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Married to the dictionary

A reader takes exception to the South African government’s legalizing gay marriage by sending this note to The Sun.

I have taken this definition of marriage from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

Main Entry: mar·riage

Pronunciation: 'mer-ij, 'ma-rij

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle English mariage, from Anglo-French, from marier to marry

1 a (1) : the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage <same-sex marriage>

If homosexual partners want to be in a lawfully commited relationship then this new state of relationship needs it's own lawful title.

Marriage title belongs to male comitting to Female!

Response. The reader appears to have overlooked the second definition under this entry, and also to have overlooked a significant section of the first. That is that marriage is, in part, a legal, contractual relationship. It is defined by the state to ensure the orderly transfer of property and the safety of minor citizens. As a legal relationship defined by the state, it is therefore whatever the state determines it to be. That is why, for example, the state recognizes civil marriages that a religious denomination might not consider valid.

But the larger point that the reader overlooks is that the dictionary does not legislate language; it follows language. There was resistance in many quarters when the earlier sense of the word gay was overtaken and overwhelmed as a synonym of homosexual. But the usage became widespread over time and is now well established in the language — and in current editions of dictionaries.

If gay couples continue to live in relationships that society determines to be legal and contractual, and the populace calls these relationships marriage, then marriage will be the word for it.

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:49 PM | | Comments (5)


Well said.

I again register my irritation at words taken over and corrupted by groups for their own political purposes.

Doesn't everyone use language for their own purposes, political and otherwise?

And if the everyone ... their construction irritates you, hard cheddar.

I know what you mean, Patricia. For as long as I can remember, my mother has hosted a tea party on the first Sunday of the month. Now it seems whenever she invites someone new, there's a whole lot of explaining involved.

[Humpty Dumpty said to Alice in Wonderland] "There's glory for you!'

`I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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