antedate for "love child"

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Jan 26 06:15:39 UTC 2005

THE NATURAL SON, or, Lover's Vows, a Play, in 5 Acts. Bu Augustus von
Kotzerik, Poet-Laureat, and Director of the Imperial Theaters at
Vienna.... The Natural Son, or Child of Love, is the justly-admired
Play which is now performing, wich such universal Applause, at the
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, under the altered Title of LOVER'S
VOWS. Advertisement in the Times, Oct 19, 1798.

The OED has 1805 for 'love child', and the cite suggests a German
origin: "Miss Blenheim being, what in that country is denominated, a
love-child." Perhaps the Kotzerik play was the point of entry.

I'm interested in "love child" because while it was originally a
euphemism for 'bastard' (Trench wrote in 1855, "what a source of
mischief in all our country parishes is the one practice of calling a
child born out of wedlock, a 'love-child' instead of a bastard"),
it's still being used after "bastard" has become pretty much outdated
in its literal meaning and illegitimacy itself is no longer a topic
people feel they have to dance around. I've been trying to think of
other cases where an expression retains a euphemistic character -- as
the frequent use of quotes around "love child" demonstrates it surely
does -- even after the word it was originally meant to euphemize is
no longer used in the relevant sense.

Geoff Nunberg

More information about the Ads-l mailing list