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Bun in the oven?
Knocked up? In a family way? What I sensed then was what I found to be true as I researched further: Common terms we use to describe pregnancy are laced with demeaning attitudes toward women. There are few human events as longstanding or consequential, yet widespread language we use to describe this phenomenon — in all its glory and anxiety, all its pain and productivity — is underwhelming. And mothers-to-be deserve better. Take knocked up. But using that formula to describe pregnancy makes the woman sound more like a receptacle than an equal.
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The phrase took off in the wake of World War II, when women who had been working were expected to head back home, leaving the jobs to the men and tending to families instead. For decades, women were celebrated for getting pregnant and discouraged from pursuing careers.
In centuries, it was scandalous for pregnant women to appear in public. So what do we do? To better understand the history at play, I went looking for every synonym for pregnant that I could find. Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, pointed out an opportunity cost that each presented: Pregnancy is complicated. It can feel like a miracle or a mistake. And the words we use to describe it highlight certain aspects and viewpoints, at the expense of others.
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Because men have had outsized influence on the language everyone uses, many phrases we use to describe pregnancy focus on less flattering things men have seen when looking at pregnant women. For example: Many of the words I found evoked the same spirit as knocked up, the objectifying viewpoint that a pregnant woman is damaged, lacking freedom or failing. More still — like in a delicate condition and going to be confined — painted pregnancy primarily as a disability.
These include pooching out, gonna pop, as big as a barrel, getting broad in the hips, filling out her clothes and lumpy. Words people use every day, like bulldozerhave far darker histories. But we can choose to use language that avoids limiting undertones.
One obvious answer is to just say pregnant. And whereas knocked up can describe something that is defeated or bankrupt, pregnant describes phenomena that are full of meaning and promise. Curzan says this is the word she turns to.
We could, however, go beyond neutrality and embrace words that highlight more modern viewpoints about pregnancy. One option is to just have more fun, letting playfulness al that this particular result of women having sex is no longer a taboo topic. Increasingly popular are joking abbrevs like preggo and preggers.
There are also creative terms people used in the past that we might revive. We could also place more emphasis on the progress a pregnant woman is making as she protects and nourishes a little human. Garbes, for one, likes the term gravidwhich means heavy. It has a kind of gravitas that respects the labor a woman is doing each day of pregnancy, not just at the end, and for her sums up a defining feeling of pregnancy without getting snarky about body size.
Other obscure items — like in bloomteeming and springing — take a more romantic view of the growth than lumpy. There are also romantic terms like encarpousa reference to festoons of fruit known as encarpa that are used as architectural flourishes.
Some women have ambivalence and anxiety about pregnancy, but are too ashamed to acknowledge it out loud. The key is to let women reimagine the language for themselves. at letters time.
Getty Images. By Katy Steinmetz.
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It's time to rethink the demeaning ways we describe pregnancy
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