When R.E.M. sang “hey, kids” throughout “Drive,” listeners understood that Michael Stipe wasn’t addressing a group of baby goats. Similarly, the Indigo Girls were not saying they were scared of youthful livestock when they performed “Kid Fears.”
We need more testimony. I asked three copy editors what they thought of using “kid” this way in newspapers and news Web sites. Here are their answers:
Bill Cloud of UNC-Chapel Hill: I think “kid” is fine in casual uses. I wouldn’t change it in a column, for example, but would question its use in a crime story. We all talk about the wife, husband and kids.
Kathleen Flynn of The New York Times: Since starting to work at The Times in 2005, I have become ever more conservative about word choice and grammar, even in my off hours, even when I am not really thinking about it consciously. You might say I drank the Kool-Aid, but that would be far too informal to say in print. So, yes, I would avoid “kids” to describe young human beings in all but the most informal written usage. But I also have to recognize that I am probably in the minority here, and there is really nothing wrong with the word.
Bill Walsh of The Washington Post: I wouldn’t write “6 Kids Killed in Fire,” but for more casual references there’s nothing wrong with the word. As I recall, I wrote in “Lapsing Into a Comma” that the kids-are-goats argument “belongs in the assisted-living facility.”
My ruling: After weighing this expert testimony and reading the magazine column in question, I dissent from the Kilpatrick court. Although ethics is a weighty topic, Cohen writes in an informal way, which is part of his appeal as a columnist. Additionally, we as editors should grant some leeway (but not carte blanche) to columnists.
Thus, in this case, “kids” is all right.
UPDATE: Cohen responds and elaborates in a comment to this post. Thank you, Randy.