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This week's transatlantic vocabulary lesson

I was always a bit hazy on the circumstances under which "to wean" meant what. It's a good thing I've figured this out early and avoided confusing too many people as a result.

In Britain, one weans on to solids by introducing them.
In the US, one weans from any residual breastmilk or formula consumption, eliminating them from diet.

Two very different ends of the same spectrum.

P.S. Here's a headline from the BBC that only makes sense if one is focusing on the introduction of solids end of the spectrum: Weaning before six months 'may help breastfed babies'


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 12th, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
Yes. We went the BLW (baby-led weaning) route and I had to explain to SO many American friends that no, I was not going to stop nursing Ciaran, we were just introducing solids.
Nov. 13th, 2012 12:10 am (UTC)
As long as I'm on the subject of language: it's so annoyingly redundant to read about baby-led weaning babies.
Nov. 13th, 2012 12:16 am (UTC)
Well, there's not another good term for it, so far as I know, at least not for the concept of finger-foods-only.
Nov. 13th, 2012 12:30 am (UTC)
"a self-feeding baby" was one phrase I saw suggested; but too late now!
Nov. 12th, 2012 11:05 pm (UTC)
That really surprises me - I've only ever known the British meaning. Though in the sense of stopping milk as the primary source of nourishment, my children effectively weaned themselves by gradually losing interest in what I had to offer.

I wonder which one Freud was talking about?

Edited at 2012-11-12 11:06 pm (UTC)
Nov. 12th, 2012 11:34 pm (UTC)
I think if someone had asked me I'd have thought it was both, or rather the whole process from the first solids to the last drop of breastmilk/formula, and that 'weaning on' and 'weaning off' were both things that happen.
Nov. 12th, 2012 11:43 pm (UTC)
Yes, me too.
Nov. 13th, 2012 12:14 am (UTC)
That's what I'd been vaguely assuming too. But a website I ran across today distinguished based on countries, and then when I checked indices of books I had at home, it was clear that it was right in terms of each country's focus on opposite ends of the same process: the American book I checked had under weaning "from breastmilk" or "from bottle". "Solids, introducing" was located separately. (Among other confirming evidence.)
Nov. 13th, 2012 02:36 am (UTC)
Really? I seem to have been saying it wrong all these years: I am very much of the weaning-off school (metaphorically too: one can be weaned off tobacco, eg, or any other indulgence) and the notion of weaning-onto is entirely foreign to me, though I am (as you know) entirely and old-school English.
Nov. 13th, 2012 11:07 am (UTC)
Same here. I'm surprised that you report your books agree with this because I've only ever understood it as the "American" use.
Nov. 13th, 2012 08:13 am (UTC)
UK: what I've mostly found it meaning is "to carry out the transition from milk to solids" - one weans babies onto solids and weans them off milk, and these events happen at different times.
Nov. 13th, 2012 11:36 am (UTC)
I've several times heard parents ask other parents "Have you weaned your baby?" There can be quite a big difference in answers depending on if the expectation of the asker is "from" or "to". Hmm.
Nov. 13th, 2012 10:20 am (UTC)
Good to know. I suppose the US definition was the primary one I had in the back of my mind, but I've heard the British usage and understood what it meant in context.

Linguistically I wonder if there is a transitional state that could be described as 'mid-wean' which people from either country would understand?
Nov. 13th, 2012 11:34 am (UTC)
I feel as if the usual context in which I've encountered the word ambiguously is hearing parents ask others "have you weaned your baby?".

Early days yet for me to be gathering evidence on this since I only just realized how it'll be a problem, linguistically - but I don't think I've heard anyone ask "are you weaning your baby?"
Nov. 13th, 2012 11:59 am (UTC)
Bill Olander
Nov. 22nd, 2012 06:50 pm (UTC)
I have now learned something.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )