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Bairn is a Northern English, Scottish English and Scots term for a child.[1] It originated in Old English as "bearn", becoming restricted to Scotland and the North of England c. 1700.[2]

A man with "his boat and bairns" in a calotype print from the 1840s, now in the National Galleries of Scotland.

The word was included in the English Dialect Dictionary with variant spellings barn, bayn, bayne that reflect varying pronunciations.[3]

Compare with the Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Danish word for child "barn" or the West-Frisian "bern".

Cain bairns are children seized by witches and warlocks as tribute for the devil.

Examples of use[edit]

Examples of the term's use include the phrase "Jock Tamson's Bairns" as an idiomatic expression of egalitarian sentiment and the title of the 19th century Geordie folk song "Come Geordie ha'd the bairn." "Baloo Baleerie", a traditional Scottish lullaby, incorporates the term repeatedly, as does "The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry", a traditional folk song from Orkney.

The UK named one of their Second World War coastal tankers the SS Empire Bairn.

In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Paradise Syndrome", Chief Engineer Scotty refers to the damaged Enterprise engines as "my poor bairns."[4]

The Bairns is the title of an album by folk rock group The Unthanks.

In the 2013 Film "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" upon meeting Bard after the dwarves escape the woodland realm, Balin (son of Fundin) points out that as Bard is a hard worker, he must have hungry mouths to feed. He follows this statement with the question "How many bairns?"


  1. ^ "Bairn". Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828). The University of Chicago. Archived from the original on 2012-10-25. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  2. ^ Douglas Harper (ed.). "Bairn (n.)". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  3. ^ Wright, Joseph. English Dialect Dictionary. p. 134.
  4. ^ "The Paradise Syndrome": Memorable quotes