After a delightful evening with my husband that included doing the dishes together and planting seven raspberry bushes and six rhubarb plants, I’m of a mind to see what the word marriagehas in store for us Word Nerds.

Here goes!

First, from Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary (found online at

The act of uniting a man and woman for life; wedlock; the legal union of a man and woman for life. Marriage is a contract both civil and religious, by which the parties engage to live together in mutual affection and fidelity, till death shall separate them. Marriage was instituted by God himself for the purpose of preventing the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic felicity, and for securing the maintenance and education of children.

Now the definition from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969)


The state of being husband and wife; wedlock; The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife.

Gotta love Mr. Webster for doing his best to get to the true heart of a word! His 1828 dictionary may not be politically correct, but it is rich and deep and thought-provoking. Notice how the 1969 definition strips the words “for life,” not to mention the origins and purposes of marriage.

Interestingly, the word comes from to English by way of the French, who took it from the Latin maritare, from maritus, meaning “married, a husband.” Marito can mean “provided with a bride.”

So it’s all pretty straight-forward today, except for the way we are trying to define divorce into the word, and God out of it.

The word wife is actually a little boring, so I apologize ahead of time for any yawning you may do. It probably comes from German wif, meaning “woman.” Yawn!

Now, husband is fascinating. It comes from Middle English, through the Norse and the German. It comes from the word house + the word bondi/buandi, meaning “to live, dwell.” Since it’s also used in the word husbandman, meaning “farmer,” husbandseems to take on a meaning of guardianship and care. (Note I did NOT say it takes on a meaning of “domination.”)

WORD NERD CHALLENGE FOR THE WEEK: Find out the derivation of the word “domination.” Be the first to post it as a comment in the comment section. On your marks, get set, go!