“Preborn”: a language barrier?

How do you refer to children existing but not yet born? Does it depend on your audience? Do you find that some terms alienate the people around you? What works?

I just answered an email from a reader about my use of the word “preborn.” As I typed my answer, I thought that this is the perfect crowd-sourcing question. So please, share your answer in the comments section below. I have things to learn here.

I’m keeping my correspondent’s name anonymous except to say that she’s from New Hampshire’s North Country. Her inquiry:

Hello Ellen,

I just read your piece at your blog on Griffin’s Law.  I noticed that you and many anti-abortion rights advocates call unborn children “preborn.”  Why is that?

The Oxford English dictionary entry for “preborn” said

orig. and chiefly U.S. (esp. in the language of anti-abortion campaigners). A.adj.  Of or designating a fetus.

My answer:

Dear Ms. xxx, I use “preborn” because it’s inclusive, referring to all stages of prenatal human development. I’ve used the term for more than thirty years, and I gently dispute the OED’s editors who limit the definition. As you know, “fetus” is the clinically accurate term for a not-yet-born human being more than 56 days post-fertilization.

And now, for your own answers. Go.


6 thoughts on ““Preborn”: a language barrier?”

  1. Hi Ellen,
    I like the use of the word, pre-born. We ALL have been in the heart and mind of God….before the creation of the Garden….essence before existence. So when we are with God we are technically pre-born, (not yet born in body) that goes for all those who have not yet been born. To use the term while our Lord is still knitting us together in our mothers womb, I believe is the correct term. Contrast that to the term un-born, to me that suggests that we were puffed into existence by a spontaneous biological reaction, and denies the reality of the existence of something greater than ourselves, God. If we use the term unborn, then we can fool ourselves into believing there is no God, and deny that yearning in each of our hearts, that “cries out for the meaning of life.” Unborn, nameless,faceless, expendable! Pre-born, connotes expectant waiting, that’s why they call it prenatal care and classes. Just my two cents.

    1. Lori, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. “Expectant waiting”: that strikes a chord with me. Thanks for reading!

  2. I prefer the term “preborn”, it implies an anticipation of something, in this case the baby’s birth. “Unborn” has a more or less diminishing tone, and I think its overuse has allowed the Culture of Death an advantage. We need to use varied terms and emphasize the common humanity of our family members in the womb. I also prefer the term, “prenatal murder” to the term “abortion.”

    1. You’ve hit on something I had trouble expressing. Preborn = anticipation: yes! It’s something dynamic. Thanks for commenting!

  3. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word pre-born means existing, but not yet born. I used Webster dictionary in elementary school and Merriam-Webster in college, and they have proved to be a trustworthy source without promoting any particular agenda.

    Even stronger proof of a baby’s existence before birth is the fact that the pre-born can now be viewed via an ultrasound of the mother’s womb. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, no word is even necessary. It’s a baby!

    1. I agree that the visual impact of an ultrasound makes parsing words unnecessary. When Abby Johnson spoke at Dartmouth, someone asked her what a sidewalk counselor could say if she only had one moment with an abortion-minded woman. Abby didn’t hesitate: “Tell her to ask to see her ultrasound.”

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