This May Make You Smile: A 12-Year-Old’s Polite Note About ‘Kids’

We get several emails a day from folks who want to correct our grammar. Many start like this:

“Would you please inform [insert name of NPR journalist] that to say [insert mistake, often about “lie” or “lay”] is incorrect.” Then they usually question the quality of our educations.

We recently got a warmer wag of a finger. Jarrod Jackson in Audience Relations passed along an actual letter – on paper – from 12-year-old Sylvia Seay of Crozet, Va. She chided us just a bit while also being absolutely charming, at least in the eyes of many in the newsroom.

-          Page 1 is here.

-          Be sure to open Page 2 as well.

Sylvia is a fan of NPR, but she has an issue:

“I have noticed that you refer to parents as ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers,’ rather than ‘moms’ and ‘dads.’ Despite this, children are still dubbed ‘kids.’ …

“I find this improper because the definition for ‘kid’ in Webster’s 7th New Collegiate Dictionary is as follows:  ‘A young goat, or various related animals.’

“A child does not fall under this category. I myself am a child in 8th grade and of twelve years. I would suggest another term in place of ‘kid,’ such as: child, youth, younger population, teen, minor, or whippersnapper (haha).”

A search of NPR.org turns up about 1,300 mentions of “kids” in the past year and 1,400 of “children.”

The numbers wouldn’t have been that close, I bet, a few decades ago. I told Sylvia in an email that I remember being admonished by an editor nearly 40 years ago. “Children are not ‘kids,’” he said.

But, I added, “over time, the word has become more accepted.”

Perhaps we can put some of the blame on Madison Avenue. Remember that Armour hot dogs commercial from the ‘60s and  ‘70s?

I also told Sylvia that:

“You’ve touched on an issue we deal with every day. We want to be careful with our words and we try not to make grammatical mistakes. But we also want to be conversational and ‘sound like America.’ English is a living language and we change with the times. That said … ‘kids’ is a word that works better in fun, or lighter, stories. A guideline might be that if you wouldn’t use the words ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’ then ‘kids’ probably isn’t appropriate either.”

Now, if only more of our language police were like Sylvia. She’s a good … person.

(“Memmos;” March 15, 2016)

March 15, 2016

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