Rantings of a sub-editor

March 8, 2010

How old is an infant?

Filed under: infant/child,word choice — substuff @ 12:56 pm
Tags: ,

My sources tell me voices and tempers were raised at The Sunday Times this weekend, over the subject of children. Or, more specifically, infants.

The story in question was that of five-year-old Sahil Saeed, who was kidnapped in Punjab on Friday.

The source of the editorial unrest was that the copy described the child as an ‘infant’ – a word that has two meanings in British English: 1) a schoolchild aged between five and seven; 2) a baby.

Although this was apparently a matter of great debate at The Sunday Times, the members of our subs desk unanimously agree that the prevailing meaning is ‘baby’. A little investigation into the origins of the word (in the OED) was helpful:

from Latin infant– ‘unable to speak’, from in ‘not’ + fant– ‘speaking’ (from the verb fari)

But where are the rules? Neither The Times nor the Guardian style guides address the subject, and Fowler is of little assistance. And what of toddlers, babies, youths etc?

After some discussion, we have decided upon:

Baby/infant – up to 18 months
Toddler – 18 months to three years
Child – 18 months to 12 years??
Youth – 12 years to 18 years
Teenager – obvious

Erm… does anyone have a more specific guide?


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