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"nipper" for child

Posted by ESC on May 04, 2002

In Reply to: "Nipper" for child posted by James Briggs on May 03, 2002

: : : I've just found a passage in Peter Ackroyd's London biography (apologies in advance - I just keep finding interesting tidbits)quoting a seventeenth century city recorder who was giving evidence about a raid on Watton's Ale house in Billingsgate. Apparently the inn keeper was running a sort of school for child pick pockets. It really could have come directly from Oliver Twist. "Pockets and purses were hung upon a line with 'hawkes bells' or 'scaring bells' attached to them; if a child could remove a coin or counter without setting off the bell 'he was adjudged a judicaill Nypper'".

: : : So I'm guessing this is the origin of calling children "little nippers".

: : "Nipper" was the OED's Word of the Day a few months ago. I didn't copy it, but the 1st ed. has these definitions, among others:
: : (Cant) A thief or pickpocket. Obs.
: : A boy who assists a costermonger, carter, or workman.
: : A boy, a lad.
: : (Earliest quotations for these three senses are in chronological sequence.)

: I guess the name arose because small children tend to dash here and there quickly - they are 'nippy', hence the noun 'nipper' for a child/youth.

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable agrees with you:
NIPPER - "Slang for a small boy, so called because he is 'nippy,' or swift and agile." From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by Adrian Room (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1999, Sixteenth Edition).

I have a two-year-old grandnephew who should be named Nippy because he bites.

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