I have a theory.
More of a thought really.
It occurred to me last night. At about 3 am, when most philosophical thought happens in my head. It occurred as Hannah worked her way into a cry because her eczema was making her itch. It occurred the moment I could have sworn Hannah said (yelled out) “muuuuuuum” for the first time.
Mothers, you’ve been conned.
Let’s take a step back and I’ll explain why I think this.
A few weeks ago, Hannah began making “dad” sounds. She made them while playing, while having fun. They came from happiness and experimentation. Her sounds were, of course, immediately noticed by me and claimed as her first words. They were responded to, which encouraged her to make them more. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and our friends got her to say it, then they pointed at me. This made me feel good. The word “dad” has become a regular part of her play. Her regular use of this one word makes playtime with her even more enjoyable for me.
I started wondering, how did this glorious sound come to mean me? I had my suspicions, and they were reinforced by what I found on some etymology websites. The Online Etymology Dictionary states:
recorded from c. 1500, but probably much older, from child’s speech, nearly universal and probably prehistoric (compare Welsh tad, Irish daid, Czech, Latin, Greek tata, Lithuanian tete, Sanskrit tatah, all of the same meaning).
This is further reinforced by the information at the top of the Google search result (I can’t for the life of me figure out who this is attributed to – sorry), which states “… perhaps imitative of a young child’s first syllables“.
Great. For about 500 years (probably much longer), father’s all over the globe have almost universally misappropriated their baby’s first recognisable syllables and claimed them for themselves (much like I did). Kudos to the first father that figured that trick out!
I can almost picture that first interaction:
A mother at home all day looking after child. Father walks in, looks down at child, who exclaims “dadada”.
“He means me!” bellows father. He walks back out and goes to pub to tell mates.
So, what about “mum”? My late-night philosophising last night, post Hannah cry, led me to the conclusion that mums got their name from being the ones who responded to infant cries. Again, I’ll try to re-enact this event so that you have a picture of how it happened:
Infant cries “Muuuuuuuuuum”. Both parents wake up.
Father looks at mother, “She’s calling your name, love”.
Father rolls back over and goes to sleep.
(Emma says that if I ever try this, she will kick me in the testicles)
So there you have it. Pretty conclusive evidence that mums have been conned into the primary nurturing role, while us dads enjoy the good life of playtime babbles.
Disclaimer – Zero scientific evidence was used in the writing of this article and plenty of assumptions were made.