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With all the "Royal baby" craze comes something that really confuses me. All the news media used pretty much the same sentence to make the announcement:

The Duchess of Cambridge has been delivered of a son.

A couple of questions:

  • Why not "The Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a son" or "delivered a baby", or something along those lines?
  • Why is "of" used in this structure, and what purpose does it serve?

From a non-native English speaker's perspective, this sentence doesn't seem to make any sense at all to me.

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That's the way Royal English was spoken in the past. So it's more or less an imitation of that. –  Noah Jul 23 '13 at 7:37
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Buckingham Palace, it was on the easel. –  indiekiduk Jul 23 '13 at 7:43
    
Queen's English? –  BigHomie Jul 23 '13 at 14:20
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They said the same thing at Charles's birth in 1940-something, the BBC announcement of that was replayed yesterday. So it must be traditional. –  Alan B Jul 23 '13 at 14:59
    
She was relieved <b>of</b> her burden. –  Michael Hardy Jul 23 '13 at 18:14
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7 Answers

up vote 38 down vote accepted

The wording was delivered of was used in the official announcement at Buckingham Palace (image from the Press Association via BBC News):

Official announcement at Buckingham Palace

OED has

3 a. To disburden (a woman) of the fœtus, to bring to childbirth; in pass., to give birth to a child or offspring. Rarely said of beasts. (The active is late and chiefly in obstetrical use.)

which is a use of deliver in an older [and obsolete] sense meaning relieve:

2. a. To free, rid, divest, clear (a) of, (b) from.

The language is formal, and perhaps a little archaic.

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From the Lord's Prayer ("Book of Common Prayer", 1662): "But deliver us from evil." Meaning free [us from], rid [us of]. –  Nicholas Jul 23 '13 at 12:34
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Putting this into historical context... it was not so long ago that pregnancy was a life-threatening condition that many women did not get through alive (and it still is, though to a much lesser extent). To "be delivered" of this danger (and thus no longer be in fear of it) was quite an occasion to be celebrated, even overshadowing the new life itself. –  BlueWhale Jul 23 '13 at 14:55
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I would also venture the guess (although I’ve never gone through the process myself) that any woman who has just given birth would agree that getting rid of that huge, heavy thing growing inside your belly is quite a relief. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 23 '13 at 15:15
    
@DanielBeck haha... where is my mind deleted. –  Grady Player Jul 23 '13 at 20:50
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@JanusBahsJacquet Sort of, except now it's out there, and already finding ways to hurt itself. And you still have to carry it everywhere. Also poop. –  deworde Jul 24 '13 at 8:24
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Actually the answer is much simpler than those already provided. The mother is not the one doing the "delivering", that is the doctor.

So the doctor delivered the baby and the Duchess was "delivered of" the baby.

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This seems to imply that the phrase is used normally...and it is not. –  Beska Jul 23 '13 at 12:38
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@Beska Alas, education is shoddy these days. –  Nicholas Jul 23 '13 at 12:48
    
@Nicholas No, the world is shoddy:) You have to come from a royal family to know these things;) –  Noah Jul 23 '13 at 12:51
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@Noah What with sites like English.SE and Wikipedia, who needs schools these days anyway? ;-) –  Nicholas Jul 23 '13 at 12:54
    
Well, yes and no. The doctor or midwife or other such attendant is said to deliver the baby, but the mother is also said to do so. See my note that follows my own answer to this question for further elucidation. –  John M. Landsberg Jul 23 '13 at 21:30
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When talking about birth, to deliver does not (originally) mean to bring, like "the stork delivered the baby to us" or "UPS delivered the baby". Rather, it means to relieve (somebody of something) as in "deliver us!" or "seeking deliverance". So, the unborn baby is seen as a burden the mother has been carrying, and at birth she is relieved of, or delivered of, the baby.

In colloquial usage, this has changed, and people usually just say "the doctor delivered a baby" (active instead of passive voice), which fits well with the other meaning (as in delivering a package). As others said, I guess the archaic version has been used deliberately to make it sound more royal.

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'She delivered a baby' would sound both odd and disrespectful to me, provoking the question "First or second class?" –  TimLymington Jul 23 '13 at 11:43
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@TimLymington Now that I think about it, it does sound a bit odd. Also, it is the doctor or midwife that delivers the baby. But I've definitely heard delivering the baby more often than delivering the mother of the baby. –  jdm Jul 23 '13 at 15:37
    
The doctor or midwife does not deliver the baby. They receive the baby. Ever hear of the term "receiving blanket" for the blanket they first wrap the newborn in? The mother also does not deliver the baby, as the word implies an act of will, which it is not. She isn't in control. So "delivered of" more fits the actual circumstances. –  Cyberherbalist Jul 23 '13 at 18:23
    
I'm ready to believe that the mother, as happy as she is, does not see, but feels the burden she's been carrying :p –  Kheldar Jul 24 '13 at 10:02
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My sense of this kind of locution (and I hope my English cousins will forgive my presumption in speaking on their behalf) is that it is primarily a regal euphemistic mode. A royal personage should not be considered to have done something as "common" and "crude" (please note the quotation marks) as delivering a baby. It must be elevated to the level of "being delivered of," as if the process were somehow performed magically by the mother's royal status itself.

On a more generic and broadly applicable note, pregnancy and giving birth have long been referred to euphemistically even for non-royals. The reasons for this are recorded historically, and I won't go into them, save to say that (as reprehensible as we find these negative attitudes now) these natural and beautiful things have been regarded with shame, embarrassment, and worse. As one example, here's a very old medical term which even now is the abbreviation we still use, EDC, meaning anticipated date of birth. But what does it stand for? "Expected date of confinement." What a weird and subtly negative euphemism!

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I think you'd have to be exceptionally flexible to deliver your own baby - it's usually done by a midwife or someone, no? I'm sure even a royal would be described as delivering a baby if they'd fielded someone else's progeny. –  Useless Jul 23 '13 at 13:03
    
We do, however, say "the mother delivered," at least in the U.S. A conversation between obstetricians quite commonly sounds like this: "I got zero sleep last night." "You mean that primip?" "Right." "When did she deliver?" "Three a.m." ("Primip" is jargon for "primipara," meaning a woman delivering a baby for the first time. It's pronounced prime-ip. And there it is again: a woman delivering a baby, her own, that is.) –  John M. Landsberg Jul 23 '13 at 21:27
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I am not sure about the real reason, but I know that many english syntax forms have the same origin as french.

In french, délivrer quelqu'un de quelque chose (litt.: to deliver somebody of something) means: to free somebody from something

I know a little bit of latin, that often helps me understand both French and English.

I hope this is useful.

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According to the ODO and in addition to my comment, delivered of is an archaic phrase that means:

give birth to: she was delivered of her second child.

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That's ODO, not OED. –  Andrew Leach Jul 23 '13 at 8:46
    
@AndrewLeach Thanks for that. I will confuse the two. –  Noah Jul 23 '13 at 12:04
    
@AndrewLeach ODO or ODE? –  Noah Jul 23 '13 at 12:49
    
Oxford Dictionaries Online. I quoted the OED (which needs a login and a link won't work without one). Don't worry: I've been known to have made the same mistake. –  Andrew Leach Jul 23 '13 at 12:54
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We could say "he was injured of a gunshot", which does not correctly rearrange as "a gunshot was injured to/by him" of course ...

... just as "she was delivered of a son" means something slightly different, conceptually, from "a son was delivered to/by her", although in this one instance the two are almost always both correct.


Linguistically, from a parsing perspective, the grammatical tokens are more like this:

( she ( was ( safely ) delivered ) ( of ( a son ) ) )

That is, "she was safely delivered" means "the process of delivery was done / happened to her" - and "of a son" refers to the process's reason or cause.


(Also, it is worth pointing out that obsolete, confusing, etc. english is often preferred when writing with regard to matters of supposed import, e.g. religion, government, royalty. There is something about unusual, memorable wording that causes an idea to insist upon itself, thereby perpetuating the declaration of importance.)

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Since this is a site about English Language & Usage, answers are expected to use standard English, with standard formatting of sentences, capital letters, etc.. Not doing that is discourteous to your readers, making it much harder to read and understand; it also makes your answer much less likely to be read. –  TrevorD Jul 23 '13 at 14:10
    
I understand. Thank you for the correction! –  miercoledi Jul 24 '13 at 0:34
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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 24 '13 at 13:51

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