The source of this word is thoroughly obscure. OED names and rejects about half a dozen suggested origins. The good news, however, is that the meaning of a “low-birth” man is obsolete, and the current use includes boys, young men, shepherds, any male being addressed endearingly, and — if they work with horses in the right stable — girls.
It’s also one of those “first half of the book” words. Hmm. Might be time to examine all the words that goblins say.
• 1.017 for so many quiet lads
• 1.123 a fine adventurous lad
• 4.019 You go, my lad!
• 4.020 Ho, ho! my lad!
• 4.021 Below, my lad!
• 4.022 and to the ugly laughter of their ho, ho! my lad!
• 8.022 my lads;