Ah, summer: sunshine, vacations, & of course, weddings…
The word marriage showed up in English about 1300, meaning entry into wedlock. It came through Old French from Latin. The word marry showed up about the same time, meaning both to get married & to give one’s offspring into marriage. Interestingly, while the English word marry can be used to refer to both a male marrying & a female marrying, many languages require different marry verbs depending on gender, typically reflecting what I’d call antiquated sexist understandings of marriage.
Wedding appeared in Old English before the 1300s, & meant betrothal or act of marrying. It replaced the time-honored Old English word bridelope, which meant bridal run. Etymologists claim this word had to do with “conducting the bride to her new home,” though my imagination goes elsewhere. Wedding comes from the word wed, to pledge oneself or unite. It comes from a Proto-Germanic term which ended up meaning:
in Gothic: to betroth
in Old Frisian: to promise
in Old Norse, German, & Danish: to bet or wager
Though one might think the word wedlock is a compound of wed + lock, that second part actually comes from the old English suffix, -lac, which meant actions or proceedings, suggesting a somewhat less limiting understanding of marriage.
The word matrimony acknowledges that some weddings might be a tad rushed. Arriving in English about 1300, matrimony is made up of two Latin word parts, this first meaning mother & the second meaning state or condition. Hmm.
And big thanks to Etymonline for introducing me to George Bernard Shaw’s snarky take on marriage:
“(W)hen two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, & exhausting condition until death do them part.”
Any thoughts on all these matrimonial words (or Shaw’s thoughts)?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Merriam Webster, Thinkinghumanity.com, Collins Dictionary, Wordnik, & Etymonline.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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