In a word: parturition

The Baltimore Sun

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:


The Latinate term for the act or process of giving birth to children, childbirth in short, is parturition (pronounced par-too-RISH-un).

The Latin verb for being in labor or giving birth is parturire, itself deriving from the verb parere, “to bring forth.”

If you prefer French to Latin, you can use accouchement (pronounced uh-KOOSH-ment), “confinement during childbirth,” from accoucher, “to put to bed.”

Middle English gave us travail (pronounced truh-VAIL or TRAV-ail) for the labor of childbirth, from the Old French travailler, “to work hard.”

There is also couvade (pronounced coo-VAHD) from the Old French couver, “to hatch,” a practice in some cultures in which the husband of a woman giving birth takes to his bed, as if he too were in labor. Men are forever trying to get into the act.

Example: From Carl Otten’s “Rebirth of the Birthing Chair,” Saturday Evening Post, January/February 1982: “Dr. Forrest H. Howard, M.D., wrote in ‘Delivery in the Physiologic Position’ in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, ‘It is my belief that nature designed a form and method for parturition childbirth which makes the best allowance for the stresses of hydraulic and mechanical forces.’ 

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