SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: In which we consider the meaning of “wild child.”


With hunger at her heels
Freedom in her eyes
She dances on her knees
Pirate prince at her side
Staring into the hollow idol’s eye

This song by the Doors is 50 years old, and Jim Morrison is still very much dead, but I never really gave much thought to the concept of a “wild child” until earlier in the week, when someone came to my door in the guise of a Girl Scout selling Rice Krispies Treats, ignored the “Get Off My Porch” sign, and mentioned “wild child” as a potential topic for this very column about the wonderful world of words.

A wild child is a young person who is considered high spirited and fearlessly reckless, likely to act spontaneously, often doing things they might later regret. This is different from a feral child, which is a child who has lived in isolation from human contact from a very young age.

Back in my day, at the tail end of the crazed Sixties and amid the onset of the stoned Seventies, there seemed to be quite a few possessors of “wild child” characteristics.

As aging set in, I’d occasionally found myself lifting an eyebrow at the antics of the children (and later the grandchildren) of my peers: “Got yourself a wild child, I see. But I’m sure he/she will grow out of it.”

More recently, when surveying the conceptual carnage at the New Albany Housing Authority: “He may be the head of an important local agency charged with the lives of real people, but he’s still a wild child at heart.”

Sons and daughters of privilege seem particularly prone to this condition. I’m not sure why, but we’ve all seen it. At times, they even grow out of it.