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I read the following passage in an article of The Atlantic:

In films of the period documenting orphan care, you see nurses like assembly-line workers swaddling newborns out of a seemingly endless supply; with muscled arms and casual indifference, they sling each one onto a square of cloth, expertly knot it into a tidy package, and stick it at the end of a row of silent, worried-looking papooses.

I looked it up and it seems to mean baby carrier most of the time but in this context I’m sure it refers to a baby instead of a baby carrier. So I wonder in what kind of context people would refer to a child as a papoose. Like to sound more literary?

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    This term was somewhat still used when I was growing up in the 80s, but I haven’t heard it used, even ironically, for decades. Now, this is NYC, and I can’t say it’s not used regularly somewhere, but I don’t see it arise in any American or otherwise English-speaking media, either.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 22, 2020 at 9:09
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    Could the term not here refer to the assemblage of the two, that is, to a tightly wrapped baby? Jun 22, 2020 at 10:07
  • @BrianDonovan That was generally my impression of the word when I used to hear it, yes.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 22, 2020 at 11:47
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    It's archaic. Was not too uncommon 50 years ago, but I haven't seen the word in 10-20 years. I'm guessing the writer purposely used the anachronism, to reflect the period of the movie.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 22, 2020 at 12:20
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    Since its origins are Native American, my guess is that the term's usage has decreased along with a growing emphasis on avoiding the potential for linguistic cultural offenses. LIke @DanBron, I haven't heard it used in years. Jun 23, 2020 at 14:44

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It can mean both and in the text, the author seems be referring to both carrier and occupant as a collective.

[From Wikipedia]:

Papoose: (from the Algonquian papoose, meaning "child") is an American English loanword whose present meaning is "a Native American child" (regardless of tribe) or, even more generally, any child, usually used as a term of endearment, often in the context of the child's mother. The word came originally from the Narragansett tribe.

...

A Papoose carrier: Cradle boards and other child carriers used by Native Americans are known by various names. In the United States and the United Kingdom, the term "papoose" is sometimes used to refer to a child carrier. Some tribal members consider this usage offensive.

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