David Bowie db.list at PMPKN.NET
Tue Apr 25 12:30:43 UTC 2006

From:    "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>

>         And I was equally surprised when I read this (at
>, as you
> note) that Roger Shuy seemed to characterize this as an example of
> different words for working class patients.  I'm perfectly well aware
> that physicians use "abortion" to refer to both spontaneous abortions
> (miscarriages) and induced abortions, but I think I would have given the
> same answer the patient gave, unless it was clear that both kinds of
> abortions were intended.  In its ordinary lay meaning, "abortion" refers
> only to an induced abortion.

Just to give support to the idea that this is*n't* a working- vs.
professional-class thing, Jeanne and i, as an engineer and a professor
with graduate degrees and therefore presumably professional-class,
wouldn't describe  the miscarriage she experienced some years ago as an
"abortion" unless the adjective "spontaneous" were attached to it. We're
both quite aware that "abortion" as a technical term means any early
cessation of pregnancy, but we wouldn't use it that way, presumably
because of the cultural baggage attached to the word "abortion", which
forces unmodified abortion to be automatically elective.

I think there *might* be a working- vs. professional-class distinction
in the interpretation of the phrase "spontaneous abortion", but i have
no data beyond wild speculation on that--it's worth looking into.

In any forms she's filled out lately that have asked about this,
apparently, she gets asked two separate things: how many times she's
been pregnant, and how many times she's given birth. Since it's two
different numbers for her, her doctors have then asked whether the extra
pregnancy was a miscarriage or an (unmodified) abortion.

I don't know where stillbirths would fit into this, though.

David Bowie                               
     Jeanne's Two Laws of Chocolate: If there is no chocolate in the
     house, there is too little; some must be purchased. If there is
     chocolate in the house, there is too much; it must be consumed.

The American Dialect Society -

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