a young bird that has just learnt to fly
Origin and usage
The noun fledgling (originally fledgeling) was first used in the mid 19th century. It comes from the much older verb ‘to fledge’ which dates from the mid 16th century. The verb is derived from the even older adjective ‘fledge’, meaning ‘fit or ready to fly’ which was first used in the late 14th century and comes from Old English. All are related to words in other Germanic languages meaning ‘to fly’.
A fledgeling is a young bird that is ready to fly because its adult feathers have fully developed. Such a bird is said to fledge and a fledged chick has developed in this way. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the attributive use of fledgling predates its use as a noun by some 16 years; the poet Tennyson used it in this way in an early version of his poem ‘Claribel’. These days adjectival fledgling is used most frequently in political contexts; we speak of fledgling democracies, nations and colonies. It is also common in business contexts: fledgling entrepreneurs, startups and industries are all frequent in the corpus.
“It is only natural, of course, that each man should think his own opinions best: the crow loves his fledgling, and the ape his cub.”
(Thomas More, Utopia)
“Many fledgling moralists in those days were going about our town proclaiming there was nothing to be done about it and we should bow to the inevitable.”
(Albert Camus, The Plague)
chick, hatchling, nestling