Tuesday, 25 January 2011

From 'abortion' to 'termination' with the OED

Studying language use in advertising or by the military is an established aspect of English teaching. As Catholics we might also choose to enter into the realms of ethical debate. The OED, for example, can be used to help us track how 'terminations' have recently replaced 'abortions'.

'Abortion' is defined firstly as:

"The expulsion or removal from the womb of a developing embryo or fetus, spec. (Med.) in the period before it is capable of independent survival, occurring as a result either of natural causes (more fully spontaneous abortion) or of a deliberate act (more fully induced abortion); the early or premature termination of pregnancy with loss of the fetus; an instance of this."

The OED further explains that:

"In modern general use the unmodified word generally refers to induced abortion, whether caused by drugs or performed surgically, and the term miscarriage is used for spontaneous abortion."

The first recorded use of the term in English is to be found in Erasmus, writing in c.1537: "To the phisicians craft he oweth his lyfe, ye whiche as yet hath nat receiued life, whyle thrugh it abortions be prohibeted."

'Termination', by contrast, is defined as:

"The action of terminating or fact of being determined (in various senses)". For example, "c1450 in G. J. Aungier Hist. & Antiq. Syon Monastery (1840) 359 The abbes‥schal make al the terminacions in the chirche."

Another definition is:

"The action of ending", including "the ending of pregnancy before term by artificial means; an induced abortion" which is first recorded in 1969 in the Times: "Women denied a legal abortion commonly seek termination elsewhere."

The OED's other two references are equally interesting:

1973 Times 26 Nov. 6/1 The pregnant women walking about the hospital ward were all in for abortions. Or terminations, as they called them— a much nicer word.

1978 F. Weldon Praxis xxiv. 256 You can't possibly go through with the pregnancy.‥ If you don't have a termination, you're finished.

1 comment:

  1. Changing the words does not fool God, it only makes it more palatable to mankind.