While this is theoretically a term of address that could be used to a boy or girl, it appears to be used far more often to girls or young women. Every reference in Shakespeare to ‘my child’ is to a daughter, but that is hardly surprising. In the West Country dialect of Shakespeare’s day child did indeed refer to a girl specifically. Thus, in The Winter’s Tale, when the shepherd finds an abandoned baby, he says: ‘What have we here? Mercy on’s, a barne! A very pretty barne. A boy or a child, I wonder?’ The Oxford English Dictionary interestingly speculates that the use of ‘child’ to girls may have been widespread because girls were more dependent on their parents, over a longer period, than boys. The term. however, is often used to young women by speakers other than their parents. ‘But you’re ill, child’, says Hilda to her younger sister in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Connie is also addressed as ‘dear child’ by the elderly gentleman who is Sir Clifford’s god-father. In Opening Night, by Ngaio Marsh, a girl of twenty is ‘child’ to a considerably older man. In Edna O’Brien’s Girl with Green Eyes there is a similar use of ‘child’, ‘my child’, and ‘you poor child’ by adults to a young woman. In The Diviners, by Margaret Laurence, a husband who is considerably older than his wife makes use of ‘child’, but has to defend himself.
   ‘I shouldn’t have butted in like that, Brooke.
   ‘I am sorry.’
   ‘Hush, child. It’s all right’ Morag abruptly pulls away from him.
   ‘Brooke, I am not your child. I am your wife.’
   ‘My God, Morag, can’t you see I only used the word as an expression of affection? Remember how you and Ella used to call each other kid? What’s the difference, except that I meant this a little more tenderly, and in a different kind of relationship?’
   Oh God. Quite true. And she had lashed out at him for it.
   Nevertheless, in this instance the young wife has perhaps instinctively reacted against a condescending attitude which does not bode well, and the couple eventually divorce.
   The generally affectionate use of ‘child’ and expanded forms of it such as ‘honey child’ is associated with the American South, where at one time, if we are to believe Mrs Stowe and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, blacks sometimes referred to themselves as ‘this child’. But the word has also been used contemptuously. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck says to Demetrius: ‘Come, recreant, come, thou child; I’ll whip thee with a rod.’ In Tennyson’s In Memoriam occurs: ‘They called me a fool, they call’d me child.’ It would be tempting to say that such contemptuous use normally applies to a man (cf. an expression like ‘you old woman’ used insultingly to a man) but at one time ‘child’ was clearly a title of honour, used of youths of noble birth. The modern fashion is to spell the word slightly differently when it has this meaning, as in Byron’s Childe Harold. Such usage is now purely literary or historical, and the main use of ‘child’ in modern times is likely to be a girl or young woman. The speaker may be a parent, or more frequently, an older person assuming a kind of parental role, such as a teacher or religious. A teacher’s use of it, or of a term such as ‘my poor misguided child’ (Lord of the Flies, by William Golding), will probably be resented if it is a boy who is being addressed. As for the use of ‘child’ by religion, the following comment in Joseph Andrews, by Henry Fielding, is relevant: The gentleman expressed great delight in the hearty and cheerful behaviour of [Parson] Adams; and particularly in the familiarity with which he conversed with Joseph and Fanny, whom he often called his children, a term he explained to mean no more than his parishioners; saying ‘he looked on all those whom God had entrusted to his cure, to stand to him in that relation.’
   Fielding then takes the opportunity to comment on the clergymen of the time who adopt no such attitude to their parishioners, but strut around like turkey-cocks. Adams does indeed address Joseph as ‘child’ throughout the book, sometimes extending it to ‘dear child’, ‘my good child’. It is noticeable that on one occasion, when Joseph says something that he does not like, he switches immediately to ‘boy’. Another religious who uses ‘child’ as a regular term of address is Doctor Primrose, in The Vicar of Wakefield, though it is usually his wife, rather than his parishioners, to whom he is speaking. One wonders what Dr Primrose would have made of the remark in D.H.Lawrence’s The Plumed Servant, about ‘calling Kate, in the old Mexican style, Niña, which means child’ It is the honourable title for a mistress.

A dictionary of epithets and terms of address . . 2015.

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  • child — n pl chil·dren 1: a son or daughter of any age and usu. including one formally adopted compare issue ◇ The word child as used in a statute or will is often held to include a stepchild, an illegitimate child, a person for whom one stands in loco… …   Law dictionary

  • child — child; Children Progeny; offspring of parentage. Unborn or recently born human being. Wilson v. Weaver, 358 F.Supp. 1147, 1154. At common law one who had not attained the age of fourteen years, though the meaning now varies in different statutes; …   Black's law dictionary

  • child — child; Children Progeny; offspring of parentage. Unborn or recently born human being. Wilson v. Weaver, 358 F.Supp. 1147, 1154. At common law one who had not attained the age of fourteen years, though the meaning now varies in different statutes; …   Black's law dictionary

  • child — W1S1 [tʃaıld] n plural children [ˈtʃıldrən] ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ 1¦(young person)¦ 2¦(son/daughter)¦ 3¦(somebody influenced by an idea)¦ 4¦(somebody who is like a child)¦ 5 something is child s play 6 children should be seen and not heard 7 be with child …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Child & Co. — Child Co. Type Subsidiary Industry Private Banking and Wealth Management Founded 1664 Headquarters …   Wikipedia

  • Child — (ch[imac]ld), n.; pl. {Children} (ch[i^]l dr[e^]n). [AS. cild, pl. cildru; cf. Goth. kil[thorn]ei womb, in kil[thorn][=o] with child.] 1. A son or a daughter; a male or female descendant, in the first degree; the immediate progeny of human… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • child — [ tʃaıld ] (plural chil|dren [ tʃıldrən ] ) noun count *** 1. ) a young person from the time they are born until they are about 14 years old: The nursery has places for 30 children. The movie is not suitable for young children. He can t… …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • child — child; child·hood; child·ing; child·ish; child·less; child·ly; fair·child·ite; grand·child; twi·child; un·child; child·ish·ly; child·ish·ness; child·less·ness; child·like·ness; …   English syllables

  • Child — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Desmond Child (* 1953), US amerikanischer Songschreiber, Komponist und Produzent Eilidh Child (* 1987), britische Leichtathletin Jane Child (* 1967), kanadische Musikerin und Popularmusiksängerin Josiah… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • child — [chīld] n. pl. children [ME, pl. childre (now dial. childer; children is double pl.) < OE cild, pl. cild, cildru < IE * gelt , a swelling up < base * gel , rounded (sense development: swelling womb fetus offspring > Goth kilthei, womb …   English World dictionary

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