Hitchling [hitch-ling] noun

I would like to coin a new word In memoriam of Christopher Hitchens.

hitchling [hitch-ling]
a child void of religious indoctrination who is encouraged to read broadly and to seek the truth unapologetically


N.B. A hitchling is not a Christopher Hitchens “fan.” He would not have liked that.

I have a bit of a problem labeling children as “atheists” or “freethinkers.” I have caught some grief about this from both the freethought community and from Mason herself, but I have professor Richard Dawkins on my side so I’m standing my ground. A hitchling, on the other hand, seems to me to be the mot juste.

The salient characteristic of about both genes and memes is their ability to be passed from one generation to the next. As we mourn the passing of Christopher Hitchens let’s commit to fostering a new brood of hitchlings.

Do you have a hitchling at home? Mine is very sad today. She has been fortunate enough to have not experienced much loss in her life. Today is making her think and feel in a way that is new to her.



About Anne Crumpacker

I like to read. I also like science, art and drama. I like really big numbers, but I don’t understand them. I like kids and being silly, but sometimes I feel serious and that’s when I like thinking BIG THOUGHTS. You can visit me @ SocraticMama.com
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49 Responses to Hitchling [hitch-ling] noun

  1. All my sympathy to your hitchling. Let her rejoice in the thought that she got to meet the man and that she grew from the encounter. That’s something. Our little hitchlings are our hope for a better world, that they’ll have to build without him, but with his words.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree. And I like the new layout.

  3. Chris says:

    My thoughts, too, are with your hitchling – and with his, grown as they are, and with Carol Blue (and, as a great admirer of Martin Amis’ work, with him, too). I hope Mason will, in time, look back on her meeting with him as a privilege and a joyful memory. Many of us envy her!

  4. Hempenstein says:

    I just wanted to express my sympathy too. I came to know of you and Mason via Jerry Coyne’s website, and thought of Mason while thinking of Hitch today, and of the time I also met him briefly. I remember two major losses I had at about her age and can imagine her feelings. Better to express them than try to hold them in. I expect that eventually pride in that meeting will overtake her sadness. Best wishes to both of you, (and two opposable thumbs up to the new word!)

  5. Michael Fisher says:

    Hitchling will be thrown casually into conversation from today & if it’s questioned I’ll say it’s a legitimate term with a respectable Texan ancestry !!

    Hope Mason is OK by now.

  6. Elaine says:

    Thanx, I like that and hope to be raising my own Hitchling

  7. Pingback: Readers’ tributes to Hitchens « Why Evolution Is True

  8. DocAtheist says:

    “Hitchling.” An absolutely beautiful and perfect word. And Mason is the absolutely perfect and beautiful example of that word. My heart says Hitch would be happy with this. I was there, way in the back, when Mason asked her question from the crowd, and I was in the smaller crowd, outside the dining hall, when he finished answering her. As death of someone close is a new experience for Mason, such evocative atheist experiences are new for me. I only came out to myself in time to learn of and attend that conference and meeting. Mason and Hitch are indelibly entwined in my thoughts, and “Hitchling” — I must stop to cry before typing more — is the perfect illustration. Dear Mason, loss and grieving are part of living, over time becoming more familiar and teaching us how to comfort ourselves and others, thereby bringing us closer. We join in memory of Mr. Christopher Hitchens — the Hitch.

  9. DocAtheist says:

    Consider offering “Hitchling” to various online dictionaries?

  10. Dave Herres says:

    I love the term “hitchling.” I’m so glad you and Mason got to meet him. It was very inspiring to myself and my two “hitchlings.” Wishing you both much love and happiness and have a rationally rocking new year!.

  11. Julien Rousseau says:

    I have a bit of a problem labeling children as “atheists” or “freethinkers.” I have caught some grief about this from both the freethought community and from Mason herself

    I agree with both Richard and Mason on that point.

    I agree with Richard that we should not label kids by the religious affiliation of their parents but I disagree with you and agree with Mason that she clearly is a freethinker. This is made clear when you say that you caught some grief from Mason herself as it shows that it is not you labelling her as a freethinker but her labelling herself as one in contradiction to her mother’s opinion which is thus proof of independent thinking.

    I do not see any reason why not labelling children the same as their parents should prevent said children to label themselves if they understand and espouse the idea they label themselves with, which seems to be the case here.

    Indeed, when I was a teenager, I found it very irritating when my father would deny my ability of independent thinking when I disagreed with him by accusing me of getting my opinion from my mother.

    • Phaenarete says:

      I hear you. I’m not sure when it is the right time for Mason to self-identify with a “label.” She clearly has her own opinion about this. Mine may be immaterial. LOL
      However, as the adult in the room, I know that their are larger issues surrounding her choice. I am just trying to give her a some more time before making that leap of un-faith. There isn’t any hurry. I guess my point is I want to prevent the label coming from me. She is, arguably, at an age where she may be ready to choose for herself. If I’m guilty of something it is trying to keep her a little girl a little longer. Most parents “get” that.
      For the record, I am losing the battle at home! I’ll give up soon. :-)

      • Julien Rousseau says:

        Even if she makes that leap nothing prevents her from leaping right back if her inquiries lead her to that conclusion, like Anthony Flew did for example.

        If I’m guilty of something it is trying to keep her a little girl a little longer. Most parents “get” that.

        I am not a parent but I understand the feeling and it is IMO deeply rooted in religion, with the innocence and insouciance of childhood being seen as equivalent to being in the garden of Eden and growing up being expulsed from it and thus seen as something to be fought (or vice versa, the story of the garden of Eden might be a metaphor of this).

        • Phaenarete says:

          Damn you, Julien. You have me thinking. LOL
          … OK, you win. But it ain’t gonna be easy in Texas. ‘Course nothing worthwhile ever is.

          • Julien Rousseau says:

            “Damn you, Julien. You have me thinking.”

            High praise indeed.

            To try to avoid problem with others saying you label her you could say “she considers herself a freethinker” instead of “she is a freethinker” to point out where the label comes from.

            • Phaenarete says:

              OK. That is good advice indeed. I am hyper sensitive to this issue right now because, in all fairness, I have been rather publicly told these past two months that I am trying to indoctrinate her. However, most religions encourage (require) children about Mason’s age to make a public declaration of faith. I’m not sure this is the same thing, since I am insisting that she could change her mind at will. Thoughts?

              • DocAtheist says:

                Yep, here’s a thought: Illegitimi non carborundum, Latin for Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down (well, close enough).

              • Julien Rousseau says:

                Tell them they are projecting and ask them what is the etymology of indoctrinating and what part of exposing her to various forms of thought, including religious ones from what Mason said in her interview a while ago, has anything to do with teaching dogma (dogma: the established belief or doctrine held by a religion), which is what indoctrination is.

                If they are catholics and send their kids to catechism or more generally to sunday school just point out that catechism literally is indoctrination and that it is hypocritical of them to even accuse you of doing so, regardless of whether they are right, as if they consider it a bad thing when their action clearly shows that they think indoctrinating their kids is a good thing. You might even throw in a “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” reference (for some reason christians do not like to be held to the standard that their god asks of them).

                If they disagree with you that sunday school is indoctrination then ask them to define the term and how their definition applies to what you do with Mason and how it doesn’t apply with what they (or their coreligionists) do with their kids because in that case you may be using the same word but apparently not with the same meaning.

      • Michael Fisher says:

        ‘your’ super-ego toying with you Phaenarete?:

        “She is, arguably at an age where she may be ready to choose for herself”

        • Phaenarete says:

          Yes, and apparently he’s an English guy with a French name. Go figure.

          • Julien Rousseau says:

            Or a French guy living in England.

            • Phaenarete says:

              Mais, comment ça! Qu’est-ce que vous à trouvez manger? Pauvre pousin.

              • Julien Rousseau says:

                Pauvre poussin. Je ne devrai pas devoir corriger une prof de francais (desole mais je n’ai ni accents ni ceilles sur mon clavier).

                Pour ce qui est de manger, il est relativement facile d’eviter la nourriture anglaise soit en cuisinant des choses simples (pates au thon, omelette, raclette) ou en allant dans un restaurant (Indien, Italien, maison a steak sud americaine…).
                De plus mes parents m’on apprit a savoir manger de tout (sauf du porc, du lapin, des fruits de mer… comme le dit la bible, ce qui est tres contradictoire).
                Je connais aussi un petit magasin qui vend une bonne selection de fromages Francais et Italiens et quand je visite mon village natal je ramene quelques kilos du meilleur comte que je connaisse.

              • Julien Rousseau says:

                I missed this in my preceding post:
                “Qu’est-ce que vous à trouvez manger?”
                Should be:
                “Qu’est-ce que vous trouvez à manger?”

                Which reminds me that whenever an English person tells me that French is hard to learn I retort that it must be very easy because in my country babies learn it.

                • Phaenarete says:

                  Zut. That was an effect of “insert symbol” curser failure. Je suis vraiment hors de pratique.

                  • Julien Rousseau says:

                    I understand. I don’t normally correct people’s grammar but when it comes to people using a language that is foreign to them I try to because it is hard to improve if nobody tells you when you are wrong.

                    • Phaenarete says:

                      Now, Julien… This time I have to call your bluff. I have never met a Frenchman that didn’t adorer correcting my French. Over the years I have come to really admire how much the average frenchmen loves his language and grammar in general.

                    • Julien Rousseau says:

                      That would be because expecting me to act in the average Frenchman’s way is more likely to lead one in error than not.
                      My parents were part of a sectarian form of christianity when I grew up that saw Catholicism (the main religion around here) as paganistic so that while I have strong roots in French culture I was detached enough from it to be a sort of outsider.

                      Combine that with a lay school system that talked about the enlightenment and a general propensity to read from my parents and you get a citizen of the world with a French cultural dressing more than a jingoistic, parochial frenchman.

                      I do love French and find it a beautiful language but I hated grammar at school and mostly know how to form sentences from reading a lot of books (and how to abuse the grammar by speaking a lot of it).
                      Same thing in English incidentally, where most of my fluency is due to extensive reading. Isaac Asimov is good in that respect in that I liked the ideas he presented in his books and he always tried to present them in a clear manner, which makes it easier to read as you do not have to decipher both the base language and the adorments added by a more complicated writer.

        • Phaenarete says:

          Oh, and thanks for catching the pun. ;-) I’m a cheeky monkey.

        • DocAtheist says:

          At Mason’s age, I’d already been telling any adult who asked that I wanted (i.e., southern style polite lingo for “absolutely intended”) to be a doctor when I grew up. (They kept trying to gender-correct me with, “Don’t you mean a nurse?”) By the age of six, I’d make a first aid kit and used it on a younger child with skinned knee in front of the swing set he fell from. I was ever so meticulous in care, while simultaneously distracting my “patient” from fear. I guess you could say, he was my “first.”

  12. Pingback: A New Word Has Been Coined | Friendly Atheist

  13. Veelana says:

    I love the term! I’m currently raising two Hitchlings :-)

  14. Anonymous says:

    We need a word like this. Thanks for coining it. I’m glad you use the word “void, as that implies a lack thereof. As opposed to “devoid” which means something used to be there and is now gone. Good on you!

  15. Shuggy says:

    I have created two ranges of printed items, clothing, mugs, badges etc. for my online shop. For adults, “I”m raising my kids as Hitchlings – ask me about it” and for kids, “I’m being raised as a Hitchling – ask me about it”. I give your definition, link to here and tell Mason’s story (but leave her name out). They are at http://www.cafepress.com/wero/8406518 Let me know if anything needs to be changed.

    You’ll find a range of thought-provoking items in the vicinity, and some less controversial geeky gear at my other shop http://www.cafepress.com/ahua/1429344

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