Love and marriage in the dictionaries

Following up on my posting on marriage equality, ADS-L has had a series of postings about bringing dictionaries up to date in the domains of love and marriage.

First up was Steve Kleinedler of the American Heritage Dictionary:

In January, the final mark-up for the 2009 copyright update of the AHD (now available, and the edits for it have been incorporated in the AHD entries at was submitted. [The] final batch of edits included the word “widower,” which we now define as “A man whose spouse has died and who has not remarried.”
( – 2nd entry down.

… Incidentally, we handled the ‘marriage’ revision for sense 1a as “The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife, and in some jurisdictions, between two persons of the same sex, usually entailing legal obligations of each person to the other.” — which is unassailably true. (

(Steve tells that there are revised entries for husband, wife, marriage, widow, widower, fiancé and fiancée.)

Then came Larry Horn:

–looks like I won’t have the old definition 1a to kick around in my Language, Sex & Gender class anymore.  (Well, there’s always that antique OED entry for “love” (n.), at least while it lasts.)  But for the troglodytes on marriage, they’ll always (well, hopefully not always) have Random House (2009), as indicated by that same site:

1.      the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.
2.      the state, condition, or relationship of being married; wedlock: a happy marriage.
3.      the legal or religious ceremony that formalizes the decision of a man and woman to live as husband and wife, including the accompanying social festivities: to officiate at a marriage.
4.      a relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a husband and wife, without legal sanction: trial marriage; homosexual marriage.

etc.  So [Larry continues] same-sex (excuse me, “homosexual”) marriage is by definition at most “in the manner of” a real marriage.

Jesse Sheidlower then leaped to the defense of the OED:

[The OED’s love entry will] always last in print. But the OED’s entire entry for love was very heavily revised, and published online a few months ago.

(The OED2 entry is still available online as well.)

Larry added:

Ah, a definite change since last I taught that class (a year ago).  I should have rechecked before posting.  It’s nice to see the old entry up as well, so it’s possible to appreciate the progress from the classic entry “That feeling of attachment which is based upon difference of sex; the affection which subsists between lover and sweetheart and is the normal basis of marriage”–which somehow manages to proscribe both same-sex erotic attraction and traditional (non-erotic-love-based) marriage–to the current, admirably neutral “An intense feeling of romantic attachment which is based on sexual attraction; sexual passion combined with liking and concern for the other person.”

Onward and upward!

One Response to “Love and marriage in the dictionaries”

  1. Joe Clark Says:

    Canadian Oxford changed its definition the day the Supremes ordered what Americans insist on calling gay marriage legal across the country. (There isn’t “marriage” and “gay marriage” like there’s “sports” and “women’s sports” or “restaurants” and “vegetarian restaurants.”) Sense 1 is “the legal or religious union of two people.”

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