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Re: 'knocked up": history

Posted by R. Berg on January 10, 2003

In Reply to: Re: 'knocked" in the archives posted by James Briggs on January 10, 2003

: : : : Hello, I am co-facilitator for a group which empowers and encourages abused women. Part of empowering and encouraging group participants is to help them understand derogatory statements and slanderous terms towards women. During one of our group meetings a woman who is pregnant referred to herself as being knocked-up. Immediately another participant who is pregnant questioned her as to why she would refer to her pregnancy as a state of being knocked-up. This of course brought on much conversation and questions as to where this term came from, it's true meaning etc..Again this morning I heard the term used by a female radio announcer when referring to a popular sit-com's female star (wonder if she will get knocked-up this season and how many times?) I have searched several websites and not been able to find the origin of this term. Your site lists its definition as being "in a state of pregnacy." Is this not a term that encourages sexism and demeans women?
: : : : Thank you
: : : : Jean Dewar

: : : The answer to you question is no. It is my experience that people can be sensitised to any word and, with a little help, be made to believe that it means just about anything you care to say it means. It's encouraging to see that 'co-facilitators' use this site - by day I am employed as a detritus re-locator working for Westminster City council.

: : If you will look up "knocked" in the archives, you can access a long discussion of this term. I don't think we came to a bottomline answer. "Knocked up" does have a kind of negative ring to it, doesn't it. Like it wasn't a voluntary happening.

: Back in Victorian Britain, especially in northern industrial towns, a man was employed to go to people's houses and wake them up by knocking on their bedroom window. If you were so wakened, you were 'knocked up'.

Eric Partridge's big reference book "A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English from the Fifteenth Century to the Present Day" labels "knocked up," with the meaning of pregnant, as "low" and says it comes from the following sense of "knock": "(Of a man) to have sexual intercourse (with): low colloquial: late C. 16-20." In another entry, "knocking" (obsolete) is defined as sexual intercourse without being limited to the male partner's point of view. This book identifies "knocked up" as belonging to the 19th and 20th centuries and as mostly U.S. So the expression is less classy than standard English but stops short of being vulgar slang. I don't find anything in its history that makes it a sexist term. There is likely some value in allowing abused women (or children or men) to use the vocabulary they're most comfortable with without being criticized about it, except when they go to court and have to impress the judge.