The word son consist of three letters and one syllable. The word daughter is nearly three times as long, consisting of two syllables.
Both words have Old English roots and were adopted from other languages, but it’s not the origins of the words that trouble me – it’s how terribly different the two words are.
(Note: The following story has no basis in fact.)
I’m sure son came first. It seems to be the practice of mankind to cater to the males first and then, as an afterthought, toss the remaining crumbs to the females.
Based on this historical view of the sexes, I think the two words may have become a part of the spoken language in the following manner.
The Origin of “Son”
Ooga and Booga are a woman and man with four boys. Ooga has just prepared a meal for her family.
Ooga – Booga, call Fee, Fi, Fo and Fum. I make food to eat.
Booga – We need word for little mans so we can call all four at same time.
Ooga – But we call them “boys”.
Booga – I tired of all other cavemans boys coming when I call for boys. We need word for our boys.
Ooga – We shall call them our sons – like the giant ball of fire in the sky that gives life.
Booga – I like! I like very much! One syllable! Easy to pronounce! Yes, we shall call them sons.
The Origin of “Daughter”
A thousand years later, Olga has prepared a meal for her family and asks her husband to call their girls in for dinner.
Olga – Bolga, go call the girls in for supper.
Bolga – Every time I call for the girls twenty other girls show up. I can’t afford to feed the entire village! We need a word, just for the girls who belong to us. We call our male children sons. We need a word for our female children.
Olga – I don’t have time for this right now! The food is getting cold. I’ll tell you what you should do – go look out at the meadow. The first thing you see is what we will call our girls.
Bolga stepped outside of their modest little hut and looked at the meadow where he saw a lion greedily eating his prey. The lion’s dinner was a species of animal that was growing rarer by the day and was in great danger of becoming extinct.
The animal was well loved as a companion animal for its sweet, gentle and trusting demeanor, but nature had not provided it with proper defenses to fight off predators and it was therefore just twenty years away from dying out.
Bolga returned to his hut.
Olga – What did you see?
Bolga – I saw a lion eating a wild prairie daughter. From this day forward, we shall call our female children daughters.
Olga – They’re not puppies! I don’t know if I like that word.
Bolga – It’s perfect! The prairie daughters are almost gone. They’re dying out. In another 20 years nobody will have ever even seen one.
Olga – My concern has more to do with our girls taking on the characteristics of the prairie daughters. What if they grow meek, mild and irresistible, falling prey to men?
Bolga – That would never happen! We’re humans, not animals! We’re a lot smarter than they are.
Olga – Oh my gosh, Bolga! Your hand is bleeding! What happened to you?
Bolga – Oh, it’s nothing. I just lost a couple of fingers this morning. I found an alligator and stuck my hand in his mouth to see what he would do.
Olga – Smarter than the animals, indeed!
Old English dohtor, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch dochter and German Tochter
Son as a word originated before 900 BCE; from Middle English sone, Old English sunu; cognate with Dutch zoon, German Sohn, Old Norse sunr, sonr, Gothic sunus, Lithuanian sūnùs