Youth and young people

“Youth” has several meanings, but it often has an old-fashioned, condescending or almost literary feel to it. The more common term is young people, or more colloquially youngsters or (if appropriate) teenagers or even kids.

When I was still a student in England, it was a Young Persons Railcard, for example, not a Youth Railcard – that just sounds wrong.

  • As an uncountable noun, youth refers to late childhood or young adulthood.
  • As a countable noun, a youth always refers to a teenage lad. The dictionary definition allows girls too, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used that way in normal speech.
  • As a collective noun, youth refers to e.g. a country’s young people.
  • The adjectival use meaning “for young people” is unusual, but there are exceptions such as “youth hostel” – although that also has the feel of having originated as a transliteration of jeugdherberg or Jugendherberge.

There are some weird-sounding translations around from Dutch for bodies like the Youth Inspectorate. What? They go around inspecting young people? (At least the IGJ’s own official preference is for “youth care”.)

Prevalence: high. I’ve come across it particularly often in scientifically-oriented texts on criminality, education, health, travel, sex education and more.
Frequency: endemic. Anything with the Dutch jeugd in tends to get translated blindly as youth. Don’t.
Native: sort of. It’s a perfectly good word, of course, but it just tends to have that condescending, daddy-knows-best kind of overtone. Which is fine if that’s the nuance you want…

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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