non-paternity event

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sun Feb 21 20:09:34 UTC 2010

On Sun, Feb 21, 2010 at 1:50 PM, George Thompson
<george.thompson at> wrote:
> In an idle moment --  which I seem to have many of -- I was looking at a recent issue
> of the New England Biographical and Genealogical Register, specifically at an article
> attempting to sort out 3 guys named Isaac Phelps, who were all running about
> Windsor, Conn. in the early 1700s.  A part of the research involved a DNA test, I
> suppose of several living men descended from the original American Phelps.
> Regrettably, the DNA tests were inconsistent, a fact presented with the remark that
> evidently "an early non-paternity event" had occurred.
> This was a new term to me, but I supposed it to be a genealogist's euphemism for
> saying that somebody, sometime back when, had made that midnight creep while
>  somebody else was off to market to sell his pumpkins.

Discussed by Mark Peters in his Visual Thesaurus euphemisms column last October:

_non-paternal event_: This bit of genealogical mischief is
structurally similar to our friend the non-fatal event. The webpage of
the Dawkins DNA Project defines the term, throwing in an extra bucket
of euphemisms on the house: "False paternal event, false paternity
non-paternal event, non-paternity event: all these terms refer to a
break in the Y chromosome line due to adoption, name change,
'extramarital event' (infidelity), child known by other surname
(mother's maiden name, stepfather's name), etc." I especially like
"break in the Y chromosome line" — Zagat's quality doubletalk for an
appropriate time to speculate about the milkman, the patron
professional of secret parentage.

As the old proverb goes, "It's a wise child that knows its own father."

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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