<< back to the archive list

January 7th, 2004

We're pregnant? / iterate and reiterate / absolutely

by Barbara Wallraff

Terry Holmes, of Birmingham, Mich., writes, “Since when has it become acceptable for couples who are expecting a baby to say ‘We’re pregnant?’ Isn’t pregnancy a state reserved only for women? Isn’t Queen Elizabeth the only one allowed to use the royal ‘we’? I don’t know where this started, but I wish it would stop.”

Gee, I don’t know. When an expectant father says that, don’t you think it’s nicer than if he said “She’s pregnant”—as if his wife had gotten that way all by herself? “We’re pregnant” is not so different from “We’re expecting” or “We’re having a baby.”
You’re right, of course, that literally it’s absurd. And I’ve certainly put in my time being literal-minded. Those of us with that tendency had better keep a lid on it, though, or everybody else will hate us. The next time you hear “We’re pregnant,” why not have some fun with it? Try saying “Really? Both of you at the same time? How did that happen? Isn’t modern life wonderful?”

Jim Infantino, of Brighton, Mass., writes, “A friend is upset by ‘reiterate.’ He says that each time a point is stated, it is only iterated, not reiterated. Is my friend correct?”

If your friend means that to “iterate” is to repeat, and so is to “reiterate,” he’s right, according to dictionaries. The word comes from the Latin verb “iterare,” which means “repeat; do again.” It was the French who got confused first, in the fourteenth century, and pretty soon they confused English-speakers, too, with their verb “reiterer,” which means the same thing as their verb “iterer.” Both “iterate” and “reiterate” have been used in English for nearly 500 years.

Your friend may enjoy holding his ground and looking down on people who say “reiterate.” But most English-speakers find that “re-” reminds them of what they want to say; “reiterate” appears in print hundreds of times as often as “iterate.” At least, that’s the case when “iterate” is used the way dictionaries say it ought to be. A new meaning of “iterate” is taking shape in the high-tech community. For instance, here’s a use that was published on the Web site of “MSDN Magazine” this month: “You have to use a cursor inside a stored procedure to iterate over every column.” Other high-tech citations use “iterate” in other strange ways.

Allow me to reiterate: “reiterate” is far more widely understood than “iterate,” and it’s a perfectly good word.

Terry Canning, of Marion, Iowa, writes, “I am concerned about the loss of the word ‘yes.’ I believe there is a plot to replace it with the word ‘absolutely’ in public utterance. Whenever anyone, especially on television, is asked a question, unless the answer is no the person responds, ‘Absolutely!’ Is there anything one can do about this obnoxious trend?”

When I got your letter, I thought you were overreacting. But ever since, “absolutely” has absolutely been jumping out of the TV and off the newspaper page at me. I won’t say it (anymore) if you won’t. Keep reading this column and keep me honest?

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

<< back to the archive list