No, the expression “Knocked Up” does not have its roots in slavery


The phrase “knocked up,” referring to pregnancy, comes from US slavery.




Slavery is mentioned in the Oxford English Dictionary for this use of the term, but some online discussion of it seems to be based on a misunderstanding of what it says.

Does the phrase “knocked up” come from slavery, as a viral tweet claimed? We were asked about this by several Snopes readers and found the claim to be false.

A 10.12.2022, Twitter post claimed, for example: “The term ‘knocked up’, referring to pregnancy, comes from US slavery. The tweet continued, “The Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase back to 1813.”

The tweet went on to claim the term came from the price of enslaved women who were “dealed” at slave auctions if they were pregnant, as the women’s children would have inherited their enslaved status.

The tweet had almost 30,000 likes on Twitter when we last checked it. It was rebooked on Instagram by Soledad O’Brien who has over 500,000 followers on Instagram. Similar Expectations were also posted on platforms like TikTok. We’ve reached out to the person who posted the original tweet and will update this review when we receive feedback.

It is true that enslaved women were often impregnated by their owners. Nonprofit Organization Encyclopedia Virginia wrote“Historians disagree on how systemic forced reproduction was, but oral history and other first-hand accounts indicate that enslavers engaged in the practice.” According to the same source, historians wonder if any of these relationships were consensual could be.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) actually traces the earliest published instance of the phrase used in this sense to 1813, but the specific reference given for that date makes no mention of slavery.

Instead, the 1813 reference comes from a journal written by Caleb Earle, an employee of a New Jersey firm. It said: “12. April 1813 – William Mick’s widow arrived here to pursue J. Mick, who she says got her pregnant.”

The next reference for the phrase in the OED entry mentions slavery. In the 1836 book “Col. Crockett’s Exploits and Adventures in Texas,” frontier Davey Crockett quoted a fictional character as saying, “N—er women get beaten up by the auctioneer and impregnated by the buyer.”

Crockett’s use of “Knocked Up” shows that the phrase was already being used about pregnancy before using it about slavery over two decades later.

The OED entry says the opposite of what the Twitter post said about the auctioneer. The tweet claimed the price of enslaved pregnant women was “pushed up by the auctioneer” to make a deal. The example in the OED entry says enslaved women, not their prices, was”dejected by the auctioneer” (emphasis added).

Other sources devoted to word history, such as Etymological online dictionarylist the 1813 New Jersey reference as the earliest known source for the term. “Knocked down” was historically a term used to refer to any property sold at auction to the highest bidder. It’s still used that way Today.

We have reached out to several experts regarding the claim as well as the etymologies of these two expressions and will update this review with any additional information that we learn.

The OED entry was not the origin of the claim, nor does it support it. Because the main points of the claim are not supported by the evidence provided and other available evidence suggests that it is false, we have classified this claim as “False”. No, the expression “Knocked Up” does not have its roots in slavery

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