The OED and "adulterous" & "adultery"

ronbutters at AOL.COM ronbutters at AOL.COM
Sat Sep 12 18:06:08 UTC 2009

"opposite sex" seems archaic.
------Original Message------
From: Joel S. Berson
Sender: ADS-L
ReplyTo: ADS-L
Subject: [ADS-L] The OED and "adulterous" & "adultery"
Sent: Sep 12, 2009 10:30 AM

The OED (1989) defines "adulterous" solely in terms of "adultery"
--  "1. Pertaining to, or characterized by the practice of adultery"
(senses 2 and 3 are not relevant here).

It defines adultery (also 1989) as:

"1. Violation of the marriage bed; the voluntary sexual intercourse
of a married person with one of the opposite sex, whether unmarried,
or married to another ...
"b. Extended in Scripture, to unchastity generally ..." (Again,
omitted portions and sense 2 are not relevant.)

But "adulterous" was not only "extended in Scripture, to unchastity
generally".  It was extended in colonial New England not to
"unchastity generally" -- that was "fornication" or "uncleanness" --
but to unchastity by or with a married person.  This can be seen in
the reports of numerous legal cases where adultery was suspected or
charged, but not proven, and "adulterous conduct" found
instead.  (Where both parties were single, adultery was not charged
and "adulterous conduct" not found, only "fornication".)

Can a change in the definitions be expected when the OED gets around
to the (black and white) A?


The American Dialect Society -

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