Printable Version
Pronunciation: ku-vayd Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. A custom in parts of Papua New Guinea, Thailand, China, and India whereby the father imitates the pains, emotions, and physical position of his wife in childbirth. 2. (Psychology) Sympathetic pregnancy, a syndrome in which an expectant father experiences some of the same symptoms and behavior as his pregnant partner: sympathy pain, weight gain, cravings, nausea, etc.

Notes: This word is a lexical orphan. Just remember its French origin with its spelling of the [u] sound as OU. Even the accent is on the last syllable where it is in all French words: charade, masquerade.

In Play: Couvade is suspected to have originally been an attempt to divert demons from the mother during childbirth. According to Claude Levi Strauss it reinforces the family bond established by marriage. The cause of the couvade syndrome is a matter of debate. Some think it psychosomatic; others think it results from hormonal changes in the partner.

Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed whole and untarnished from French where it means "brooding, hatching". French made its word by adding the action noun suffix -ade to the root of couver "to brood, in the sense of sit (on eggs)". French inherited this suffix from Latin -ata, the feminine singular past participle ending, here, used as a noun. In Latin couver was cubare "to lie, recline", from PIE keu-b-/kou-b- "to bend the body", an extension of keu-/kou- "to bend". The extension is also found in German Hüfte "hip", English hip, and, perhaps, Greek kufos "bent forward, hunchbacked", and Russian kuvyrok "somersault". By the way, couvée "brooded", the past participle of couver, is the origin of English covey as in 'a covey of quail'. (Kudos to our old friend Sue Gold, a contributor of sophisticated Good Words like today's since 2007.)

Dr. Goodword,

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