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What Does "Child's Play" Mean?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 17, 2024
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The English idiomatic phrase “child’s play” refers to something that is easy to do, or without significant challenge. This way of talking about levels of difficulty relates the abilities of an adult to those of a child, pointing out that with less development, a child can only master easier tasks. This sort of allegorical idiom is popular in describing levels of complexity or difficulty for any situation.

The English language has a wide range of other idioms describing the same idea as the phrase, “child’s play.” English speakers might also say that something is a “cake walk,” which relates to a popular social activity of earlier times. They might also say that something is “a cinch” or “a slam dunk,” where the latter is a basketball reference.

Aside from using the phrase, “child’s play,” someone might also say that something is “so easy a baby could do it.” Here, the idea of contrasting an adult’s abilities to those of an infant present an even clearer contrast. The phrase “so easy a baby could do it” has inspired many advertising slogans for products that promote ease-of-use.

Another idiom uses the same allegory in a slightly different way. Someone might say that something easy is “like taking candy from a baby.” The tone of this idiom is more negative, although the overall meaning remains much the same.

In addition to the above, there are also English idiomatic phrases that present child’s play as a negative phenomenon. For example, in British English, it may be popular to say that someone is “playing ducks and drakes.” This generally means squandering wealth or opportunity. Here, the allegory is to a child’s game of skipping stones on water.

When English speakers use the phrase “it’s child’s play,” they are referring to their own ideas of how difficult something is. The task may not actually be as easy as the speaker is presenting it. One of the challenges as a listener is to understand whether the speaker is using elaborate idioms like “child’s play” to accurately describe an easy activity, or to hide the fact that it may in fact be quite difficult. Similar idioms that serve the same meaning include, “it’s not rocket science,” and, “it’s a walk in the park.”

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Discussion Comments
By Inaventu — On May 22, 2014

I once hired a professional editor to help me publish a book, and I gave him what I thought was a pretty complicated list of things that needed to be done. He looked at it and said in his line of work, it was all child's play. He actually sounded a little disappointed that I didn't have more challenging work for him to do. I've heard some professionals in other lines of work say the same thing. They were always being called in to perform the simplest tasks possible.

By Phaedrus — On May 21, 2014

I think the expression "child's play" can be relative to the situation. I wouldn't know how to hack into my own computer if my life depended on it, but to a computer programmer it would be child's play. It would be like asking a brain surgeon to stitch up a cut or a chef to crack an egg. They'd consider such a simple request to be nothing but child's play.

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