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
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!