You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: enceinte

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


Taboos in language are not constant, but subject to cultural shifts. I started out in journalism at a paper in which no one died of cancer, but “after a long illness,” because cancer was too terrible a word to print. People who committed suicide “died suddenly.” In later years readers would pick up the code words for death from AIDS.

There was a time, my older readers can assure the younger, that it was a breach of decorum to say that a woman was pregnant. In the eighteenth century, “in an interesting condition” was a common euphemism. “In a delicate condition” is another archaic euphemism. “With child” is a little more forthright.

But for delicacy, French is hard to beat. Enceinte (pronounced ahn-SANT or en-SANT) will provide a distance from the blunt pregnant. The French derives from the Latin incincta, “ungirt,” “ungirded,” from the verb cingere, “to belt.” Pregnancy is a time to loosen the belt.

Example: From Johanna Lindsay’s No Choice But Seduction (2008): “But Rosslyn mentioned in passing that she might be enceinte again, so she needs peace and quiet in her household just now, which won’t be the case with Judy and Jack in residence.”

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