heard many grown-up women refer to their fathers as “daddies,” but perhaps those who do feel more free to act girlish with dads than with moms.

When I think of women and daddies, though, I think of Mary Martin singing that her heart belongs to her da-da-da, da-da-da, da-daddyah.

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