What Does Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard Mean?

Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard Meaning

Definition: Children can be present in a conversation but should not speak, particularly when they are around adults.

Unlike many idioms in English, the meaning of this proverb is literal. This proverb stems back to the religious views of medieval culture. The initial meaning of this proverb was that young women should not speak in the presence of adults but later evolved to include all children.

 

Origin of Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard

Meaning of children should be seen and not hearThis proverb has its origins in the religious culture of the 15th century, where children, particularly young women, were meant to stay silent unless spoken to or asked to speak.

This proverb first appeared in Mirk’s Festial, published by a clergyman around 1450:

Hyt ys old Englysch sawe: A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd.

The word sawe is an old English word meaning proverb. In old English, a mayde was a young woman.

How this proverb evolved to include all children is unclear. It is clear, however, that this proverb alludes to a child’s naivety or ignorance of adult matters.

Examples of Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard

 Define children should be seen not heardWhen this proverb is used in conversation, it is most often used to reprimand a child who tries to interfere in a conversation between adults. If a child is being disrespectful to the adults in the room or causing a scene, someone might mention this proverb.

It can also be used in any situation in which a child’s presence is inappropriate.

More Examples

  • The old saying that children should be seen and not heard doesn’t apply to this record. – NY Post
  • They blow away the adage that children should be seen and not heard. – LA Times

Summary

The English proverb children should be seen and not heard means that children are allowed to be present during a conversation but should not be allowed to speak unless they are spoken to first.