noun, plural chil·dren.
- a person between birth and full growth; a boy or girl: books for children.
- a son or daughter: All my children are married.
- a baby or infant.
- a human fetus.
- a childish person: He’s such a child about money.
- a descendant: a child of an ancient breed.
- any person or thing regarded as the product or result of particular agencies, influences, etc.: Abstract art is a child of the 20th century.
- a person regarded as conditioned or marked by a given circumstance, situation, etc.: a child of poverty; a child of famine.
- British Dialect Archaic. a female infant.
- Archaic. childe.
- with child, pregnant: She’s with child.
noun plural children
- a boy or girl between birth and puberty
- (as modifier)child labour
- a baby or infant
- an unborn babyRelated prefix: paedo-
- with child another term for pregnant
- a human offspring; a son or daughterRelated adjective: filial
- a childish or immature person
- a member of a family or tribe; descendanta child of Israel
- a person or thing regarded as the product of an influence or environmenta child of nature
- Midland English and Western English dialect a female infant
Old English cild “fetus, infant, unborn or newly born person,” from Proto-Germanic *kiltham (cf. Gothic kilþei “womb,” inkilþo “pregnant;” Danish kuld “children of the same marriage;” Old Swedish kulder “litter;” Old English cildhama “womb,” lit. “child-home”); no certain cognates outside Germanic. “App[arently] originally always used in relation to the mother as the ‘fruit of the womb'” [Buck]. Also in late Old English, “a youth of gentle birth” (archaic, usually written childe). In 16c.-17c. especially “girl child.”
The wider sense “young person before the onset of puberty” developed in late Old English. Phrase with child “pregnant” (late 12c.) retains the original sense. The sense extension from “infant” to “child” also is found in French enfant, Latin infans. Meaning “one’s own child; offspring of parents” is from late 12c. (the Old English word was bearn; see bairn). Figurative use from late 14c. Most Indo-European languages use the same word for “a child” and “one’s child,” though there are exceptions (e.g. Latin liberi/pueri).
The difficulty with the plural began in Old English, where the nominative plural was at first cild, identical with the singular, then c.975 a plural form cildru (genitive cildra) arose, probably for clarity’s sake, only to be re-pluraled late 12c. as children, which is thus a double plural. Middle English plural cildre survives in Lancashire dialect childer and in Childermas.
Child abuse is attested by 1963; child-molester from 1950. Child care is from 1915. Child’s play, figurative of something easy, is in Chaucer (late 14c.).
- A person who has not yet reached puberty.
- A son or daughter; an offspring.
- A person not of legal age; a minor.
In addition to the idiom beginning with child
, also see
- second childhood