This recent article from The Sun states that the term pregnant, in this specific case referred to Meghan Markle, is considered vulgar by the Queen.

According to a recently-resurfaced Us Weekly feature, the term is one of Her Majesty's pet peeves.

The piece - which was published back when Prince George was a baby - quotes a Palace source as saying she finds it "vulgar".

So, what will the 92-year-old be calling mum-to-be Meghan?

The article states that she'll be telling people she's "in the family way".

Apart from the Queen's personal preferences, I found that the term pregnant:

Retained its status as a taboo word until c. 1950. (Etymonline)

from which, probably, its perceived "vulgarity”.

The above statement apprears to be confirmed also by the following article from tv.avclub.com:

More than 60 years ago, a pregnant Lucille Ball couldn’t call herself “pregnant”.

  • The script for “Lucy Is Enceinte” famously had to dance around saying the word “pregnant,” a term CBS deemed too vulgar for air.”


  • why was the term considered vulgar?

  • and what more commonly accepted expressions were used to refer to someone who was "pregnant” in the '50s.

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5 Answers 5


I would guess that the word "pregnant" focuses on the state of the woman's body whereas a euphemism focuses (or at least pretends to focus) on the anticipation of a child.

Referencing a bodily state or function typically is taboo or disfavored.

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    I think you are on to something. You might post some meterial to support your impressions.
    – user 66974
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 18:47
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    Furthermore; in this case, the speaker (i.e., the Queen) wouldn't even be referring to herself, but would instead be discussing the state of another person's body, which could VERY easily be considered inappropriate.
    – David
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 22:03
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    WHY is referencing a bodily state or function typically taboo or disfavored.
    – Mazura
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 22:11
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    @Mazura because humans are ashamed of their physical forms... read Genesis... :)
    – Carly
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 23:11
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    @Mazura some people have an aversion to any discussion about matters that they would regard as private and personal, and use euphemisms to avoid the direct mention of the matter. Hence the myriad of euphemisms for anything related to excretory functions. But even discussing something as minor as a runny nose or itchy scalp would in some circles be unseemly. Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 23:12

Although Etymonline lists pregnant as "taboo" until 1950, the OED doesn't make any such claim and lists many uses dating from 1425. This includes many medical uses of the word, but also includes notable literary uses:

1667 Milton Paradise Lost ii. 779 My womb Pregnant by thee, and now excessive grown Prodigious motion felt.

1914 T. S. Eliot Let. 31 Dec. (1988) 74 I hate university towns and university people, who are the same everywhere, with pregnant wives, sprawling children,..and hideous pictures on the wall.

If the word was taboo, Milton and Eliot didn't seem to think so.

On the other hand, Google NGrams shows that the usage of "pregnant" did increase after 1950:

google ngrams of pregnant

This seems to indicate that, while the word "pregnant" wasn't strictly taboo in the way that profanity is, it may have been disfavored.

Note: the OED link may not work unless you have access through an academic institution.

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    Interesting, but could it be that the term became sort of taboo during Victorian Era?
    – user 66974
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 16:45
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    Milton may have used it, but the everyday expression in his time was 'with child'. Euphemisms such as 'in the family way' and 'in an interesting condition' were used in the Victorian era. I'm not old enough to know what more recent terms were preferred before 1950, but possibly 'expecting [a baby]'? Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 17:51
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    Honestly the usage you cite by Eliot is pretty pejorative, in parallel with the negative-sounding terms "sprawling" and "hideous." I would call that evidence in favor of it being a vulgar or taboo term.
    – qdread
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 18:58
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    @qdread negative-sounding =/= taboo. For example, "m-therf-cker" is taboo; "jerk" is negative. The Queen might not wish to use either term, but that doesn't make it "taboo". Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 19:38
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    @qdread I agree, and also in the Milton quote, the word is also used pejoratively, describing the product of rape. If you read the surrounding passage, it's quite dark. Simply finding that a word was used by someone isn't enough to mean that word is acceptable for use in polite society.
    – barbecue
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 15:17

I suspect that "pregnant" was associated with animals, which is why the Queen might find it distasteful to use for people (even more so for royals!). This answer is a work in progress.


See the OED entry for "pregnant" (emphasis mine):

Etymology: < Middle French pregnant with child, pregnant (especially of an animal) (13th cent. in Old French; for earlier forms see note below; French prégnant ; now arch.), (of a word) full of meaning (a1585) and its etymon classical Latin praegnant-, praegnāns with child, pregnant, swollen, (as noun) pregnant woman, ...

I'm having trouble finding definitive statements to this effect, but see also the entry for "pregnant" in the 1828 Webster's Dictionary, especially sense (1):


PREG'NANT, adjective [Latin proegnans; supposed to be compounded of proe, before, and geno; Gr. to beget.]

  1. Being with young, as a female; breeding; teeming.

  2. Fruitful; fertile; impregnating; as pregnant streams

It makes no reference to human women, and "with young, as a female; breeding; teeming" does not strike me as phrases that would have been used for humans in the early 19th century.

Also compare the 2007 OED entry for the "with child" meaning (why it's so far down the page I don't understand) ...

II.3.a. Of a woman or other female mammal: having offspring developing in the uterus. †Also of the womb (obsolete). Frequently with with (the offspring), by (the male parent).

... with the 1989 definition, which does not reference women:

I. 1. That has conceived in the womb; with child or with young; gravid. Const. with, of (the offspring), by (the male parent).

Note that although the OED 2nd edition was published in 1989, the entry itself may have been written many years earlier (I could not find a date). If anyone has access to the 1st edition, I'd love to see it.

Importantly, the OED felt it necessary to add "of a woman" between 1989 and 2007.

However, this is definitely not universal. The concise Oxford dictionary of current English (1919) allows the usage for humans:

pregnant a. (Of woman or female animal) with child, gravid ...

Suggestions from other languages

As Sara Costa points out, the Portuguese word prenha - which is related to English "pregnant" - is used exclusively for animals (Wiktionary notes it as "derogatory" when used for women).

From Old Portuguese prenne (“pregnant”), from Vulgar Latin *praegnis (“pregnant”), from Latin praegnās (“pregnant”).

prenhe m, f (plural prenhes, comparable)

pregnant (of an animal)

(derogatory) pregnant (of a person)

This distinction is also present in French, where enceinte, from Latin incinctus is used for people (this is the word Lucy had to use back in the 60s), and plein(e) is used for animals, although plein(e) doesn't share a root with English "pregnant."

German, although not sharing the Latinate roots, does distinguish between human and animal pregnancies.

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    The Portuguese word derived from the same root, 'prenha', is exclusively used for animals. I had once wondered why the English doesn't dave a word for pregnant animals different from the word for pregnant women. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 10:49
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    To add to your interesting reasearch about other languages, also the related Italian term pregno/a is used to refer to animals and would be considered disrespectful and offensive if used to refer to a woman. treccani.it/vocabolario/pregno.
    – user 66974
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 18:18
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    But if the case is, as you suggest, that the term was originally used to refer to animals, I really wonder what may have happened around the ‘50s to make the term acceptable for human beings.
    – user 66974
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 18:20
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    @user240918 I'd be really interested to find out! There's not a lot on the usage of this word (I would hazard a guess male lexicographers weren't excited about documenting female bodily functions) Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 18:22
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    Weird. I'd expect "gravid" exactly for an animal --- the only times I've come across it was in (old) specimen descriptions, i.e., the dead animals preserved from some expedition: NEVER "pregnant" there. And e.g. modern field biologists who I've sent photos of reptiles to ask what species they were as I couldn't get around the variable skin patterns --- they determined them all as unusual (or conversely, typical-of-a-small-region) patterns for common species; there they also added "gravid female" occasionally (which explained the different-looking proportions, that had made me doubt species). Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 21:15

I don't have more to go on other then what I was taught, so I'm sorry for the lack of reference, but here we go anyway.

Pregnant is a medical condition. It is a state, with "treatments" and so on. You get there by having sex. You stop being pregnant by giving birth (or other outcomes). It's is an exact state relating to ones health. To say Sue is pregnant, is to say that Sue engaged in sex, the man orgasmed, she was fertile, "they" conceived, and now Sue in the process of gestation. Sue will one day spread her legs expose her vagina, and excrete a child.

Medical conditions like that are private and should not be discussed openly in public.

Saying that Sue is "in the family way" is very different. That means that Sue is buying kid clothes, decorating rooms, finding a sitter, saving money, planning for a college fund, picking out a doctor - and yes, somewhere in there, she probably has to get pregnant, but that's not important. What's important is Sue is making "motherly decisions". This is a vague term that can mean many different things. So it's "safer" to talk about.

Talking about pregnancy might as well be talking about sex and childbirth. Talking about a new expected family member leave room to be talking about pink or blue curtains.

Furthermore, with pregnancy in general, there is a very strong "don't jinx it" vibe. Things like not naming a child until after birth, not knowing the gender, not announcing until later on, etc all help keep the word "pregnancy" a bit more vulgar then the alternatives. It's OK to talk about having children so long as your not talking about a specific person or process.

Lastly, and most odd, is the carry over stigma of being pregnant. Though I will not understand it, never is a woman treated less like a woman then when she is doing the most womanly thing possible. This has a long history of being true. So if you can talk about raising children without discussing the "weakness" of being pregnant....

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    The "don't jinx it" vibe is completely rational. A large number of pregnancies do not result in a happy outcome for the parents, and the hardcore vulnerability of such couples is a thing not to present publicly. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 17:08
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    Agreed with this answer. My guess is that pregnancy relates verbally to impregnation, the sexual act, which is the taboo. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 12:00
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    -1. I find your description of childbirth in appallingly bad taste, and your overall answer appears biased towards a particularly traditional social paradigm. This is in no way the kind of authoritative answer I'd expect on this site; it seems rather to be an extended personal commentary. PS plenty of women achieve pregnancy without sex, and your statement "never is a woman treated less like a woman then [sic] when she is doing the most womanly thing possible" is simply wrong in so many ways. Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 12:12
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    Chappo, that is the very reason the word pregnancy ends up being Taboo as in the OP. It's also why a 92-year-old royal QUEEN that has lived from 1926 may find it vulgar. Let's not forget that during that time, she has seen an era where women were less than males, Pregnant women, in particular, were treated pretty oddly by today's standards. For example, they were not allowed to watch sports, reading was forbidden, travel was discouraged, breastfeeding was discouraged or outright forbidden, exercise was forbidden and they were encouraged to stay bedridden, lifting one's hands above your head
    – coteyr
    Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 12:36
  • was not allowed, and the like. And that's for general women. A Queen, who, at the time, their cheif duty was still preceived to be to pruduce heirs, probably had it much worse. The answer is not a commentary on how I personally feel, but you can not measuer history with today's yard stick.
    – coteyr
    Commented Dec 1, 2018 at 12:40

Other answers have focused on the "vulgar" part. You also asked for ways of expressing the condition in other ways.

  • she is expecting (#5) (this was the one I would have expected in an official article)
  • she is in the family way (interesting discussion here about this use having become derogatory, which confirms an impression I had which caused me to be surprised when I read that that was the term chosen officially)
  • she is with child

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