The word berth has always, for me, had something of an oaky afterbirth; that is, upon its reaching my lips, I have never been able to escape the taste of a freshly greased newborn. I have a feeling that I am not alone in this phenomenon. Luckily, this neurological event is not without some etymological reason, which makes the whole thing acceptable.
More than mere homophones, birth and berth are more than likely doublets, which means that they were born of the same root-word. Birth is the older of the twins by just a few centuries, finding origins in Proto-Germanic, thence slithering into Old Norse, and a bit later Middle English, during which time berth is born, meaning “bearing” or “carriage,” though not a baby’s, as mothers were still at this time staunchly anti-pram.
How long can mothers bear to bear bare-naked babies around bears without bearing arms?
The diversity of the word is hereabove illustrated. Yet, indeed, for what duration can a woman with child truly endure or accept producing unclothed infants within proximity of large, carnivorous mountain mammals sans the proper firearms? However, a better question exists: are bear, bear, bare, bear, and bear related to the birth/berth imbroglio?
Well, as mentioned, berth began as “bearing” or “carriage” and, to this day, still describes any allotted amount of space, particularly a ship’s (and don’t we often call ships she?) allotted space, either for her docking, or for the gentlemen underneath her who sleep in “berths,” otherwise known as small cabins, where sailors sleep in the fetal position, from which they unberth upon the captain’s call to perform their nautical duties, which may also be called a berth.
Cut the ship. With compound nouns such as “birth canal,” is it so strange, then, to have borne in mind the widths of certain waters and the flowing of certain currents?
Is a child’s berth, then, such a stretch?