Poster childs

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A reader sent in a link to this article, with the note "I know LL sometimes publishes examples of unusual usages of language; I came across this in an article on climate change. It’s a regularization I’ve never seen before" — Joshua Bowling, "Study: Climate change could transform Arizona's forests, deserts, worsening drought and fire", Arizona Republic 9/1/2018:

Ecosystems across the world will dramatically transform as climate change's effects increase, a new study warns. Arizona's forests could retreat with rising temperatures and its deserts could turn hotter and more volatile in the coming century.[…]

Those trees are slow growers, so experts at the time predicted it would be years before there were woodlands in the area again. And when something does grow, it's something better suited for the changing climate.

"That was really one of the first poster childs of the forest dieback that we're seeing in the Southwest and around the world," Overpeck said. "Where it's occurred in Arizona, it's essentially grown new vegetation that is in equilibrium with the warming climate."

As my correspondent hints, it's not a new idea that irregular morphology can be regularized in certain kinds of extended or figurative uses of words — here "poster childs" instead of "poster children". One standard example is the verb fly in baseball, meaning to hit a fly ball, where "he flied out to left field" means something quite different from "he flew out to left field".

And I also don't recall having seen "poster childs" before. But a quick search of the current Google News archive turns up many examples, of which a sample follows:

"Indexing Vs. A Portfolio Of Individual Stocks – Today's Editors' Picks", Seeking Alpha 8/17/2018:

However, it is important to note that fundamentals are only one part of the due diligence that should be performed when deciding whether you will be long or short any stock.

One such analysis is the concept of sentiment. There are a lot of growth stocks out there where a nice % of their stock price is based upon sentiment. Tesla of course is the obvious one. Many of of the bears on this site would tell you that about 80-90% of its value is based on sentiment.

Without looking at sentiment as well as technicals, would cause you to potentially forgo a nice % of the stock universe that have a very good potential to be winners in the present. Tesla is also one of the poster childs in that respect.

Alan Shimel, "DevOps Chat: The Impact of Automation on DevOps and Society, with Bob Reselman", DevOps 8/20/2018:

Reselman: Now, what is relevant here is, how far are we really—what is the purpose of that driver, other than to be an interpreter of map data and to manipulate the technology accordingly? And that’s not that far from robotics, and people—

Shimel: No, it’s not. And actually, I mean, Bob, Uber and Lyft’s end game is to go autonomous, obviously, right?

Reselman: Right.

Shimel: And take the driver out of it altogether. But the interesting thing, I’ve had, specifically around Uber and Lyft, but they’re really poster childs for this, right?

Reselman: Mm-hmm.

Carly Regher, "Cornerstone Traits Of An Effective NFL Player Agent", NFLPA 7/20/2018:

Hollywood has painted a portrait of talent and sports agents lineage that yells, “This is how the American dream should look.” In its eyes, “the best” is defined by those who woo A-list celebrities and professional athletes into accruing millions of dollars. Fictional agents, like Ari Gold from Entourage and Jason Antolotti from Ballers, are poster childs of that propaganda – that every agent should live a life full of Richard Mille watches and luxury vehicles. If that isn’t achieved, then your career as an NFL player agent is labeled a disaster.

Danielle Kwateng-Clark, "'Love & Hip Hop Miami' Opens Up An Unexpected Conversation On Colorism In The Latino Community", Essence 1/3/2018:

Young Hollywood responded, “Hold on. Afro-Latina? Elaborate. Are you African or is this just because you have an afro?” Adding, “At the end of the day, the music industry, they’re looking for cookie-cutter poster childs.”

Dan Swinhow, "Beware the GDPR vapourware", IDG Connect 1/25/2018:

“People keep thinking they're going to give us grace period, we're already in the grace period. You've had two years to do something,” says Sheila FitzPatrick, NetApp’s worldwide legal data governance & data privacy counsel.

Though chasing every company for million-dollar fines isn’t the intent of the regulation, the threat of a bill equal to 4% of global revenue is very real, and one that blatant rule-breakers should be afraid of.

“They're going to make poster childs out of the companies are not complying; they are going to put details on why they were fined, what happened, what they had and didn't have in the place. All it's going to take is one massive fine to make companies wake up.”

Sasha Cordner, "Fourth Time Filing Bill, Senator Hopes Surviving Child Abuse Victim Will Get Money Owed", WFSU News 12/19/2016:

Victor Barahona already received 1.25 million for the abuse he suffered at the hands of his adoptive parents, under the state child welfare agency’s supervision. His twin sister, Nubia, didn’t survive. Now, through a claims bill, Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) is seeking to get Victor $3.75 million—the rest of the agreed settlement with the Florida Department of Children and Families.

“It should be one of the poster childs of why we have claims cases,” Flores said. “There is a small opportunity or the state to try and help the life of this child, the brother who survived. I’m hopeful that we’re able to do that. And, so, I won’t stop fighting, until we do that. I do think that this year will be a little bit more open to claims bills.”

Other sorts of searches, e.g. Google Books, turn up more.


  1. Lai Ka Yau said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 6:25 am

    A bit of an anecdotal example, but I have definitely hesitated whether to use 'poster childs' or 'poster children' before. At the time I googled both and chose the one with more ghits.

  2. ===Dan said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 7:35 am

    Google ngrams shows no occurrences of "poster childs" at all. Is that because it's exclusively a 21st century expression?

    [(myl) I noticed that, and I suspect that your explanation is the correct one. Note that GNG registers "poster child" itself as a late 20th-C phenomenon:


  3. AA Bender said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 7:51 am

    The 'X-childs' usage has spread beyond 'poster childs'…and is now apparently a favorite among faux intellectuals…

    Aug 30, 2018 interview with CNN:

    'Former White House Strategist Steve Bannon told CNN that Elon Musk and other tech CEOs are "all man childs."'

  4. Jeffrey Shallit said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 9:40 am

    The OED lists the first usage of "flied out" as occurring in 1893 in the Chicago Tribune. But I found a much earlier usage, in the June 5 1871 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Page 2, discussing a baseball game:
    "Fisler flied out by York."

  5. George said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 9:57 am

    I find the use of 'poster childs' in a negative sense in the fifth example at least as interesting as the regularisation.

  6. Uri Horesh said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 10:37 am

    Isn't this a bit like the use of "mouses" as an acceptable plural for (computer) mouse?

  7. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 12:36 pm

    ===Dan: Google ngrams can be set to look as far forward as 2008, but it still doesn't show any "poster childs". That may be because it doesn't show any results for ngrams that occur fewer than 40, I think, times.

    BYU's iWeb corpus of news on the Web finds 9 hits for "poster childs", one of which is a misspelled possessive, and 519 for "poster children". For comparison, there are 131,133 hits on "childs"—at a quick glance, all of the first 30 are so look possessive—and 4,785,651 on "children". I suppose the comparison would be more helpful if I tried to estimate how many of the instances of "childs" were actually plural.

  8. David Eddyshaw said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 4:47 pm

    In ancient times when I was a mere lad the most junior grade of hospital doctor in the the UK was called a "houseman."

    I knew a ward sister who made the plural always as "housemans." It seemed to be a personal idiosyncrasy, though she was in all other respects a perfectly normal L1 speaker; perhaps a bit upper-class.

  9. Viseguy said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 6:53 pm

    This is computer mouses all over again, isn't it? I think mice won that battle, but that's one syllable and children is two, and I wonder if that's a factor here. Also, it strikes me that posterchilds might be the easier winner if posterchild ever took hold, but Google seems to be against it, 64-1, when I searched just now.

  10. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 3, 2018 @ 7:08 pm

    Before "mouses" there was "gooses," the plural form of a kind of iron used by tailors.

    I remember reading a joke long ago, in my childhood, about a tailor who wanted to order two of them.

    He wrote to the supplier, "Please send me 2 tailor's geese." He didn't think that sounded right, so he changed "geese" to "gooses."

    But that didn't sound right, either. Finally, he wrote, "Please send me 1 taylor's goose.

    "P.S. While you're at it, please send me another one."

  11. Paul O said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 12:16 am

    There is band called Poster Children. Their name dates from the late 80s so it doesn't capture current usage. Would be interesting to find out what they'd call themselves now.

  12. tangent said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 12:40 am

    What exactly is the literal sense of "poster child" anyway? Different than a milk carton child. Not a wanted poster or a movie poster or a band poster. Where are children on posters as exemplars of things?

    [(myl) As Wikipedia explains,

    The term poster child (sometimes poster boy or poster girl) originally referred to a child afflicted by some disease or deformity whose picture is used on posters or other media as part of a campaign to raise money or enlist volunteers for a cause or organization.


  13. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 7:52 am

    It appears that the first poster child for any cause was Donald Anderson, whose image appeared on the March of Dimes poster in 1940.

    The March of Dimes in those days raised money to find a cure for polio.

  14. Miles said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 7:59 am

    @AA Bender

    Apart from sharing the word 'child', I can't quite see how poster child and man child are part of a larger pattern.

    Poster child has been defined above, whereas man child is something I've heard quite frequently referring to an adult who behaves immaturely (with emphasis on lack of emotional development, eg being needy and throwing tantrums). I'm sure a linguist can explain it but it feels to me that child is operating in very different ways in the two expressions.

  15. Miles said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 8:11 am

    In fact, I can reason out this much: 'poster child' refers to a CHILD that appears on a poster (or metaphorically to something that has the same role); man child refers to a MAN who behaves like a child.

  16. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 8:28 am

    George: When I was in college, "poster child" could definitely be negative, about the same as "spaz". Compare "pitiful" and "pathetic".

    Ralph Hickok: I've seen that joke told about mongooses, in which case there are three options, including "two mongoose". The French version is about jackals. (The correct plural of "chacal" is "chacals", not "chacaux".)

    Miles: I think the pattern is just that "poster child" and "man child" are both compounds with "child" as the second element.

    By the way, I've seen "man child" but never heard it, so thanks for the definition. The only one I knew was "boy".

  17. Jake said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 9:09 am

    * "posters child".

    Also @Jerry Friedman: did you leave out "polygeese"?

  18. Trogluddite said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 10:47 am

    It seems to me that "poster childs" is likely a usage of people who are unaware of the phrase's origins as a metaphor. To my mind, "poster children" is the correct plural, because the metaphor represents a powerful anecdote with a child on a campaign poster, therefore multiple anecdotes are represented by multiple children. I find "poster child" with an inanimate or abstract referent similarly jarring; any referent other than a person seems to stretch the metaphor too far. To me, it's function is to highlight a concept by reference to an individual person's experience of that concept – without that personalisation, the metaphor seems much weaker. I wonder whether the rise of the "poster childs" plural has been assisted by weakening of the metaphor in this way through increasing usage with non-human referents.

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 4, 2018 @ 12:41 pm

    I agree with Trogluddite's reaction/intuition — the metaphorical "poster child" feels much close to a literal poster child (who is also a literal child) than e.g. a computer mouse does to an actual-rodent mouse, and the semantic distance between the latter two is what makes the deviation in plural formation plausible.

    Separately, I don't know if "poster child" has been used in too many other constructions playing off "poster" rather than "child," but the combination of this and the other thread about productive X-punk morphology reminded me of the excellently-titled (and otherwise excellent imho) song Black Light Poster Child, by the fine mid-80's band Squirrel Bait. (You can do your own googling if you want to take sides in debates about which subgenre of punk or post-punk SqB should be squeezed into.) The derivation of the compound would have been very obvious at the time to SqB's original audience (i.e. youngish American rock enthusiasts right about my age, for whom "black light poster(s)" would have been ubiquitous in their Seventies childhoods), but I'm not sure if it's still so clear or if the "black light poster" referent has fallen into obscurity with the passage of decades.

  20. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    September 5, 2018 @ 5:49 pm

    I believe the small human figures used in electoral maps and the like are sometimes known as 'little mans'. I'm not sure how to explain this.

  21. mollymooly said,

    September 7, 2018 @ 9:07 am

    brainchilds is 3-7% of (brainchildren + "brain children") since 1980

    (earlier figures are too low to compute)

  22. mollymooly said,

    September 7, 2018 @ 9:08 am

    1980-2000 NGrams shows "brainchilds" at 3-7% of "brain( )children"

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