16

This is really, really confusing as the literal meaning of "don't have a baby" — being pregnant or give birth to a child — does not fit the context at all.

My guesses are:

  1. Don't act like a baby, be brave and face it.

  2. Do nothing else, so as not to cause any further troubles , since we are already in great mess.

  3. Other meaning that I don't know.

Could anyone help with this epic mystery here? And if possible, but not necessary, show me some similar examples?

The context is:

"I" am Louisa's sister. Louisa is a carer of a quadriplegic, Will,rich and young, who is going to do euthanasia. Now the tabloids get this information from Lou's ex boyfriend Patrick, and they besieged our house, trying to get "my sister's side of story of Will."

Here is the sentence:

‘I’m from The Globe. I wondered if I could have a quick word?’

‘The Globe?’

I could hear the confusion in Lou’s voice.

‘The newspaper?’ I stepped behind my sister. I saw then the notepad in the woman’s hand.

‘Can I come in? I’d just like to have a little chat with you about William Traynor. You do work for William Traynor, don’t you?’

‘No comment,’ I said. And before the woman had a chance to say anything else, I slammed the door in her face.

My sister stood stunned in the hallway. She flinched as the doorbell rang again.

‘Don’t answer it,’ I hissed.

‘But how—?’

I began to push her up the stairs. God, she was impossibly slow. It was like she was half asleep. ‘Granddad, don’t answer the door!’ I yelled. ‘Who have you told?’ I said, when we reached the landing. ‘Someone must have told them. Who knows?’………

‘Does this mean he’s dead?’ Her eyes had filled with tears.

‘No, it just means some arse is trying to cash in.’ I thought for a minute.

‘Who was that, girls?’ Mum’s voice came up the stairwell.

‘No one, Mum. Just don’t answer the door.’

I peered over the banister. Mum was holding a tea towel in her hands and gazing at the shadowy figure visible through the glass panels of the front door.

‘Don’t answer the door?’

I took my sister’s elbow. ‘Lou . . . you didn’t say anything to Patrick, did you?’

She didn’t need to say anything. Her stricken face said it all.

‘Okay. Don’t have a baby. Just don’t go near the door. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t say a word to them, okay?’

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

47

I am not familiar with this phrase, so I can't say it's common. It might be an improvisation by the author. Judging from the context, it seems like it means something like "don't get upset", as Lou's face was "stricken". I see it as similar to "don't have a cow":

don't have a cow
slang Don't get upset. Don't have a cow—I'm sure we'll find a solution to this problem. I only borrowed one of your shirts, so don't have a cow!
(TFD)

  • 21
    In Britain we might say "Don't have kittens" as well as "Don't have a baby" in that situation – Michael Harvey Feb 21 at 7:20
  • 5
    This may have been written by an English author, but it certainly isn't commonly used in modern British English, in fact I don't think I have ever come across it before. – Mike Brockington Feb 21 at 11:14
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    Figures of speech such as these are intended to suggest a dramatic medical emergency involving e.g. convulsions, major loss of equilibrium, etc. If a sudden shock can make a pregnant woman go into labour, a very major shock might, the figure, implies, make someone who isn't even pregnant give birth, maybe even to young of a different species. Other expressions suggest that a person might "go crazy", "have twins", puppies, a calf, etc. I have heard Scottish people say "throw an epi" (have an epileptic fit). – Michael Harvey Feb 21 at 11:18
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    @quetzalcoatl: "Don't be a baby" and "don't have a baby" are noticeably different. All the "don't have X" phrases seemingly point towards the panicky (is hysterical a better word here?) nature of women giving birth. – Flater Feb 21 at 14:00
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    It may be useful to include a link to this post about the etymology of "don't have a cow" (english.stackexchange.com/questions/116242/…) which makes it clear that the phrases "don't have a cow/baby" refers to the extreme emotional state of giving birth to a cow/baby - and is not a reference to acting like a cow/baby. I imagine "don't have a cow" is just a more extreme adaption of "don't have a baby". – Bilkokuya Feb 21 at 14:12
11

It's a set phrase in some dialects that means "don't be upset", or "don't be angry". It may be used where you predict that someone is likely to have a strong negative reaction, directed at another person (possibly the speaker, possibly a third person). In such a situation, it serves the role of warning them that they might not like what you're about to say, as well as asking them to keep calm. It may also be used when they have already started having such a reaction as a way to tell them to calm down.

  • Is it related to "don't act/be a baby", in reference to a baby tantrum? I wonder what this 'have' phrase evolved from! – quetzalcoatl Feb 21 at 11:00
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    I don't have good evidence about where it came from, but I suspect it has to do with the level of distress women tend to be in while they are in the process of giving birth. – SamBC Feb 21 at 11:08
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    Giving birth involves losing control by something which overcomes you, or quite literally "losing it" altogether. That's my connotation. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Feb 21 at 11:27
9

I would agree with SamBC's and Em's answers, with a slight adjustment in emphasis to capture the flavor of the expression.

"Having a baby" is a loud and messy process. "Don't have a baby!" can mean "Don't be upset!" but it can also mean "It's OK to be upset, but don't be loud or histrionic about the fact that you're upset. Stay in control."

It can be something you say in advance of another person's anticipated extreme reaction, or in response to an extreme reaction, communicating a certain disdain for the affect associated with that reaction:

"I accidentally set your car on fire."

"What? OH MY GOD!!!! How could you set my car on fire?!?!" (Waves arms, slams fist into table.)

"Well don't have a baby about it, dude."

0

I'd like to complement the other answers, which are specific to the turn of phrase "don't have a baby [about it]". It is one of a number of phrases that implore the hearer not to get overwrought, upset or emotional about a particular situation. Usually there is an implied slight on the part of the speaker (he/she who utters the analogy to "don't have a baby"); the undertext goes something like: "you're being a bit sensitive and I think you're over-reacting to this situation".

There are a whole armory of like phrases and sayings of this kind in English (and I'm sure there are analogies in many languages), but there are only a handful of underlying patterns to how the metaphor is built up. There are two related constructions:

  1. "don't verb-phrase about / over it" (or very like this) (this is the case you are dealing with)
  2. "This isn't something / a situation to/[you should, one should] verb-phrase over / about"

where verb-phrase describes an action where:

  1. The subject/ implied subject undergoes an ordeal
  2. The subject does / undertakes a life-changing deed
  3. The subject does something involved with "getting in a tangle": disables themselves through an action usually knotting, rope or being ensnared.

1 and 2 are the commonest, and you can possibly see why: the contrast between a very significant event or ordeal and the supposed minor issue that the listener is supposedly overreacting makes a satire of the overswollen significance that is being put on the minor event. .

Some other examples:

  1. "Don't get your knickers in a knot about it"
  2. "This is not something one should tie onesself in knots over"
  3. "Don't get your knickers in a twist [about it]" (this one is so common that the "about it" is often left implied and unspoken)
  4. "Don't write a hit song about it" (a hit song being one that is highly successful and therefore a significant event and amount of work for the artist)
  5. "Don't get bent out of shape about it" (one of my favorites: this is a reference to a car body after an accident so bad that the car needs to be taken to the repairers to be put back into shape)
  6. "Don't have a baby about it" (bearing a child is both an ordeal, something i don't have direct experience of and a fundamentally life changing experience, something I do have experience of)
  7. "Don't reassign your gender over it" (again, life changing)

An ordeal also implies screaming in agony over real trauma, so the "baby" instance is of this kind. It's saying "why should you complain, when many people endure childbirth". The "knickers" and "knots" forms are perhaps less accusing and more advising, even showing concern for the listener that their own reactions might be hindering them from otherwise coping well.

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