Who coined the term “fall­ing” preg­nant, any­way?

Why on earth do we say a woman has “fallen” preg­nant? Fa­ther-of-three Craig Bishop has a look at the English lan­guage

Your Pregnancy - - Contents -

I HAVE FI­NALLY suc­cumbed to lis­ten­ing to pod­casts in the car. My wife lost her pod­cast vir­gin­ity years ago with the hi­lar­i­ous My Dad Wrote a Porno pod­cast. I held out for much longer, but do­ing the school run times three each morn­ing leaves me des­per­ate for stim­u­lat­ing con­ver­sa­tion. So I re­cently took the plunge with a satir­i­cal sci­en­tific Bri­tish chat show, ti­tled There Is No Such Thing as a Fish. The panel finds odd facts and has a good old laugh about them. But what got my in­ter­est was the ti­tle – no such thing as a fish. It’s ap­par­ently based upon play­wright Ge­orge Bernard Shaw’s fa­mous ob­ser­va­tion that the word “fish” could be spelt “ghoti”. The “gh” is pro­nounced like an “f”, as it is in “tough”. The “o” is pro­nounced like an “i” it is in “women”, and the “ti” is pro­nounced “sh” like it is in “na­tion”. Yup, English is a de­cid­edly odd lan­guage. Don’t even get me started on the dif­fer­ent ways of pro­nounc­ing “ough” at the end of a word – rough and bough, cough and dough, through and bor­ough. It got me think­ing, why, oh why do we say that a woman “fell” preg­nant? I mean, the fu­sion of sperm with egg is a marvel of the cos­mos, and should hardly be com­pared with, say, walk­ing down the street and trip­ping over an un­even kerb­stone, as in, “Yeah, I was out the other day and I only went and fell over and got up preg­nant. Whooodathunkit!” Cer­tainly it’s a help­ful way of telling your squeeze’s fa­ther you got his el­dest munchkin up the spout. But is this men’s way of triv­i­al­is­ing, even mansplain­ing, an in­cred­i­ble fem­i­nine ac­com­plish­ment? And if so, why this ob­ses­sion with a word that means to drop? Maybe it’s the log­i­cal pro­gres­sion of meet­ing a girl, tak­ing the plunge and invit­ing her out, fall­ing apart laugh­ing, then fall­ing in love and fi­nally fall­ing into bed and drop­ping your pants to­gether for a bit of rough and tum­ble. Could it be an at­tempt to har­ness one of the most mys­te­ri­ous forces in the uni­verse – that whoosh­ingly dizzy feel­ing we get when we meet a soul­mate – into bor­ing old words? I took to the in­ter­net for help. Things got snarky very quickly. One school of thought holds that it is a good ex­am­ple of in­sti­tu­tional pa­tri­archy at work, that it’s an of­fen­sive way of de­scrib­ing a beau­ti­ful act, and that it makes it sound like baby is an ac­ci­dent or a bur­den, or worse that the mother is some­how care­less, or ir­re­spon­si­ble or, per­ish the thought, wan­ton. There is some merit to this. We tend as so­ci­ety to use the phrase for younger women. Not 36-year-olds who’ve been through four years of IVF treat­ment. There was even a bit of Marx­ist dia­lec­tic at work, ap­par­ently, with the sug­ges­tion that the phrase “fall­ing preg­nant” could hide a mul­ti­tude of class-based sins for the prud­ish 19th cen­tury mind, namely nu­bile serv­ing maids be­ing se­duced by the mas­ter of the house. How­ever, the best an­swer I found was that it di­verts at­ten­tion from the de­light­fully messy act of pro­cre­ation, and fo­cuses the lis­tener’s ears on the reper­cus­sions, i.e. the im­mi­nent ar­rival of a unique hu­man be­ing. When, at one fell swoop, you will be bowled over by the drop-dead gor­geous lit­tle face star­ing up at you.

YEAH, I WAS OUT THE OTHER DAY AND I ONLY WENT AND FELL OVER AND GOT UP PREG­NANT. WHOOODATHUNKIT!

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