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Oxford English Dictionary Revises Definition of Marriage to Reflect Same-Sex Relationships

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and the online have revised their definitions of marriage to reflect the legal recognition of same-sex relationships, The Guardian reports:

OedThe definition of "marriage" now reads: "The relationship between two people who are husband and wife, or a similar relationship between people of the same sex," with the second clause newly added.

The revision follows the marriage (same sex couples) bill through its crucial reading in the House of Lords on 15 July and accompanies other changes in a significant update to the dictionary. One that is likely to offend grammar purists is the inclusion of "of" as a preposition for use with "bored", as in "bored of". editor-in-chief Michael Rundell said the change to the definition of "marriage" might suggest a future redefining of the terms "husband" and "wife". "In a same sex relationship two men are probably not going to refer to themselves as 'wife', but if it's two women, they might, so we need to keep an eye on that."

They add:

However the Oxford English Dictionary (, whose dictionary definitions already include references to same sex marriage, said it "would continue to monitor the way in which the word marriage is used", adding that "dictionaries reflect changes in the use of language, rather than changes in law".

The OED definition of "marriage" is "the condition of being a husband or wife; the relation between persons married to each other; matrimony", with a supplementary line which says "the term is now sometimes used with reference to long-term relationships between partners of the same sex".

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  1. Changes to the OED were mentioned on last night's news on BBC Radio 4, but they didn't mention this one. They only said that literally has now been expanded to mean metaphorically (which still sets my teeth on edge).


    Posted by: Timothy (TRiG) | Aug 23, 2013 9:40:26 AM

  2. I want to send a copy to NOM headquarters. Just for funsies.

    Posted by: Robert Rhea | Aug 23, 2013 9:48:18 AM

  3. I think they missed it pretty far on this one. Not everyone who is married fits even these narrow categories.

    Posted by: jdarr | Aug 23, 2013 10:43:58 AM

  4. Even better "The relationship between two people who are spouses". No need for gendering the participants

    Posted by: Steve | Aug 23, 2013 11:02:34 AM

  5. the netherlands first granted gay couples the right to marry in 2001. cudos to oed for being 12 years late to the party.

    Posted by: northalabama | Aug 23, 2013 11:13:38 AM

  6. I don't see why they even start with the unnecessarily sexist language. They could have said that marriage is "the condition of being a spouse." The way they've written it would be like defining a doctor as "a white male who has earned a doctorate degree" and then adding an addendum that, yes, females and people of other colors also sometimes become doctors.

    Posted by: GregV | Aug 23, 2013 11:19:43 AM

  7. Is the Guardian trying to equate "marriage" with "bored" or "bored of"?

    Posted by: Ruddigore | Aug 23, 2013 11:45:02 AM

  8. The detailed definition is typical of the OED, which is not an ordinary reference dictionary: its complete entries show how a word/phrase has been used since it first appeared in English (complete with citations of its first appearances in print) up through the present moment. It's descriptive rather than prescriptive.

    Posted by: Profe Sancho Panza | Aug 23, 2013 12:54:32 PM

  9. I like the definitions of husband/wife:

    'A married wo/man, especially when considered in relation to his/her partner in marriage.'

    Posted by: kennedy | Aug 23, 2013 1:25:12 PM

  10. That definition is dismissive and insulting. It still sounds like, "we have marriage and then something similar for the gays".

    Posted by: TampaZeke | Aug 23, 2013 5:07:52 PM

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