Origin of "babysitting"

Posted by ESC on March 01, 2003

In Reply to: Origin of "babysitting" posted by R. Berg on March 01, 2003

: : Does anybody know who coined the term "babysit" or "babysitting?" or how it came to be, as a word/phrase?

: The absence of these forms from the first edition of (and supplements to) the Oxford English Dictionary suggests a 20th-century origin. The following, from H. L. Mencken, "The American Language" (abridged ed., 1963; original copyrights 1919, 1921, 1923), suggests an American one:

: "There is a much greater percentage of humorous shortenings among verbs," says Elizabeth Wittman, "than among other parts of speech. Especially is this true of verbs shortened from nouns and adjectives by subtracting what looks like a derivative suffix . . . Many clipped verbs have noun parallels, while some are simply clipped nouns used as verbs." Of these are to stenog, to chiropract, to taxpay, to liase, to ghost-write, to baby-sit, to brainwash, to bookkeep, to collab and to best-sell. Some verbs of this class are already of respectable antiquity [sec. "Verbs" in chap. "The Language Today"].

BABY-SITTER - noun "someone who looks after a child while its parents are out, especially in the evening. Originally US. The derived verb 'baby-sit' is first recorded in 1947. By the 1960s 'sit' was being used on its own with the same meaning, and later in the century it began to attach itself to other objects of guardianship (mainly in 'house-sit')." From "20th Century Words: The Story of New Words in English Over the Last 100 Years" by John Ayto (Oxford University Press, New York, 1999).