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<   No. 1391   2006-11-17   >

Comic #1391

1 [caption]: Port Royal
1 Long Tom: {to the crew} Be findin' the treasure map!
1 Wendy: An' be rememberin'! No killin's!
1 Dirque, other Crewmen: Arrr!
2 Townsman: {wandering by} By all the saints! It's the governor's daughter! I haven't laid eyes on you since you were a young lass. Hello poppet!
3 Wendy: Don't ye be "Hello poppet"in' me! I be here to raid yer home!
4 Townsman: Hmmm. You always were a difficult child...

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The use of the word "poppet" as a term of endearment or address to a young girl is somewhat at odds with its use to refer to a doll made to represent a particular person for use in various rituals of witchcraft. Such a poppet is an effigy of the person to be affected, much like the popular conception of a voodoo doll.

Wikipedia states (or stated, when I wrote this) that the term of endearment usage stems from the mystical usage, but I was unable to find any corroboration for this anywhere else, and my reading seems to indicate that the use of "poppet" to refer endearingly to a child predates the witchcraft-related usage.


A reader writes:
I was reading the Oxford English Dictionary article on this word, and it appears, from close reading, that the word 'poppet' originated from the post-classical Latin 'pupa', via either middle French, Anglo-Norman, Middle Dutch, or a variety of other different languages. "Several other Romance and Germanic languages also have words denoting variously 'doll', 'baby', 'little girl', some of which are borrowed from the post-classical Latin word, some from the classical Latin word."

'Pupa' means girl or doll, and the oldest recorded usage that the OED has (circa 1390) is a small or dainty person. The small effigy or a person used for witchcraft meaning dates from 1400 or earlier. The doll meaning has uses recorded starting around 1500, and using 'poppet' to mean an idol also started about this time. There is also the meaning of 'puppet', which seems to have originated around 1550. The endearment didn't come into fashion until the end on the 1700s and was/is used especially for young women. Originally it was derogatory, with overtones of an effigy or puppet.

So, the endearment definitely came after the witchcraft meaning, according to the OED, but there is no suggestion that it derived from it - rather the suggestion (taken from a liberal reading of the OED) is that the use as an endearment came from referring to little girls as poppets. The quotes seem to make a gradual transition from using the term poppet as little girl to an endearment:


2016-06-17 Rerun commentary: I see that Wikipedia's page has been edited down in the time since this comic was first published, and it now makes no claims at all about any connections between the witchcraft and term of endearment usages of the word "Poppet".

I've also discovered, in the course of this research, about Paynes Poppets - a thing of which I was not previously aware. They sound delicious, and like something I should seek out next time I am in the UK.

And now I'm having visions of witches or shamans doing unspeakable sympathetic magic over a box of chocolate confectionery.

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