The gossip writer for my hometown Philadelphia Inquirer used an impressive three Britishisms in two sentences in yesterday’s paper:
“Pop star-thesp Pink has been gushing about her daughter, Willow Sage Hart, since the bairn was born in June 2011. But Doylestown [Pennsylvania]‘s proudest daughter wasn’t always so keen on becoming a mum.”
I’ve previously covered two of them; links will take you to the relevant entry. The third is bairn, meaning (one’s) child, which derives from the Old English bearn. It is found in Beowulf, written in 529, and the most recent citation in the OED is from History of the Norman Conquests, by E.A. Freeman: “Harthacnut too..was at least a kingly bairn.” I get a sense that Freeman used it in 1867 because even then, it seemed like an antique word.
When one searches for it in a contemporary context, most of the hits refer to the expression “Jock Tamson’s bairns,” about which Wikipedia has some interesting things to say:
“We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns” is Lowland Scots and Northumbrian English for we’re all John Thomson’s children, It is a popular saying in Scotland and the far north of England, and is known in other parts of the world. Nowadays, the phrase is often used to mean “we’re all the same under the skin”.
It has been suggested as a euphemism for God, so the saying could mean “we are all God’s children”. The expression “We’re a’ the bairns o’ Adam”, conveys exactly the same meaning, see Freedom Come-All-Ye a song written by Hamish Henderson. Scottish Gaelic also has the shorter saying “Clann MhicTamhais” (Thomson/MacTavish’s children/clan). This is a common egalitarian sentiment in Scottish national identity, also evident in the popularity of the Robert Burns song A Man’s A Man for A’ That.
Although Jock Tamson’s Bairns is used as a personification of the Scots nation, it is also used to refer to the human race in general.
In the United States, bairn is very much a novelty item, used for variety or comic effect or elegant variation (both apply in the Philadelphia Inquirer item). The most recent use by a New York Times writer came in 2006, in a Natalie Angier column about mothers (in the animal kingdom) who eat their young or allow them to die:
In other cases, mothers turn infanticidal because they are born optimists, ever tuned to the sunny expectation that good times lie ahead. Each year they breed for a banquet, producing a maximum of begging bairns as the season starts; and when there is plenty of food, they will provision every young.
By the way, there may have been another word that puzzled you in the Inquirer item. Thesp was originated by the trade-newspaper Variety; it’s show-biz slang for actor.