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I don’t know why it has historically been so freaking difficult to just use the word “pregnant” but, for whatever reason, people have been coming up with other ways to refer to pregnancy since the dawn of time. You might be surprised by the origin of some of these euphemisms. Let’s look at a few ways that we refer to pregnancy:
1. Knocked Up:
This is probably the most commonly used term and it has one of the darker origin stories. Sources reveal that the etymology of this term began with actions like knocking on a woman’s door and then the process of “knocking boots” which is slang for sex. There are also several sources, including the one I just linked to and this one, that say the term actually referred to female slaves who became pregnant. Several sites include this quote as the true origin of the term knocked up: “Knocked down by the auctioneer and knocked up by the purchaser”. Euphemisms for pregnancy are stupid because let’s just use the proper words but this particular “euphemism” isn’t a euphemism. The definition of euphemism is:
a mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.
This is not a “mild” way to refer to pregnancy. Using a term that is apparently incredibly racist to refer to pregnancy is in no way softening your language.
2. In a Family Way
This euphemism is also sometimes said as “she’s in the family way”. It varies. Although the term seems to be falling out of favor, it’s occasionally used today. Little is known about the origin of it but one site says that it started in the late 1700s. Some sources indicated that this euphemism is of British origin which makes sense if we began using it here in America in the late 1700s.
What I find interesting about this term is that of all the pregnancy related euphemisms, it affirms gender role stereotypes in a powerful way by clearly associating women with family. The underlying message is that women are responsible for creating family and have a duty to their family.
3. Bun in the Oven
I hate this one. It’s my second most hated euphemism for pregnancy. It’s just weird. Why do you want to compare your fetus to a loaf of bread baking in a hot oven?
Anyway, Grammarphobia had this to say about the origin of this colloquialism:
“As for the origin of “bun in the oven,” the earliest published references date back only to the mid-20th century. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first citation comes from The Cruel Sea, a 1951 novel by Nicholas Monsarrat.”
What’s even stranger about this common euphemism, used mostly in the United States and Great Britain, is that sometimes the biological father is referred to as “the chef”. Gross.
4. Up the Spout
You may remember this one from Juno when she refers to herself as being “up the spout”. This term, which is British or Scottish in origin, did not originally have anything to do with pregnancy. It started as a term that implied something had gone wrong or failed. Without getting into too much extraneous detail here, “up the spout” has to do with pawning goods. Apparently an item that was pawned was moved along a conveyor to a higher level in the pawn shop. Spout=the conveyor. Most goods that were pawned were lost for good so “up the spout” later evolved into a term for when something is fucked. Example: “I got into a car accident and my car is up the spout”. In later years, the term somehow came to refer to pregnancy but often when referring to women who’s pregnancies were socially unacceptable either due to their age or marital status.
There it is. My most hated word for pregnancy. I can’t tell you why I hate it so much. I just do. It’s like how some people hate the word “moist”.
I assumed that this horrific term was relatively new simply due to the fact that it’s often used in tabloids referring to pregnant celebrities. One site lists 1942 as the first known usage of the word so that blows my theory out of the water. I thought we could thank Star or the National Enquirer for this nonsense.
Information about this one is scarce but most sources are in agreement that the term is British in origin as the “ggers” suffix is common in English slang. I have no idea where Preggo (the horrible cousin of Preggers) came from.
6. With Child
We’re going way back with this one. The Old English word “Cild” originally referred to a fetus or the unborn. Later, in the 12th century, “with child” came to refer to pregnancy according to Online Etymology Dictionary.
When I think of the phrase “with child”, I think of the Virgin Mary or idyllic images of conservatively dressed pregnant women stroking their stomachs while lounging in the sun. It conjures a certain false image of pregnancy, at least for me it does.
There you have it. Six of the stupidest and creepiest ways we refer to pregnancy. Honorable mention goes to “Baby Bump” which unfortunately is the darling of every tabloid site right now as they obsessively photograph pregnant celebrities.
These words are just another example of how people have used language to avoid discussing things they deem uncomfortable like women’s sexuality and reproduction. So let’s stop using them! I know after learning what “knocked up” really means, I won’t be using that term ever again.