Marriage Not The Only Word To Change Meaning

The meaning of the word "marriage" is changing or has already changed. What other words have changed their meaning over time?

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Marriage Not The Only Word To Change Meaning

There has been a lot of debate recently about the meaning of the word “marriage”. For example, opponents of same-sex marriage might say that “marriage” is restricted to the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, entered into for life. However, others might say the word “marriage” now means a voluntary union for life between two people to the exclusion of others.

Yet others might view "marriage" as an inherently flexible legal term of art that develops over time, just as it has over centuries, and that governments that make laws with respect to “marriage” can prescribe the unions to be regarded as “marriages”.

Whatever the legal meaning of “marriage”, the meaning of marriage in common use has changed — or, at least, is changing.

The first definition listed by the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, now includes as marriage, “the relation between persons married to each other” and adds that “marriage” is “now sometimes used with reference to long-term relationships between partners of the same sex”.

We hear nowadays of a man having a husband, and of a woman having a wife.

Some people appear anxious about the change in meaning of the word “marriage”. Yet words change their meaning all the time, due to a variety of fascinating processes and influences.

To put the evolution of "marriage" in context, here is a list of other words whose meanings have changed over time.

Words That Have Changed Their Meaning

bread meant a fragment or small piece

bribery meant scraps given to beggars

broker meant someone who sold wine

cretin meant Christian

dean meant a leader of ten

decimated meant to take one-tenth from

dilapidated meant something made of stones that had fallen apart

fond meant foolish

foreigner meant one who lived out of doors

garage meant any safe place

gay meant happy or cheerful

girl meant a child of either sex, boy or girl

gossip meant a god-parent

lewd meant not a member of the clergy

manufactured meant hand-made

manuscript meant written by hand but now includes typescript

meat meant food and drink in general

nice meant ignorant

nimble meant adroit in stealing

orientation meant turned to the east

poison meant a drink

salary meant salt money (ie, money for the purchase of salt)

wretch meant an exile



Oxford English Dictionary Online

Richard D Mallery, How To Enlarge and Improve Your Vocabulary (1944), Chapter 10.

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Last modified on Friday, 27 November 2015 02:49
English Language Skills (Troy)

English Language Skills (Troy)

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