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I am translating a sentence to English that literally means:

The world seems to be pregnant with an environmental crisis.

By looking up pregnant in dictionaries like Cambridge and Merriam Webster, I found no example usage similar to my sentence.

Coming from the source language, I find it natural and it means that there is potential environmental crisis coming up in future for the world, but I am afraid this might sound weird in English.

As an alternative, I can write for example:

The world is moving toward an environmental crisis

However, I am curious if there is any usage for pregnant as mentioned in the first sentence in English literature and if it is legal from grammatical point of view. Any tips?

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    I would say no until "a" is removed thus rendering "pregnant with crisis" – Rhodie Jun 28 at 19:35
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    It's pretty metaphorical but it works. – Mitch Jun 28 at 19:45
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    I dislike it with seems to be. Metaphorically, pregnant is used when expectations are pretty darn high. If you want to retain the seems to be, I suggest seems to be on the verge of, as in @David 's answer. – Phil Sweet Jun 28 at 21:26
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    In Italian "in attesa" means waiting (sometimes with bated breath) but it can also means "to be waiting with child" = EXPECTANT. I would look at the different meanings of the word in your native language and move on from there. A good bilingual dictionary will not provide only one interpretation. – Mari-Lou A Jun 29 at 8:11
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    "Pregnant with FOO" is definitely an archaic term from a time when people didn't get triggered so easily. – RonJohn Jun 30 at 2:06

11 Answers 11

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Depends what you mean by OK. It is grammatical, the meaning is apparent, and you would not be thrown in gaol for writing it. And (written later) I see that @Wilk has found some examples of “pregnant with crisis”.

However I would not write it myself as I find it rather forced and unnatural. Perhaps the psychological basis of this is a positive association of pregnancy with life, rather the negative crisis. The sort of metaphor I would use for a latent crisis would be something like:

Seething under the surface lies an impending crisis

Clearly it depends on the literary style of the original, but if I were translating it into English, if at all possible, I would abort the pregnancy and write something straightforward, like:

The world is on the verge of an environmental crisis.

or

The world is on the brink of an environmental crisis.

I would try to translate the idea, not the individual words.

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    "I would try to translate the idea, not the individual words." Wow, that's a very concise distinction. I see too many of my classmates do the former -- I might have to steal this from you. – Jonathan Lam Jun 30 at 0:31
  • @JonathanLam — Feel free. Someone must have said it before. – David Jun 30 at 7:05
  • This is a superb answer, and you captured why the metaphor "pregnant with <something bad>", although technically valid, conjures up Ridley Scott's Alien series. More usually seen as pregnant with hope/ opportunity/ some other good thing. – smci Jun 30 at 19:32
  • @David Indeed they have – it’s a core tenet of translators everywhere that their job is to translate ideas, not words. :-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 1 at 5:17
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    @smci — Thanks for the compliment. I don't know about Alien, in my day it was Rosemary's Baby. – David Jul 1 at 15:42
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I would not write pregnant with a crisis, but simply "pregnant with crisis". Google books turns up this usage a lot. Example -

Against the grain, Terry Eagleton 1985

'Modernism' as a term at once expresses and mystifies a sense of one's particular historical conjuncture as being somehow peculiarly pregnant with crisis and change.

It is only ever "pregnant with crisis". My google turned up many instances of that but never with any modifier of crisis: not "pregnant with * crisis". Except "pregnant with sickle cell crisis" which is another thing completely.

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    If you pursue the '7000+' examples that Google announces, very soon the list dwindles to about 20 meaningfully different examples. Google searches need handling with care. / The example you give seems far from plain English. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 29 at 19:49
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    +1 When you say "a crisis", you are referring to a particular crisis. When you just say "crisis", you're talking about the abstract concept of crisis. "pregnant" in this figurative sense applies to abstract concepts such as "danger", not actual instances of things. – Acccumulation Jul 1 at 18:16
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As an English speaker, I think a better word is gestating.

  • The world seems to be gestating an environmental crisis.

Gestating implies pregnancy, but also that something is growing but not yet happened.

How about changing the metaphor? I doubt pregnancy is pertinent to the context.

  • The world seems to be brewing an environmental crisis.

  • The world seems to be racing towards an environmental crisis.

Both of the above sentence imply that something is actively going on now. Not like "if you fall you're going to get hurt." If you don't fall then you don't get hurt.

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    Hello Max. Don’t you mean as a scientist? Ask people on the street in Britain or the US what gestating means. In Glasgow they would probably punch you on the nose. – David Jun 29 at 19:38
  • While the whole concept is nonidiomatic in English, I think you've found a really good alternative if OP wants to preserve the literal wording while using one that sounds less awkward and out-of-place in English. – R.. Jun 29 at 20:18
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    Yes, I speak the "American English", not real English. :-) – MaxW Jun 29 at 21:03
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    Not sure who your last comment is aimed at. I personally recognize without prejudice that American English differs from British English. But I doubt that any of Mark Twain, Henry James or John Steinbeck’s characters gestated any more than they intuited. – David Jun 29 at 21:17
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    I use to work for IBM. Had a guest speaker at an after hours computer club. He was teased about his accent. He retorted with a grin "At least I speak real(!) English." // The point was I have no idea how weird a lot of phrases sound to the British. "Pregnant with" in the sentence just sounds really really weird to me. – MaxW Jun 29 at 22:03
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Yes, it is idiomatic:

pregnant with (something)

Full of, or fraught with, or having a lot of something.

  • Just before naming the guilty party, he gave a pause that seemed pregnant with meaning, and I wondered whether he was telling me the truth.

  • Her speech was pregnant with emotion, and her eyes brimmed with tears as she spoke.

(The Free Dictionary)

  • Yes, but not when combined with "elemental crisis". – ikegami Jun 29 at 6:23
  • @ikegami why not? – user067531 Jun 29 at 6:34
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    I meant "an elemental crisis". Like you said, it's *pregnant with (something)", not "pregnant with a (something)". One could use "pregnant with crisis" to mean full of crisis --and it seems that a small amount of web pages do-- but not to mean that a crisis is about to happen. It seems that "pregnant with" means "about to come into existence" in the language from which the OP is translating, but it doesn't mean that in English (as you pointed out). – ikegami Jun 29 at 6:50
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    One can't use a dictionary definition to justify just anything that seems to comply with it. '... pregnant with radiators / paperclips / temperature ...' are obviously ludicrous. But even more reasonable candidates ( '... pregnant with a new offer / a future of doom / an environmental crisis ...') may be far from acceptable. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 29 at 19:40
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ripe for (something) TFD

In the condition that most invites or calls for something to happen, or particularly ready or in need of something.

Example

The world seems to be ripe for an environmental crisis.

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The original source appears to be using pregnancy as a metaphor. The author has in mind a particular environmental crisis that is developing and will come into full existence at some future time. Metaphorically, that crisis is gestating within the world, and the world with give birth to that crisis at that future time.

The problem in translation is that there already is a figure of speech in English that uses the words "pregnant with," and it conflicts with the metaphor. The Free Dictionary definition of this phrase has already been cited; as shown in the examples given for that definition, "pregnant with" is expected to be used with an abstract noun such as meaning or emotion, or possibility.

Compare this passage from the definition of conceive at vocabulary.com:

Latin roots for conceive (by way of French) point to "take into" either "the womb" or "the mind." An idea is sometimes called "a seed" or "the seed of an idea," and conceive means to produce something from inside the mind — or to become pregnant. Another expression is "pregnant with ideas" or "pregnant with possibilities," ...

Now see how this figure of speech sets the reader's expectations: we expect it to be followed by something abstract and uncountable (such as meaning) or some numerous collection of things (such as possibilities). So it is very jarring to suddenly be presented with a single, specific thing (the particular environmental crisis with which the author is concerned) as the thing the world is pregnant with. Because of this, I think the literal translation is likely to be misunderstood.

Perhaps you can come at the same metaphor using different phrasing:

The world seems to be due to give birth to an environmental crisis.

  • “Due to”? I would say “about to” is more natural English. – David Jun 29 at 21:12
  • @David People often refer to a due date of a pregnancy or say a woman is due to give birth at some future date. If the due date is in the next few days, or the woman is already in labor, one could also say “about to give birth.” Since the question did not indicate how much longer the metaphorical pregnancy was expected to last, I used the less specific phrasing. Of course, the translation could use the more specific “about to” if it fits the context of the passage. – David K Jun 29 at 22:16
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I can't beat David's answer (translate the idea, not the words), but there is another reason to avoid the word pregnant. I would avoid anything that could be perceived as sexist. Political correctness is important in many countries.

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    That sounds hypersensitive to me. Mentioning pregnancy is no more sexist than is mentioning beards. – Scott Sauyet Jul 1 at 13:22
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I agree with those that note that this sounds slightly odd to a native speaker.

But as part of an extended metaphor, it would come across just fine:

The world seems to be pregnant with an environmental crisis. The moment of its birth will signal death for all we hold dear.

although here "seems to be" would feel too weak.

  • Other than Alien movies, when does birth signify everyone else dying? – jimm101 Jul 1 at 14:48
  • The only point was that in pairing "pregnant" with "birth" the slight oddity of the use of "pregnant" seems to vanish. Perhaps "Its birth will begin an overwhelming catastrophe," instead? – Scott Sauyet Jul 1 at 15:13
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It's awkward the way it's written

The world seems to be pregnant with an environmental crisis.

'pregnant' tends to be something you are or aren't, so you're weakening it with 'seems to be'. While the idea of 'pregnant' does get across that we're waiting for the action to happen, it would work better as a definitive statement, combined with an adjective indicating we're waiting for something to happen. We should shift that uncertainty to the even itself

The world is pregnant with many potential environmental crises

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I'm not sure that it's as universally awkward in English as many are making it out to be. "Pregnant" has precisely this usage, and other usages that don't specify something positive, as noted by other answers.

From the simple pregnant pause, as in "Mid-conversation, a sudden full pregnant pause exclaimed the awkwardness of the meeting," to pregnant with fear, which definitely has a negative connotation.

There's pregnant with life not even meaning an animal pregnant with offspring. How about pregnant with disaster (though the source isn't a personal preference).

Pregnant with calm, as in:

The hills have no ruggedfeatures; they are softened with foliage and thewhole place is pregnant with calm beauty andrestfulness.

In fact, search Google for "Pregnant with [...]" using the double quotes and replacing [...] with all manner of noun, and you're sure to find examples of this usage. While one single term, e.g. pregnant with crisis may itself not be extremely common, the usage with various nouns actually seems to be.

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Yes, there already is a closely-equivalent expression in the English language which you can use in this case. The expression, however, is not "pregnant with", but "pregnant for".

You can see an example of it in use here:

"the situation is pregnant for an accident with these conditions" (The Badger Herald)

This is not such a common expression, but it should be safe to use, as your readers who are quite well-read will recognize it and have no problem with it at all, and your readers who are not so well-read are probably already used to being confused by things they read anyway.

If you ultimately choose to avoid use of the word "pregnant", the next best choice is "ripe for", already suggested by another user herein.

If you do a web search for the words "pregnant for change" (in quotes, of course), you will see that this specific variant of the expression is actually fairly commonly used.

Edit:
I don't yet have enough reputation points to comment on anyone else's post here, so I am limited to this space, but...
for those herein who are suggesting "pregnant with ...", although we certainly have that usage in English, the meaning doesn't match what the OP is looking for. "Pregnant with" implies that the thing ALREADY has this trait, and in abundance. To suggest that a thing is in a state such that something is likely to soon occur, though, "pregnant with" would not be used. As I have already stated "pregnant for" is what you want in that situation. (Or "ripe for" if you prefer.)

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