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Childlike vs. childish

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August 24, 2007, 09:36
Childlike vs. childish
Is there any difference between the words childlike and childish?

My sense is that they are talking about exactly the same thing (although the former takes a somewhat complimentary view of that thing, while the latter is derogatory).
August 24, 2007, 09:54
Richard English
I think they mean quite different things. Childlike means using an uninhibited and enquiring mind that is open to new ideas.

Childish means being uninhibited in behaviour insofar as social conventions are concerned.

Richard English
August 24, 2007, 20:04
If I understand Richard correctly, I think I agree with him. I see "childlike" as innocent behavior, like a child's. I see "childish" as an adult behaving like a child, which is inappropriate. Here's what the OED says on "childlike": "Like a child; (of qualities, actions, etc.) like those of a child, characteristic of a child. Almost always in a good sense, with reference to the innocence, meekness, etc., of children; opposed to childish, which is generally used in a bad sense."
August 25, 2007, 02:05
Richard English
Kalleh's explanation is far better than mine!

Richard English
August 25, 2007, 21:33
Hic et ubique
Yeah, but what about this, which is pretty famous:
August 26, 2007, 09:17
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says that "childlike" usually has positive or neutral connotations, and "childish" usually has negative connotations.
April 18, 2008, 09:04
in my own opinion childlike is just innocent like a child whereas childish literarily means stupidity.
April 18, 2008, 10:30
Richard English
Welcome to this board, joatfamoct27.

Whereas I agree with what you say, I think that there's more to being childlike than simple innocence. There's that childlike need to learn as well.

Richard English
April 18, 2008, 20:41
Welcome, joat (if you don't mind my shortening your name). Wow...Nigeria! See my private message.

I agree that "childish" is a more negative term than "childlike."
April 20, 2008, 06:28
Hello, Joat, and welcome to Wordcraft!

My sense of childlike is not entirely positive. I realize it is supposed to mean innocent and unspoiled, but sometimes you see it used to describe an adult who is not quite all there. "She had an almost childlike quality" may mean that she was clueless or dense or a little slow--besides being unspoiled and kind or innocent in her nature.

As for childish, for me, that is always negative, even when applied to a child. Parents say to their children "don't be so childish" all the time, and the kids are by virtue of their age, childish. But when I hear the word, I think of selfish, tantrum-throwing, inconsiderate and rude as accurate synonyms.

April 20, 2008, 09:40
<Asa Lovejoy>
Originally posted by wordmatic:
I realize it is supposed to mean innocent and unspoiled, but sometimes you see it used to describe an adult who is not quite all there.

Puerile fits here too. Funny how we don't have the word, puellile as its feminine compliment, but then it may not be necessary. Wink
April 20, 2008, 10:58
Vanderhoof Verbivore
Another distinction I would make for "childish", especially when applied to an adult, is that it has to be a deliberately negative action – like a "childish" tantrum" or "childishly" refusing a request.
Without the deliberate aspect, I would lean toward "childlike" as a description
April 20, 2008, 12:18
Good point, Verbivore. I, too, see "childish" as deliberate, while "childlike" is more descriptive of attributes or features.
April 21, 2008, 05:56
As well as some of the descriptions on here, I also see 'childlike' as retaining positive aspects of being a child (playfulness, etc), and 'childish' as retaining negative ones (e.g. sulking, blaming others, refusing to accept responsibility for one's actions etc).

For example, I'm 33 and still love making snowmen (on the rare occasions we get snow!), and sand sculptures on the beach, and a lot of my friends do too. I feel sorry for people who believe that when you hit a certain age you're not supposed to enjoy certain things anymore, and that if you do enjoy them, you're certainly not supposed to engage in them. If it causes no harm, why deprive yourself? I also enjoy and engage in more 'mature' pursuits, but if I want to paddle in the sea and make a Sand Dalek, I will.

I think one of the reasons people have kids is so that they can still enjoy those sorts of pursuits, as it's more acceptable to them because they're just playing with their children Wink.
April 21, 2008, 21:13
I so agree, Cat. And what about snow angels?
April 22, 2008, 16:36
Do you know, I've never made a snow angel. I've been planning to the last few years but it never snows enough anymore. This year we've had two snowfalls of a couple of inches and that's it. Most annoying.
April 24, 2008, 05:04
Yes, definitely snow angels. I make a point to make at least one a year, and the year I get too old to do that....well, then Asa will stop calling me "puerile!"