noun Scot. and North England.
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Origin of bairn
Words nearby bairn
What does bairn mean?
Bairn is a Scottish or Northern English word for child.
Where does bairn come from?
The word bairn comes from the Old English word bearn, a “descendant,” and is related to the verb bear, as in bearing children. A bairn can be either a male or female child. It can also refer more generally to childhood.
Bairn has been closely associated with northern England and Scotland throughout its existence, although it was a general English word before 1700. Since 1700, its use has been more limited to northern England and Scotland.
Bairn appears, for instance, in the incredibly charming work, Nine Hundred and Forty Scottish Proverbs (1667) several times. One proverb reads: “A bairn must creep ere he gang,” or “A child must crawl before he walks.”
The bairn disappeared upstairs just after the bells, came down 15mins later, 'need a help, some string and some tape dad'… Melted. pic.twitter.com/xqPArl6S2H
— Graham Smith (@smithy1893) January 1, 2019
Since at least the early 1880s, figuratively describing someone as a bairn meant they were childlike or, more pejoratively, childish, e.g., He’s nothing but a bairn and has no sense. However, bairn can also sometimes carry a positive connotation in its figurative uses.
How is bairn used in real life?
The word bairn, for a literal or figurative “child,” remains in use in contemporary Scotland and Northern England. It is considered a more regional term than child.
English speakers across the pond or down under—that is, Americans, Canadians, or Australians—may have encountered bairn in the popular television show Outlander, which follows a woman who time travels back to 1743 Scotland. There’s a lot of bairn-mama drama in the show, to put it mildly.
The Scottish football (soccer) team Falkirk F.C. are nicknamed The Bairns, a reference to the natives of Falkirk and their town motto: “Better meddle wi’ the de’il [devil] than the Bairns o’Fa’kirk [of Falkrik].”
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
Example sentences from the Web for bairn
Before this misadventure Nial had been what Mr. Morrison himself called "a waefu' bairn."Pharais and The Mountain Lovers|Fiona Macleod
He's a fool that marries at Yule; for when the bairn's to bear the corn's to shear.The Proverbs of Scotland|Alexander Hislop
I have had the reins since you were a bairn, and you have been a handful.Kate Carnegie and Those Ministers|Ian Maclaren
Can He no shift it frae the tae airm to the tither, but the bairn maun girn?The Elect Lady|George MacDonald
Then tha knaws ma son John, 'ee war nowt but a bairn when brether Dick took un to 'Merriky!Stories in Light and Shadow|Bret Harte