What does the word maieutics mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: maieutics…

When I read the memoir Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener, I encountered several new-to-me words. One was chelonian and the other, maieutics.

Here is how Wiener used the noun:

The prospect of engaging in therapeutic maieutics with a group of strangers was stressful.

When I looked up the word, I was surprised to learn it referred to the Socratic method —  the practice of teaching by question and answer. You know what I mean by that. Questions such as:

  • Why do you think this is the case?
  • Do you need any more information to come to a conclusion?
  • Do you have any reasons to doubt the evidence?
  • What led you to that belief?

Today, the Socratic method is frequently used in medical and legal education to help students figure out difficult concepts and principles. The advantages are that it helps students develop active learning and listening skills and also promotes critical thinking. As well, it teaches students how to react when they are challenged.

The etymology of the word is Greek, from maieutikos, a figurative use in philosophy of a word meaning literally “obstetric,” from maieuesthai meaning “to act as a midwife,” from maia “midwife.”

To be honest, though, I found Wiener’s use of the term to be a bit show-off-y. Why use a $10 word when a 25-cent term “Socratic method” will be clearer and more easily understood?