n. pl. mid·wives (-wīvz′)
1. A person, usually a woman, who is trained to assist women in childbirth.
2. One who assists in or takes a part in bringing about a result: "In the Renaissance, artists and writers start to serve as midwives of fame" (Carlin Romano).
tr.v. mid·wifed, mid·wif·ing, mid·wifes or mid·wived (-wīvd′) or mid·wiv·ing (-wī′vĭng) or mid·wives (-wīvz′)
1. To assist in the birth of (a baby).
2. To assist in bringing forth or about: "Washington's efforts to midwife a Mideast settlement" (Newsweek).
[Middle English midwif : probably mid, with (from Old English; see me-2 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots) + wif, woman (from Old English wīf; see WIFE).]
Word History: The word midwife was formed in Middle English from two elements, mid and wife. At first glance, the meaning of wife would would seem to be clear. However, wife often meant simply "woman" in general in Middle English, not specifically "female spouse" as it most often does in Modern English. The other element in midwife, the prefix mid-, is probably the Middle English preposition and adverb mid, meaning "together with." Thus a midwife was literally a "with-woman"—that is, "a woman who is with another woman and assists her in giving birth." The etymology of obstetric is even more descriptive of a midwife's role. Its Latin source obstetrīx, "a midwife," is formed from the verb obstāre, "to stand in front of," and the feminine suffix -trīx; the obstetrīx would thus literally stand in front of the baby as it was being born.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.