In a previous post, I proved that man used to refer to either gender. It's the same story with girl! In Middle English, the word we now associate as a "young female" was slowly developing away from a meaning of "young human", but another interesting part of this is the scale of phonetic change that took place. There were variations such as gyrle, girle, gerle, and gyrele on record since Old English; as such a basic word, everything under the sun has been attempted, and you can see that for other simple Germanic terms as well. It is likely that all of this harkens back to Proto-Germanic gurjwaz, still meaning "child" in general, which in turn derives from Proto-Indo-European gher, which was surprisingly appropriate in definition, meaning "short". Gal is a slang pronunciation of girl, first coined in 1795, and when girlie was coined in 1942, it referred to those pulp magazines with provocative pictures.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.