I just stumbled across the name of the United Nations'

International Day of the Girl Child

To be honest, I have never heard the term "girl child" before, and could not find it in online dictionaries, so it does not seem to be very common.

Is "girl child" used to distinguish between the meanings "female child" and "young (unmarried) woman"?

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    Since this is an awkward and not-well-defined phrase, I recommend asking the UN what they intended it to mean. Maybe their literature about this day makes it clearer. – keshlam Oct 12 '14 at 14:32
  • I have added a link to the wikipedia page. – painfulenglish Oct 12 '14 at 14:34
  • I heard this today on TV: it is incredibly stupid and unclear. – Fattie Oct 12 '14 at 15:15
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    A gynecologist might be a "doctor for women", or a "women's doctor", but I can't think of any situation where "woman doctor" means anything other than a doctor who is a woman. – The Photon Oct 13 '14 at 1:13
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    @ThePhoton I was being slightly sarcastic, and I fully agree if we talk about proper English. But if my English was limited to 850 words, things would be less clear cut. (see answer by JohnDeters for details) – painfulenglish Oct 13 '14 at 4:35

The UN needs to keep it as simple as possible for a global audience. They also need to remove all connotations that have become associated with other uses of the word girl, and to clarify the intended meaning.

Many uses of the word "girl" have lost the implications of youth that they once carried. "Daughter" means progeny, and implies a relationship between parent and child, but they want to include concern for children without parents. And "female" is not on the list of 850 Basic English words. (Neither is "international", but as that's the basic charter of the UN, they have no real alternative.)

If it helps, don't think of "girl child" as a phrase, simply consider "child" as a qualifier of "girl".

  • Great answer. I do understand the intention behind it, but I had never seen the phrase used. Both "woman doctor" and "girl child" do not sound like proper English to me. Within a restricted vocabulary that does not contain "female", these phrases are of course acceptable. – painfulenglish Oct 12 '14 at 18:52

I think this may also have to do with linguistics. In many languages, including many of those of West Africa, nouns do not change for plurality or other qualifications, like gender. So a qualifying word such as "girl" is added to qualify or add to the meaning. Remember Mowgli, the "man cub" from The Jungle Book? Black English includes many noun phrases that reflect this linguistic reality, as seen in sentences like: "It only costs five dollar." The expression "girl child" can be heard in both Black English and Southern English, both of which have African roots.

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    Welcome to EL&U! Can you provide references for the points you make in this answer? Anyway, this question has been quite conclusively answered, unless you can find a fault with that, I suggest that you don't create a new answer. – BladorthinTheGrey Sep 20 '16 at 20:14

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