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Colonial America
Word and Phrase Origins
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What is the origin of the word 'stepchild'?

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September 08, 2007 11:28PM

Step-

Old English. steop-, with connotations of "loss," in combinations like steopcild "orphan," related to astiepan, bestiepan "to bereave, to deprive of parents or children," from P.Gmc. *steupa- "bereft" (cf. O.Fris. stiap-, O.N. stjup-, Swed. styv-, M.L.G. stef-, Du. stief-, O.H.G. stiof-, Ger. stief-), lit. "pushed out," from PIE *steup-, from base *(s)teu- (see steep (adj.)). Etymologically, a stepfather or stepmother is one who becomes father or mother to an orphan, but the notion of orphanage faded in 20c. For sense evolution, cf. L. privignus "stepson," related to privus "deprived."