Even the Dictionary is Confused About the Word Marriage

April 09, 2013

By Ofer Tirosh


From a young age, we’re taught that dictionaries are the best resource to look up word definitions for words we’re unfamiliar with. In middle school, we used them as a resource for English papers, but as we get older the lines begin to blur for some words.

The latest word to make lexicographers cringe is the word “marriage”. With all the debate going on about what types of marriages should be legal in the United States, lexicographers know all eyes are on them to revise the definition of the word.

A few years ago Merriam Webster came up with a two-definition solution. They used the definition for "marriage" as "the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex," but also added a second definition as "the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of traditional marriage." Of course this stirred up headlines at the time. People on both sides of the marriage debate found problems with the definitions.

Now that the issue of marriage is in the headlines again, the word is on lexicographers minds again. To play it safe, Encarta dictionary opted to go with a definition of the word that had nothing to do with gender.

Moral of the story – even though dictionaries are a trusted source for looking up unfamiliar words, the definitions of words can change over time as society changes.

More information about the definition of marriage can be found on the NPR website.

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