0

Wouldn't "un-" imply something that occurred and then was reversed? Like undo, untie, unravel? If a child is in utero, shouldn't we call it "nonborn"? When did "unborn" become popular?

1
  • Looking in the OED, I find "unborn" as early as 897, but "nonborn" isn't a word. Ngram shows "nonborn" taking off around 1960. I guess one side or the other of the abortion debate thought "unborn" had the wrong connotatins for their argument.
    – GEdgar
    May 6, 2022 at 12:17

1 Answer 1

4

Wouldn't "un-" imply something that occurred and then was reversed? Like undo, untie, unravel?

When attached to an adjective, un- means "not": "unhappy", "unclear", "untrue". One of the many ways that participles resemble adjectives in English is that they can take this prefix: "unknown", "unbroken", "unopened".

With "unborn", I think you're trying to interpret it as the past participle of *"unbear", hence using the "reverse" meaning of un-; but in fact it's "un-" + "born", and just means "not (yet) born".

Some forms are ambiguous — "undone" can mean either "reversed" (past participle of "undo") or "not (yet) done" (opposite of "done") — but I think "unborn" really has only the one meaning.

2
  • It's really difficult to undo a birth.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 6, 2022 at 6:33
  • @AndrewLeach "Nicodemus saith unto [Jesus], How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" John 3:4
    – Someone
    Dec 17, 2022 at 20:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.