1250–1300; Middle English mariage
< Old French,
equivalent to mari
) to marry1
+ -age -age
nonmarriage, nounpostmarriage, noun, adjectivepremarriage, nounpromarriage, adjectiveremarriage, noun
Can be confused
(see synonym study at the current entry)
4. Marriage, wedding, nuptials
are terms for the ceremony uniting couples in wedlock. Marriage
is the simple and usual term, without implications as to circumstances and without emotional connotations: to announce the marriage of a daughter. Wedding
has rather strong emotional, even sentimental, connotations, and suggests the accompanying festivities, whether elaborate or simple: a beautiful wedding; a reception after the wedding. Nuptials
is a formal and lofty word applied to the ceremony and attendant social events; it does not have emotional connotations but strongly implies surroundings characteristic of wealth, rank, pomp, and grandeur: royal nuptials.
It appears frequently on newspaper society pages chiefly as a result of the attempt to avoid continual repetition of marriage
has never had just one meaning. Adjectives commonly used with the word reveal the institution’s diversity, among them traditional, religious, civil, arranged, gay, plural, group, open, heterosexual, common-law, interracial, same-sex, polygamous,
And this diversity has been in evidence, if not since the beginning of time, at least since the beginning of marriage itself, roughly some 4000 years ago.
Multiple wives, for example, proliferate in the Bible. King Solomon famously had 700, although most were apparently instruments of political alliance rather than participants in royal romance. (For that, he had 300 concubines.)
Marriage can be sanctioned legally or religiously, and typically confers upon married people a special legal status with particular rights, benefits, and obligations. Access to this special status has changed over time. Interracial marriages, for example, were legalized in the United States by the Supreme Court as recently as 1967, and as of this writing, same-sex marriage, while banned in some states and ignored in some, is recognized in others.
Marriage as the union of one man and one woman is the most common definition of the term in the Western world today—this in spite of the prevalence on the one hand of divorce (enabling people to marry several different partners in sequence), and on the other, of an increasing acceptance of same-sex marriage. And as society becomes more inclusive, it is likely that “equal protection under the law” will be further extended to same-sex couples.
In crafting definitions for a word that represents an institution that is rapidly evolving, the dictionary may well have to keep adding, changing, and reordering senses, splitting or combining them as the institution changes. Inevitably, those who want to preserve what they cherish as traditional values will resist new definitions, while those who anticipate, welcome, and fight for societal change will be impatient when new definitions do not appear as quickly as they would wish. But we should all remember that while it is not the job of a dictionary to drive social change, it is inevitable that it will reflect such change.
“The universality of marriage within different societies and cultures is attributed to the many basic social and personal functions for which it provides structure, such as sexual gratification and regulation, division of labor between the sexes, economic production and consumption, and satisfaction of personal needs for affection, status, and companionship. Perhaps its strongest function concerns procreation, the care of children and their education and socialization, and regulation of lines of descent.“ Encyclopædia Britannica (accessed June 21, 2012)
“Is there any word currently more contested in our culture than marriage?…When definitions are at stake, as in the marriage debates, the dictionary can become a political football.…But are dictionaries really ‘our sources for what words mean’? That imparts a social power to lexicographers that they themselves would likely disavow: To them, dictionaries merely reflect common usage.“
—Ben Zimmer, “The fight over defining marriage, literally: Can you change the world by changing the dictionary?“ The Boston Globe (June 10, 2012)
“[A] number of courts have concluded that laws denying the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples violate the principles of equality established in their state constitutions.“
—Jeffrey M. Shaman, Equality and Liberty in the Golden Age of State Constitutional Law (2008)
“Do you think marriages between gay and lesbian couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?“
—posted by CNN Political Unit, “CNN Poll: Americans' attitudes toward gay community changing“ politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com (May 29-31, 2012)
“There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.“
—Martin Luther (1566), quoted in Random House Webster's Quotationary (1999)
“The ideal that marriage aims at is that of spiritual union through the physical. The human love that it incarnates is intended to serve as a stepping stone to divine or universal love.“
—Mohandas K. Gandhi (1931), quoted in Random House Webster's Quotationary (1999)
“I, [name], take you, [name], for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.“ The Catholic Rite of Marriage
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments. Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds, / Or bends with the remover to remove.“
—William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116 (first published in 1609)
“[Nobel laureate Wislawa] Szymborska’s poems are intimate, while [Jenny] Holzer’s light show is grandly public. The unlikely marriage of opposites gives the poems a terrific urgency and fills the big hall with infectious mental energy.“
—Ken Johnson, “Jenny Holzer Makes Light of Poems and Beats Swords Into Paintings“ The New York Times (December 26, 2007)