Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Apr 24 20:49:02 UTC 2006

>i recently read about a doctor who was interviewing a patient and
>asked her if she had ever had an abortion.  she said no, but then the
>doctor looked at the records he had and saw clear indications that
>she had had two terminated pregnancies.  it turned out that the
>patient used "abortion" to mean a deliberate termination of
>pregnancy; she had had two miscarriages, which she would not have
>described as "abortions".  surprisingly to me, the doctor was
>surprised at this patient's usage.
>as you know, i have some interest in technical vs. everyday uses of
>language.  but, stupidly, i failed to make a note about this story
>and now can't recall where i read it.  anyone have any idea of the

no idea about the source, but the story suggests that a spontaneous
abortion (which is what the patient had two of, evidently) is not an
abortion, rendering "spontaneous" a non-intersective adjective.  of
course, the patient may not have been willing to describe what she
had as a spontaneous abortion either.  It would appear, then, that
only a "therapeutic abortion" is a true abortion, just as (well, not
maybe just as) only a "therapeutic massage" is an actual massage...


The American Dialect Society -

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