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Mozart composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty.

Not many grownups can do that.

What is a noun expressing a very young person who has advanced skills even higher than adults?

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  • Is there a single word in Vietnamese?
    – James K
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 6:53
  • @JamesK, "Thần đồng âm nhạc" for example
    – Tom
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 10:12
  • 1
    A dictionary will give "Thần đồng" = "Infant prodigy" or "Child prodigy" en.wiktionary.org/wiki/th%E1%BA%A7n_%C4%91%E1%BB%93ng vdict.com/Th%E1%BA%A7n%20%C4%91%E1%BB%93ng,2,0,0.html
    – James K
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 10:45
  • I'm sure there's no English word that unambiguously identifies a child as having "advanced skills" even higher than (most) adults. But we do have precocious - (of a child) having developed certain abilities or inclinations at an earlier age than is usual or expected. Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 17:23
  • 2
    Gifted? When it's used with adults it's usually a euphemism. If you hadn't said mozart, I wonder if savant would've made it, as when you google mozart was a, the second suggestion is the third comment in the answer below: "child prodigy". The first is kapellmeister "the leader or conductor of an orchestra or choir."
    – Mazura
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 19:23

6 Answers 6

69

Prodigy:

Someone with a very great ability that usually shows itself when that person is a young child

It should be mentioned that 'child prodigy' is also a noun, but applicable to a young person who is a child (Magnus Carlsen became a Grandmaster, the highest norm of Chess when he was 13 years old and thus was labelled a child prodigy).

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  • 8
    That's a different meaning, it sounds similar but it's not related. A person who is guided and supported by an older and more experienced or influential person.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 10:21
  • 29
    @Tom No, they have different meanings. Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 15:11
  • 11
    @Nelson Protégé is certainly a word in English. Similar to countless other words that existed in other languages first. "Protégé" also exists in every dictionary.
    – BigMistake
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 1:27
  • 9
    @Fattie: This answer is no more wrong than the "precocious" answer. "Precocious" means "developed much earlier than usual", but it doesn't convey the "skills even higher than adults" part of the question. "Prodigy" does convey that, even if it requires clarification that it's a young person.
    – psmears
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 14:07
  • 10
    @Fattie The OP specifically asked for a noun, which "precocious" is not. If you want to be pedantic then "child prodigy" is more correct than just "prodigy", but "prodigy" is a fair answer. Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 17:54
22

Wunderkind (Merriam-Webster)

one who succeeds in a competitive or highly difficult field or profession at an early age

This is a German loanword, with the original pronunciation, and the classic example is Mozart.

The calque wonderkid also exists, but is a primarily-British word for an excellent young athlete. The Collins dictionary gives a broader definition, but when you look at the list of examples, they’re all about athletes.

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  • 2
    вундеркинд in cyrillic ...
    – eMPee584
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 12:05
9

Precocious (Cambridge Dictionary)

(especially of children) showing mental development or achievement much earlier than usual

Other answers provide nouns for that young person. If you need an adjective, this would be your best choice. "Prodigy" as a noun describes the young person, but the adjective "prodigious" merely describes something which is exceptionally large or well-developed and does not reflect the OP's requirement that the development is exceptional for their age.

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    "Precocious" has a negative connotation, alluded to in the dictionary you refer to: "A precocious child behaves as if they are much older than they are e.g. 'a precocious little brat'". E.g. see this SO answer. "Prodigy" is a less ambiguous option unless you want to include the negative connotation. Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 12:24
  • 8
    Precocious has no negative connotation, at all, unless it is used in a snide manner. Exactly the same applies to words like "smart" or "achiever".
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 12:54
  • 3
    @ReversedEngineer Not really. As the dictionary says, it doesn't in itself have a negative connotation - any negative connotation is purely in the child behaving as if they are older (and specifically behaving as if they have the same rights as if they are older). In a positive context (for example skill at sport or music) there is no ambiguity and no negative connotation. And as I said, if you want an adjective then it really is the only available option - "prodigy" is a perfectly good noun, but the derived adjective does not have the same meaning at all.
    – Graham
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 13:04
  • 4
    @Graham there are plenty of words that only come up in certain contexts and therefore have an implied meaning. Given that I have never looked up the word "precocious" in a dictionary and I have never heard it in a positive context, I have always assumed that it was a negative word; regardless of the strict definition, as a native speaker, I would interpret it as you insulting the person
    – roganjosh
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 14:27
  • 2
    @roganjosh Conversely, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone use precocious in a negative sense, only as a positive description of a child whose abilities exceeded those of their peers of the same age. I wasn’t aware this was a dialectal issue, but the comments on the question linked to in the first comment under this answer indicate that perhaps it is – it’s apparently likely to be used negatively in the UK (and South Africa, going by Reversed Engineer’s profile location), but not in the US. I suppose I’ve not heard Brits use the word much. Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 0:11
5

whizz-kid (British) or whiz-kid (American) is also listed in dict-freedict-deu-eng as synonym for Wunderkind.. [fixed Br./Am. mixup]

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  • A whizz-kid could also be used for a young adult. The proper name of the online dictionary is The Free Dictionary
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 12:00
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA: dict-freedict-deu-eng: This is the German-English dictionary from the FreeDict project.
    – eMPee584
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 12:09
  • 1
    Why not add the link with the definition/synonyms in the answer itself?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 12:33
  • 3
    I think you've got that backward: double zed variant is British. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/whizz-kid
    – bishop
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 21:54
  • 1
    thanks @bishop yeah you're right, fixed it 😅
    – eMPee584
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 19:21
1

A more specific version is "enfant terrible" (French, lit. "terrible child").
While originally having the meaning of a child who embarrasses their parents by being very blunt and straightforward, now

it implies a successful, and often young, "genius" who is very unorthodox, striking, and in some cases, offensive, or rebellious

While this might not work very well in your specific example, it can be useful for others, and I think makes a good addition to the existing answers.

3
  • Why downvote? Correct.
    – Fattie
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 12:53
  • 2
    Not the OP's question...
    – Raydot
    Commented Sep 12, 2023 at 17:59
  • @Raydot Not necessarily an answer to the OP's question, as I pointed out.
    – Joachim
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 16:12
0

like savant, or prodigy?

sa·vant
/saˈvän(t),säˈvänt/
noun

a very learned or talented person, especially one distinguished in a particular field of science or the arts.


prod·i·gy
/prädəjē/

noun

a person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities.

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  • 1
    Prodigy has already been suggested.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 14, 2023 at 8:42
  • What Mari-Lou said, so please edit your answer to either expand on "prodigy" to make it significantly better than Rakib's answer, or remove "prodigy" from yours. Also, please include your source for the definitions and pronunciations.
    – gotube
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 0:20

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