CLAOTE: Archaic Defintions

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Considering Lingual Aspects of the English:
Archaic Definitions of the English term “husband” and the English term “wife”

 
If the section Modern Definitions of the English term “husband” and the English term “wife” was confusing, then consider that the term “husband” and the term “wife” have been in use for about a thousand years, but the people who used those terms back a thousand years ago most likely were not using those terms in the manner in which the terms are currently defined by Dictionary.com.

For instance, Dictionary.com says that an archaic definition (meaning a definition that was used in some earlier time period but is not commonly or currently used) for the noun “husband” was “a prudent or frugal manager”[1].

Additionally, Dictionary.com identified another older use of the term “husband”. The term was used as a verb, which meant “to till; cultivate”[2].

Reality is that we wouldn’t even know there was an archaic definition of the noun “husband” if Dictionary.com didn’t provide the lingual history.

What is the point?

I will give more detail in later sections, but the lingual reality is that the term “husband” was once associated with, if not a cognate term with, husbandry and husbandman, which meant that in the archaic English the term “husband” conveyed a significantly different idea than how modernity defines the term.

This simply means that the modern definition of “husband” has separated from it’s original intent.

 
Consider the term “wife”. Dictionary.com states that the term “wife” is “an archaic or dialect word for woman.”[3]

As mentioned earlier, the term “archaic” means that a definition was used in some earlier time period but is not commonly or currently used.

The term “dialect” means that the use of a term (in this case “wife”) had a local vernacular application, meaning that the term was used in a particular way within a specific area or within a specific social setting.

For us, whether in previous use or in a particular use to a specific area, the term “wife” worked as a type of synonym for the term “woman”.

That is completely NOT the way the term “wife” is currently used.

However, Dictionary.com did state “The modern sense of ‘female spouse’ began as a specialized sense in Old English”[4].

That places the term “wife” as being used since at least the 11th century, which is prior to the first English Bible translation, and is during the period of Old English identified as being around the 5th century to the 11th century.

Importantly though, for the English term “wife” Dictionary.com states that “the general sense of ‘woman’ is preserved in [terms like] midwife”[5]. So let’s look at the term “midwife”.

According to Dictionary.com, the primary definition of the term “midwife” is: “a person trained to assist women in childbirth.”[6]

Notice that the primary definition provided by Dictionary.com for “midwife” identifies no specific gender. Since no gender is specified that makes the modern definition of “midwife” gender neutral.

However, according to Dictionary.com the term “midwife” originated around AD/CE 1300. During that time, the prefix “mid” meant “accompanying” and as defined above the suffix “wife” was synonymous with “woman”.[7]

Therefore, the original lingual meaning of the term “midwife” was not gender neutral.

Instead, in the archaic English the term “midwife” was intentionally gender specific, where the term functionally meant “accompanying-woman”.

Therefore, the “midwife” was the “accompanying-woman” who assisted other women who were giving birth to a child.

In essence, the archaic English term “midwife” identified her occupation, much in the same way it does in modernity.

Yet in modernity the term “midwife” has become gender neutral, which means that in modernity the term can apply to a man.

All of that simply helps us understand that at one time, the term “wife” was in essence synonymously used for the term “woman”.

Reality is that we wouldn’t even know there was an archaic definition of the term “wife” if Dictionary.com didn’t provide the lingual history.

What is the point?

Like the term “husband”, the lingual reality is that the term “wife” was once associated with, if not synonymous with, the term “woman” which means that in the archaic English the term “wife” conveyed a significantly different idea than how modernity defines the term.

This simply means that the modern definition of “wife” has separated from it’s original intent.

 
Footnotes:
[1] Husband – additional definitions as defined under the Noun; May 5, 2017; http://www.dictionary.com/browse/husband.

[2] ibid.

[3] Wife – additional information under “British Dictionary definitions for wife”; May 5, 2017; http://www.dictionary.com/browse/wife.

[4] Wife – additional information under “Word Origin and History for wife”; May 5, 2017; http://www.dictionary.com/browse/wife.

[5] ibid.

[6] Midwife – the primary (first) definition as defined under the Noun; May 5, 2017; http://www.dictionary.com/browse/midwife.

[7] Midwife – additional information under “Origin of midwife”; May 5, 2017; http://www.dictionary.com/browse/midwife.

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