The OED and "adulterous" & "adultery"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Sep 13 19:39:56 UTC 2009

"... anything _particular to_ an infertile married woman."

Good one, Joel! Magnificent use of the particularities of English
syntax and semantics! Just beautiful! Bravo! I was faked right out of
my drawers! ("Faked out of one's *shoes*," etc. are euphemisms. I
prefer the original.) For a split second, I thought  that you had
miswritten. Then, your meaning, in all its
messing-with-your-mind-if-you're-not-truly-hip-to-the-tip clarity, was
revealed unto me. Bra-vo!

To borrow what's-her-face's catch phrase: "I love it! I love it! I love it!"

Sigh! I've just heard "Knock yourself out!" used as a slogan in a
Sprint commercial. That bugs my head! I gots to go!


On Sat, Sep 12, 2009 at 3:47 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: The OED and "adulterous" & "adultery"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 9/12/2009 02:39 PM, ronbutters at AOL.COM wrote:
>>Where is there a law that says anything about conception? Would a
>>married man who had intercourse with an 80-year-old woman not be
>>guilty of adultery? Or if he had anal intercourse with a fertile young woman?
>>Just wondering.
> Me too -- about the law in modern times.
> In colonial New England (i.e., before 1692), adultery would only have
> been charged in an opposite-sex circumstance, specifically of a man
> with a married woman; that is how the law was written.  I was
> probably wrong to imply that the possibility of conception was a
> crucial factor in charging adultery.  (I don't recall reading
> anything particular to an infertile married woman.)
> The possibility of conception -- or rather its absence -- was the
> significant factor in considering a sexual act "unnatural".  Thus
> anal intercourse by a man with a fertile young woman, even if she
> were married, would have been presented as sodomy (a capital crime),
> not adultery, as would male-male sexual activity.  (Sexual activity
> between two women was not sodomy by law, with possibly no cases
> having been discovered -- it would be difficult to produce witnesses
> or other evidence.  If such a case had been presented, the charge
> would have been something like "unnatural acts".)
> Joel
>>------Original Message------
>>From: Joel S. Berson
>>Sender: ADS-L
>>To: ADS-L
>>ReplyTo: ADS-L
>>Subject: Re: [ADS-L] The OED and "adulterous" & "adultery"
>>Sent: Sep 12, 2009 2:23 PM
>>At 9/12/2009 02:06 PM, ronbutters at AOL.COM wrote:
>> >"opposite sex" seems archaic.
>>Perhaps -- what does modern law say?  Must adultery include the
>>possibility of conception?  (It certainly had to in the early modern period.)
>> >------Original Message------
>> >From: Joel S. Berson
>> >Sender: ADS-L
>> >To: 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?
>> >
>> >Joel
>> >
>> >------------------------------------------------------------
>> >The American Dialect Society -
>> >
>> >
>> >Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
>> >
>> >------------------------------------------------------------
>> >The American Dialect Society -
>>The American Dialect Society -
>>Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
>>The American Dialect Society -
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint
to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list