non-paternity event

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Feb 21 20:40:35 UTC 2010

At 3:09 PM -0500 2/21/10, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>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
Indeed, and without non-paternity events, there never would have been
a need to develop those spitten images.


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