"baby mama" does not mean what they thought it means

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Apr 29 12:44:12 UTC 2008

At 12:22 AM -0400 4/29/08, Wilson Gray wrote:
>What is the source of the OED's assertion: "... _not (in most cases)_
>his current or exclusive partner"?

I would guess they're trying to build in the
pragmatics; semantically, one's baby mama is the
mother of one's baby/child/child-to-be.  But if
you're the exclusive partner (possibly but not
necessarily the husband) of said baby mama and if
she is (at least by presumption) yours, you
wouldn't refer to her as your baby mama, even
though she technically is.  (Just as "partner"
generally, but not definitionally, excludes
"spouse", rather than the way "fiance(e)"
semantically excludes "spouse".)  So I'd think
the sense of the phrase is "not usually used


>On Mon, Apr 28, 2008 at 9:45 PM, Mark Mandel <thnidu at gmail.com> wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the
>>mail header -----------------------
>>   Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>   Poster:       Mark Mandel <thnidu at GMAIL.COM>
>>   Subject:      "baby mama" does not mean what they thought it means
>>   from my nephew, an exchange with an editor (or something) at MSNBC.COM:
>>   >>>>>>>>
>>   From: $NEPHEW
>>   Sent: Wednesday, April 23, 2008 9:08 AM
>>   To: Jonel Aleccia
>>   Subject: poor choice of headlines?
>>   "Baby mamas who eat better deliver more boys" (from
>>   http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24262928/)
>>   While I understand that blogs provide a less formal forum for writers,
>>   this headline (or sub-head?) is from what appears to be a regular
>>   article appearing in msnbc.com's health section.  That being said, I
>>   must ask who chose this sub-head and why it was considered
>>   appropriate?  For one, slang, unless it is a direct part of the main
>>   storyline, should rarely, if ever, be used in research reviews.  And
>>   second, this slang isn't even appropriate for the research in
>>   question, as it (the slang) refers to single mothers who don't know
>>   the identity of their baby's father.  This review did not indicate
>>   that this research focused on this demographic.
>>   Can you provide any insight into this?
>>   Regards,
>>   ===
>>   From: Jonel Aleccia [mailto:JoNel.Aleccia at msnbc.com]
>>   Dear Mr. $LASTNAME,
>>   Thanks for your note.  While the reporters and editors here disagree
>>   with your idea that slang shouldn't be used in connection with a
>>   research report,  we were convinced to change the sub-head by your
>>   argument that it refers to single mothers.  After checking, we find
>>   you're right. Thanks for taking the time to point that out.
>>   Best,
>>   JoNel Aleccia
>>   <<<<<<<<<<<<<<
>>   My nephew comments: "Score one for the literate among us "
>>   While there's disagreement over its stylistic appropriateness, and
>>   he's somewhat off on the definition of the term*, he was right about
>>   its semantic appropriateness.
>>   * "the mother of a man's child, who is not his wife nor (in most
>>   cases) his current or exclusive partner" -- OED; also quoted in
>>   Wikipedia.
>>   --
>>   Mark Mandel
>>   ------------------------------------------------------------
>>   The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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>  -Sam'l Clemens
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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