bairn

[bairn] or [beyrn]

What does bairn mean?

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Bairn is a Scottish or northern English word for child.

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Examples of bairn

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Examples of bairn
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wish one of the girls would hurry up n have a bairn man, jus take one for the team
@niamhccoy22, January 2019
My dad’s dad was from West Belfast...I never met him unfortunately and as a bairn my dad came over here [to England].
Josh Warrington quoted by David Anderson, Mirror, December 2018

Where does bairn come from?

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The word bairn comes from the Old English word bearn, a “descendant,” and is related to the verb to bear, as in bearing children. A bairn can be either a male or female child. It can also refer more generally to childhood.

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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 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.”

Since at least the early 1880s, describing someone as a bairn in the figurative sense meant they were child-like or, more pejoratively, childish, e.g., He’s nothing but a bairn and has no sense.

All of these senses of bairn, both literal and figurative, remain in use in Scotland and northern England.

Who uses bairn?

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.

@ryankingg / Twitter

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].”

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