I see that a colleague of mine lists her relationship status on Facebook as “widowed”. Clear enough.

But I say I’m “single”, because that’s the term I have to use on the census and other surveys. I had a wife, but she died 25 years ago. Then I had a male partner, for almost as many years, but then we didn’t count as “married”, so I was “single”. Then he too died, and I was still “single”. By my calculation, I’ve been made a widower twice, but I’ve been “single” since 1985.

What to say about widowered?

It’s in OED2, but marked as “rare”. And you can google it up, but not in large numbers, especially as compared to widowed.

The long-range social history here is that a woman without a husband — no one seems to have imagined a woman without her female partner — has no clear social status; she’s in limbo. Times have long changed, but the attitudes remain, so that being widowed defines you in a way that being widowered does not.

Checking Facebook, I see that “widowered” is not a possible relationship status. Either I am “single” or “it’s complicated”. Or I’m “widowed”, but I reject the male-female associations that go with the word. I wasn’t anyone’s wife; I was someone’s husband-equivalent (and he was mine), but that puts me in no place at all lexically.

This is one of the reasons I’m inclined to refuse to fill out surveys.

Yes, it’s one of those angry days.


2 Responses to “widowered”

  1. mae Says:

    I hope this won’t make you angrier, but somewhere in my prescriptivist upbringing I learned that the traditional (hypercorrect?) form was “widowed” for either a man or a woman, only the noun was different.

    Googling “widowed man” suggests that this expression is used reasonably often without self-consciousness. It was not clear to me that you did this, sorry if it’s redundant.

    I mean to imply nothing about avoidance of surveys and questionnaires — there are so many other reasons to shun them.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      To mae: yes, I did find some examples of “widowed man” used apparently without self-consciousness. Should have mentioned this in the posting.

      As for surveys and questionnaires, I’ve gotten quite surly about them. A topic for another posting.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: