Scottish word of the week: Weans and Bairns

WITH the countdown to Christmas well underway, parents across the country have started hunting down gifts for their ‘weans’.
Christmas shopping for the weans is in full effect across Scotland. Picture: TSPLChristmas shopping for the weans is in full effect across Scotland. Picture: TSPL
Christmas shopping for the weans is in full effect across Scotland. Picture: TSPL

Derived from wee, meaning little, and ane meaning one, wean is a word most commonly used in the West of Scotland to refer to a young child, and is sometimes also spoken as wee yin or ‘little one’.

Wee is a word whose current meaning is in little dispute, but whose origins are interesting and complex.

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It is derived from the Old English waeg describing the weight of an object, a word also used to refer to a quantity or an amount. Littel wei was also commonly used in this period, meaning “a little thing or little amount”.

However, wee was not used as an adjective until the middle of the 15th century, after which it was combined with ane to create wean.

Over on the east coast, weans are more often referred to as bairns.

Derived from the Old English word bearn, meaning child or descendent, bairn has its roots in Old Saxon and Old High German, and is used in some parts of North East England and Yorkshire as well as eastern Scotland.

It is not known specifically at what time bairn was first used, although it appeared in the famous epic poem Beowulf which was written in the late Anglo-Saxon period between 800 and 1100 AD.

Bairn remains part of Scottish culture thanks to a famous Scottish family - The Broons. The Scottish cartoon family features a huge cast of maws, paws, granpaws, brothers, sisters, and the baby of the bunch - the bairn.

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