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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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