Institute of Marriage
Research & Studies
Calling Something a Marriage Does Not Make It a Marriage
- Rediscovering the Word: Marry
- "Marry" and "Marriage" Religious Terms
- White Wedding, Translations and Marriage
The origin or etymology of the words "marry" and "marriage" focuses on the perpetuation of mankind through the unique union of a man and a woman. The origin of these words started with the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root mari
(young woman) > Latin maritus (pl: married), Latin maritare (to marry, derivative of maritus) > Old French marier > Middle English marine mid13c > Middle English marry (spelled mari) 14c. Thus: marry.
Similarly, from the same PIE-root > Latin maritatus (past participle of maritatre; to marry) > Vulgar Latin maritaticum 11c (to marry, to be given in marriage) > Latin maritare (same) > Old French mariage 12c (same) > Middle English marriage 13c (action of marrying, also state or condition of being husband and wife, matrimony). Thus: marriage.
From these we see how both words "marry" and "marriage" found their way into the English language. But they are not the only words of importance to help explain the meaning and purpose of the unique union between a man and a woman.
Matrimony (state of being married)derives from Latin matrimonium meaning "marriage," which derives from matrem meaning "mother."
But why would the word for marriage be based on the word for mother? More on that further down.
As the word marry (originally spelled mari) found its way into the English language, it was complemented by references to the Virgin Mary (mother of Jesus).
At the same time Mary had become a common interjection or asseveration of swearing by, in the name of, the Virgin Mary. Thus, for example, "I swear by Mary, that what I tell you is the truth."
While the early Christian Church marriage customs were based on ancient traditions, Christians likened it to the example set when the Virgin Mary gave herself to God for the purpose of bearing Him His only begotten Son, Jesus.
The terminology that the Church used to symbolize this was to say that the woman would mary (eventually an extra "r" was added) the man. To mary literally meant to do as the Virgin Mary did.
Originally, the Middle English spelling for Mary, similar to the word marry, was spelled Mari as the original Latin alphabet did not contain the letter "y". Though it would have been pronounced differently from its Pie-root mari; just as today mari in English speaking countries is pronounced ma:ri, and in the Uralic language (spoken by people primarily in Russia’s Mari Republic, but also elsewhere) is pronounced mah-ree (cf. MAIR-ee, MAR-ee).
It was not until the Bible was translated into the King James Version in 1611that the "i" was changed to "y".
The example (set when the Virgin Mary gave herself to God) mentioned above meant that the bride was a young pure virgin just like the Virgin Mary was, when the bride’s father gave her away to the groom.
In other words, she had gone through the unification process just as Mary had. At the same time women were considered to be at their prime peak for marriage between the ages of 14 and 18.
After the father gave away the bride, she was then considered to be marri-ed, reflecting the compliment given by the name Mary (the Virgin).
Now with an understanding how the words “marry” and “marriage” were derived, what they mean and the significance of what they define, three critical questions can be asked and answered:
1. Is marriage intrinsically related to the natural ability to parent?
Yes, the fact that the word "marriage" derives
from the French word for mother, as does
the word "matrimony" which comes from the Latin word for mother, makes it evident that the natural ability to parent is attached to those words and marriage itself.
2. Is marriage explicitly between a man and a woman?
Yes, as the words marry and marriage found their way into the English language especially
through Middle English, they came to mean a state or condition of being husband and wife which complement motherly instincts that only a woman can behold, and fatherly instincts that only a man can behold.
3. Is the word marriage likened to pious considerations?
Yes, no where in the worlds’ history did the word "marry" exist prior to it being conceived by the Christian church which likened it to and complemented it by references to the Virgin Mary. The Christian church also in translating the Bible into the King James Version changed the "I" to a "y", and eventually adding a "r" to complete today’s word and spelling of marry.
Thus, the word "marry" belongs to any who take the vows to enter into marriage with full understanding what it means.
- A Dictionary of the English Language: The Origin, History, and Connection of the Languages of Western Asia and Europe, Noah Webster LL.D., London 1828.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part 2, The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Sec. 2, The Seven Sacraments of the Church, Ch. 3, The Sacraments at the Service of Communion.
- Copious and Critical Latin-English Dictionary: Abridged and Re-Arranged from Riddle’s Latin-English Lexicon, 1866.
- Deacon-structing Marriage: Part 3, Deacon Pedron, Light & Media, July 19, 2015.
- Dictionary of the English Language, Vol. 3, 1818.
- Dr. Martin’s examination of John Careless in Foxe’s Martyls, vol. ii, pg 1742 folio ed., 1597. / Notes and Queries, January 2, 1858.
- Essay on the Archaeology of our Popular Phrases and Terms, and Nursery Rhymes, John Bellenden Ker, Esq., Vol. II, 1840.
- Exposition of Genesis, H.C. Leupold (1942).
- History Begins at Sumer, Samuel Noah Kramer (1959).
- History of Marriage, Encyclopedia Americana (1961).
- Language History and Linguistic Modeling, Vol. 1, Language History, 1997.
- Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, © 2001-2017.
- Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, 21st Edition, 2001.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, First Edition, 1969.
- The Great Globe and All Who It Inherit: Narrative and Dialogue in Story-telling by Halliday, Vygotsky and Shakespeare, David Kellogg, page 204, 2014.
- The Universal English Dictionary: Comprising the Etymology, Definition, and Pronunciation…, John Craig F.G.S., 1869.
"Marry" and "Marriage"
Are the words "marry" and "marriage" religious terms? Their etymology seems to suggest that they are (see this page, Rediscovering the Word: Marry). If they are religious terms, then should they be treated reverently as such?
In order to answer those questions we must first explore what a religious term is. Let us begin with the etymology of "religion" and go from there.
The etymology of religion is sometimes disputed as to whether its origin also derives from Old French; but it is not disputed that the word "religion" found its way into the English language from Latin religio. See e.g., The Etymology of Religion, Sarah F. Hoyt, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 32, No. 2 (1912), pp. 126-129; Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper © 2001-2017.
It is interesting that no ancient Indo-European language had a specific word (or term) for religion, even though the majority of European languages have some version of religio as their term for it. Id. That would also indicate that the words "marry" and "marriage" have been around longer than religion (see this page, Rediscovering the Word: Marry).
However, that the words "marry" and "marriage" precedes religion is of no consequence. Christians, for example, believe in God who existed before everything else. Thus, it does not matter how long it took before there was organized religion.
1. Are the words marry and marriage religious terms?
Ascertaining what is or is not a religious term may require a bit more effort. Again, looking at Christianity, we can start with "absolutes" that are in the Bible.
When we refer to absolutes in the Bible, we are saying whenever God speaks it is "absolute truth" for everyone, everywhere, at all times. See, Truth and God, Geach and Sutherland, Vol. 56 (1982), pp. 83-97; Absolute Theological Truth Postmodern Times, Fernandoc Anale, Andrews Uniuersily Seminay Studies, Vol. 45 (2007), No. 1, 87-100. So "absolute truth" is opposite of "relative truth" which may be true for some while not true for everyone and which is always subject to change. Id.
Thus, in the Bible when God speaks of marriage, it is sacred and is a witness to the sacredness of God, because like God it is absolute. We know this because God tells us it is, in Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 19:3-6; Mark 10:6-9; and elsewhere in the Bible.
God established rules governing marriage long before governments began regulating it. The opening book of the Bible tells us: "A man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24 NKJV) Jesus confirmed that those yoked together in marriage should be "male and female." (Matthew 19:4 NKJV).
It is God’s absolute to us, that He intended "marriage" to be a permanent, intimate bond between a man and a woman; that men and women are designed to complement each other so they may be capable of satisfying each other’s emotional and sexual needs, and of bearing children. The one common thread tying all this together being that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Thus, a term that describes the absolute truth of what God speaks to us and is His design being what that term describes, and because absolutes are essential to and a necessary foundation of Christianity, the words "marry" and "marriage” must be understood to be religious terms.
2. As religious terms should the words marry and marriage is treated reverently as such?
Having answered the first question in the affirmative, let us now go to the second question asking whether the words "marry" and "marriage" as religious terms should be treated reverently as such?
It has been argued for and against that the true meaning of a word should be sought in its etymology. Opponents argue that such a notion is etymology fallacy; that the meaning of a word should not be based exclusively on its etymology, nor used in a particular way because it has a particular etymology.
"We know that words change all the time and over time, a process language experts describe as 'semantic shift,' semantics being the field of language concerned with meaning." Change in the Meaning of Words Demands Care in the Use of Language, R.P. Clark, The Poynter [Institute], November 18, 2009.
True, words through time can and in many cases do change. But that sort of change occurs with evolution, or, as described above, semantic shift; not deliberate and forceful instantaneous change as what is being done with, for example, the word marriage.
Even so, then should all words be subject to forced non-evolutionary linguistic changes? Take for example the words "citizen" and "police officer" in regards to deliberate forced linguistic change.
A citizen, according to the dictionary, is "one entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman; a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it." Merriam-Webster Dictionary © 2017.
What would be the argument against a group of aliens who illegally entered into the Untied States, claiming that they are citizens and as such the word citizen means they must be afforded the same rights as any other American citizen, because they are here and have pledged their allegiance to this country?
A police officer, according to the dictionary, is "a member of a police force; someone whose job is to enforce laws, investigate crimes, and make arrests." Merriam-Webster Dictionary © 2017.
What would be the argument against a bunch of gang members wearing police uniforms and badges, patrolling their respected neighborhoods investigating and responding to crimes, insisting because they are members of the neighborhood police force they are in fact police officers?
As peculiar, if not also laughable, as the above analogies may seem it can be said the same about same-sex marriage. Except, "marriage" is also a religious term (just as much as the "Son of Man" in reference to Jesus, is) and arguably should be treated reverently as such.
White Wedding, Translations
These days the traditional Western custom of the white wedding can be seen in other cultures around the world. Even though they may not be the same in every aspect, there is no mistaken their origin.
Being the same but different is not their only uniqueness. Around the world wedding ceremonies can range from being sweet (in Sweden when the bride leaves the room, the women guest kiss the groom), to being perplexed (in Congo the wedding couple are forbidden to smile the entire day), to being quite unusual (in Mongolia before the wedding, the couple must first butcher a chicken to find a healthy liver).
In Mauritania, the wife-to-be is expected to over eat in order to become fat for her wedding, for good luck (pregnancy is not a substitute) In India, the sacred union is not just between two people, but a union of two families.
Similarly, the translated word for "marriage" from language-to-language often has a narrower or broader meaning, and even may easily confused with another word of the same language that means something entirely different.
In Sweden, for example, the word "gift" means both married and poison. Thus, "Jag är gift" is to say I am married; while "Jag tar gift" is to say I take poison. To complicate things even more both are pronounced exactly the same.
If in the present day there can be this many differences, identifying just a few, just think the endless number of differences there would be the further back we go back in time.
Here in the United States when supporters of same-sex marriage point to other cultures and ancient times to say same-sex marriage has been around forever, it has to be asked what equivalent of the word "marriage" are they relying on in order to make that claim?
As one researcher and expert on the subject, wrote: "Thus we do not know when marriage became institutionalized in most societies, or even the extent to which historical marriage-like institutions resemble marriages taking place today in current Western society." A History of Same Sex Marriage, William N. Eskridge Jr., Yale Law School, 79 Va. L. Rev. 1419 (1993), p. 1435, n. 45. "No marriages in ancient societies closely match their modern equivalents." Id., 1435-36, n. 56 (quoting John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality).
There is no question but homosexuality existed in ancient times, as did bonds between homosexuals. Numerous articles and books have been written on it. But missing from all of them is the equivalent of the word "marriage" to say it was, or even the ceremony that would have signified the relationship being anything more than a boyfriend-boyfriend, girlfriend-girlfriend bond.
Even today the Mosuo people of southwest China do not marry. Paternal Investment and the Positive Effects of Fathers among the Matrilineal Mosuo of Southwest China, Siobhán Mattison, et al., American Anthropologist, Vol. 116, Is. 3 (2014), pp. 591-610. Fathers, if they are even known, do not live with the mother or support the children. Id.
Government interference has insisted on a word for what does not exist for them, which is "zou hun" meaning walking marriage. Id. In the United States that may translate into "one night stand" in which the woman gets pregnant.
One thing the Mosuo people and homosexuals alike have never had to worry about; being introduced to a shotgun wedding. A term from back in the day, when no saying otherwise it was expected for a couple to be married before having a child.
An unplanned pregnancy led to a rush wedding, maybe with the bride’s father cocking a shotgun in the groom’s general direction. Perhaps the groom yelling back: “A white wedding sounds lovely, doesn’t it? The bride in her beautiful ivory gown, a towering cake, the promise of eternal marital bliss, ‘til death do [us] part.” (Billy Idol, White Wedding.)