When I was 4 years and 5 months old, my younger sister (then 1 year and 11 months) and I stayed for three weeks with our grandparents while our mother was in hospital and recovering. They were inveterate letter-writers and our mother kept (?many ?most ?all) of their letters from all times, and all of the letters from that time. Some years ago she photocopied the ones from that time and gave them to me in a plastic folder. I knew I had it, but found it while tidying up recently and have been reading them. There are comments relevant to first language acquisityion and use, but my first extract is about something not related to me.
In one of his letters, my grandfather suddenly broke off talking about my mother’s health and my sister’s and my doings to talk about a birth notice my grandmother had seen in the Melbourne newspaper. After the obvious details of names, place and date was ‘Birth by psychoprophylaxis’. He commented ‘It is the first time we have seen the final word in a notice’.
If he had wanted to know what it meant, how would he have gone about it? I guess that it wasn’t in any dictionary of the time, or at least in anything they might have had on their bookshelf. Prophylaxis just might have been, if they had a larger dictionary, and he surely knew that psycho has to do with the mind.
Now, with the internet, a Major Search Engine can find the answer in less time than it took me to type the word in the first place. The Oxford Living Dictionaries website defines it as ‘The prevention of disease or promotion of health and well-being by psychological means; especially a method of alleviating pain in labour by psychological training which includes techniques of relaxation and distraction.’ A few places down the search results is the Wikipedia page on the Lamaze technique.
Why did the parents include this on the birth notice? Maybe they thought it was trendy. I have seen birth by Caesarian section on birth notices, so why no birth by pyschoprophylaxis. Maybe they just wanted value for the money they paid for the classified notice. Charged per word, pyschoprophylaxis costs the same amount as by (at 8.5 times the value).