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In a statement, Kensington Palace said: “Her royal highness the Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a daughter at 8.34am. The baby weighs 8lbs 3oz.

This usage is quite strange to me though it's all right in the context of baby's birth.

Is this the special case or we have other such examples as well? Then what's the difference between deliver of [something] and deliver to [something]. If someone/thing is safely delivered, that someone is the subject that got delivered. Here, it's the baby!


Anyway, I'd have opted for...

...the Duchess of Cambridge safely delivered a daughter at ...

  • Does this duplicate english.stackexchange.com/q/120108 ? Do read it in any case. – Accounting May 21 '15 at 20:57
  • Your version sounds like the Dutchess grabbed somebody else's daughter and dropped her off like a parcel. – Oldcat May 21 '15 at 22:52
  • @Oldcat None at all. In the context of 'giving birth', I can certainly say, "She delivered her third child at home" :) – Maulik V May 22 '15 at 4:47
  • Yes, very very close @LawArea51Proposal-Commit However, that discusses 'of', we are discussing 'of' + 'delivery'! I think this question has more fruitful answers ;) – Maulik V May 22 '15 at 5:13
  • Your second one at least specifies it his her child, unlike the first. – Oldcat May 22 '15 at 18:25
15

BE delivered of is the original idiom, and it goes back to a time when deliver meant "relieve (of a burden), disencumber". Note that the Lord's Prayer has the line deliver us from evil, which means relieve us of the burden of evil.

So delivery is something which happens to the mother, not the child: she is relieved of the burden of carrying ("bearing") the child.

Oerkelens is correct in saying that delivery is carried out by midwives and obstetricians. But these are said to deliver the mother of the child; it is only quite recently that people who are not aware of the original meaning of deliver have taken to saying deliver a child, as if the baby were a parcel.

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    When the movie 'Deliver Us from Evil' was released, I had pondered over the topic and came to know that unique use of 'deliver'. But my only concern was/is 'deliver someone OF something/one'. I have no problem with 'from'. +1 anyway – Maulik V May 21 '15 at 11:43
  • "Parcel"! It also strikes me strange to say that the mother "delivers" the baby. I can understand the forces motivating the change, though. Maybe those stork stories have something to do with it, too. – Ben Kovitz May 21 '15 at 12:32
  • An interesting detail to note is that, taken strictly literally, the expression "safely delivered of a child" does not imply anything about the baby's health or safety -- it just says that the mother survived the childbirth. Of course, in the era before modern medicine and obstetrics, this was not at all something to be taken for granted. – Ilmari Karonen May 21 '15 at 13:02
  • @MaulikV - "Of" and "from" are very closely related, although that's something you're more likely to notice in old names than in modern day-to-day speech. English just happens to have two words for something that is often a single word (or just an ablative case affix) in other languages. – Stan Rogers May 21 '15 at 13:18
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    @MontyHarder - True, but entirely irrelevant here. There are two stumbling blocks, so to speak: (1) the word deliver has undergone some semantic drift, and now refers (mostly) to the parcel rather than the burden of carrying it; and (2) that of is a preposition that can indicate either the genitive or the ablative case, but the ablative is relatively rare in modern usage. – Stan Rogers May 22 '15 at 8:04
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Of

The word "of" has many, many senses, and often a single occurrence of the word evokes more than one sense at the same time. In this case, I think two senses occur simultaneously: (1) indicating an object removed, and (2) indicating passivity in regard to an action. (These are senses 14 and 50 in the OED.)

Here are some other verbs used with "of" these two senses:

The Duchess was cured of insomnia.

The photographers robbed the Duchess of her dignity.

The parking lot was deserted of cars.

The jury cleared the defendant of all charges.

According to all recognized principles of law, … an individual bereft of reason, either by the act of Providence, by accident, or by his own act, with one exception, is not responsible, legally, for his acts committed while in that condition. (Source.)

The Indians had innumerable ceremonies and rites, … such as ritual bathing, or opacuna, as they call it, which was to bathe in water in order to be cleansed of sins. (Source, slightly edited.)

The best way to understand "of" (and English prepositions in general) is not as having a completely independent meaning of its own, but a smear of many meanings that exist only in connection with familiar verbs and phrases where it's combined. "Of" isn't governed by rules as much as it evokes different familiar phrases when used in different contexts.

Delivered of

The reason you don't say "the Duchess delivered a baby" is because "deliver" (in regard to babies) usually means to assist the mother in giving birth, as a midwife or obstetrician. The word "deliver" in this sense frames (very strangely!) the assistant as the agent of the birth: the assistant "delivers" the baby, while the mother is viewed as the patient, that is, the person who is acted upon. The phrase "delivered of a baby" accords with this conceptualization of the mother as the passive participant in the "delivery", that is, removal, of the baby. "Delivered of" sounds a little archaic today, though—hence appropriate for talking about royalty.

"Deliver (of) a baby" is actually a narrowing of a now rare sense of "deliver" meaning removal of a burden. "Deliver" comes from the same Latin root as "liberate", meaning to set free. The mother is set free of the baby.

Here are a couple examples from the King James bible:

Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child. (Isaiah 66:7, describing an impossible sequence of events: a woman giving birth before going into labor.)

A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. (John 16:21)

Here's an example (from 1822) of "delivered of" not in regard to a baby:

…for death will soon clear away all our old assessment cases, and leave, I have no doubt, in a few years, the one-half of Glasgow wholly delivered of its compulsory pauperism. (Source.)

In other words, when the poor people die, the city will be relieved of the burden of paying taxes ("assessments") to care for them.

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    Good one +1 for the neat explanation – Maulik V May 21 '15 at 15:37
5

Although in everyday speech, we have little problem with saying that a woman delivered a baby, in (very) formal contexts, and (very) formal and traditional environments, things are different.

Now, one doesn't get much more formal and traditional than British nobility, let alone British Royalty!

I see two undesirable implications of using the Duchess delivered a baby.

The first is that nowadays, we say that a mother delivers a baby, but a baby is not a parcel, as StoneyB points out correctly.

Even if we allow for the mother delivering the baby, actually for centuries, the delivery of a baby was something that was guided by, or even fully accomplished by, other people than the mother, whether qualified obstetricians deliver the baby, or it is done by a midwife.

The second thing is that people of noble birth are not supposed to do menial labor. Traditionally, ladies can partake in certain ladylike activities such as playing tennis, reading books, holding polite conversation or write letters. Some things they are certainly traditionally supposed to do are, however, considered taboo. Sex, and anything to do with it, certainly falls in that category!

By noting that the Duchess was delivered of a baby, the implication is that she herself did not partake actively in the pretty messy activity of giving birth. Also, since the delivery was something that happened to her, implications that she actively engaged in activities that led to her pregnancy are avoided.

The grammar (or rather, the usage of be delivered of) is currently archaic (or, as some would say traditional) and I would expect to see it only in very formal situations (as in this example) or in set phrases (deliver us of evil, from the Lord's prayer).

In everyday English, we could colloquially say

She had a baby.
Her baby was born.
She gave birth.
She delivered a baby. (The question is to whom she delivered it...)

But all of these forms would be considered too informal (and not tradintional enough) when talking about the Duchess who is likely to be Queen of England one day!

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  • +1 for the paragraph of '...she herself did not...' I liked that ;) And a very good answer as always! :) – Maulik V May 21 '15 at 9:19
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    What's a problem with saying ' a woman delivered a baby' in day-to-day speech? Actually the entire first sentence of your answer is a bit difficult for me to understand. Please help me understand it. Thank you. – Rucheer M May 21 '15 at 11:54
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    @RuchirM It is only very recently (in linguistic terms -- about the last century) that most people have lost the old sense of deliver and taken to speaking of delivering babies. Down to about 1920 you find unassisted births expressed with reflexives: "She delivered herself of a boy." – StoneyB on hiatus May 21 '15 at 12:02
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    Not so much formal as traditional/archaic. – RBarryYoung May 21 '15 at 14:37
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    @oerkelens Yes, but in this case I am making an explicit distinction. – RBarryYoung May 21 '15 at 14:47
2

In "She was delivered of a daughter" the verb to deliver is taken in its original sense. The Latin adjective liber means free, libertas/libertatis is liberty and liberare means to set free. The Latin prefix de- means from. So the elevated expression means "She was freed of a daughter". In familiar language: She got a baby, a daughter / a baby-daughter.

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