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Reading a question, I was reminded of an Italian expression: La montagna ha partorito un topolino (literally, "the mountain gave birth to a little mouse").

Similar expressions are ha partorito un libro ("he gave birth to a book"), and vediamo che idea hai partorito ("let's see which idea you gave birth to"). All those expressions are used figuratively, and in jokes; they generally refer to how long it took to do something, or to the fact the result is less than expected.

Can I use give birth figuratively, or is there a better expression that I can use?

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    Sure. All such expressions can be used metaphorically. Whether you'd want to use the language of parturition, however, depends wholly on context. I don't think this metaphor has the same semantic value in English, though, unless the setup prepares the reader/listener for it. Despite the fact that almost any fertile female impregnated by almost any fertile male, regardless of other natural or acquired attributes, can deliver a baby, it's something too sacred to joke about in the USA: FETTFCS (Fanatics for the Ethical Treatment of Teleologically Human Fetal Cells) will jump on your case.
    – user264
    Feb 23, 2013 at 14:31

2 Answers 2

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Figurative use of give birth to is perfectly fine.

In fact, I would not surprised to find that the figurative use is more common than the literal. In ordinary speech we say so-and-so had a baby, a son, a daughter, twins, and so forth; give birth mostly occurs in formal contexts.

Just for fun, I ran a Google Books search on gave birth to; here are the first-page results:

The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: A True Medical Mystery
The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits
Weapons Grade: How Modern Warfare Gave Birth to Our High-Tech World
Primeval kinship: how pair-bonding gave birth to human society
Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans
The Woman Who Gave Birth to Her Mother: Tales of Transformation in [Women's Lives]
Hot Potato: How Washington and New York Gave Birth to Black [Basketball]
City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to [Modern Chicago]
A rational and historical account of the principles which gave [birth to the late rebellion...]
Maternally Speaking: I Gave Birth to Four Eggs! (One Scrambled, [Fried, Over Easy & Sunny Side Up)]

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    ...I seriously did not need to know the story of The Girl Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. Damn you Wikipedia. +1 despite the fact that I think this is going to give me nightmares... ;)
    – WendiKidd
    Feb 23, 2013 at 23:57
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Yes. Sense 44 of give in the OED is "give birth to", which is divided into two sub-senses, literal and figurative:

44. give birth to. a. To bear; bring forth. b. fig. To produce; result in.

It contains examples of both senses. Here are the figurative examples:

  • 1712 Addison Spect. No. 267 ⁋6 Æneas's Settlement in Italy produced the Cæsars, and gave Birth to the Roman Empire.
  • 1862 Stanley Jew. Ch. (1877) I. xii. 231 A fit receptacle of a nation which was to give birth to the Sacred Book of all lands.

That doesn't mean it always makes sense to use the term figuratively. It's rather literary, so if I said something like "he gave birth to a book" conversationally, I'd expect a response like "wow, that sounds painful." But I think the metaphor is still appropriate in writing, and I'd expect to see it from time to time, especially if the object is something non-physical (thus ruling out the literal interpretation).

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