"redefining" marriage

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 5 07:58:30 UTC 2013

Once upon a time, back in the day when "homosexual marriage" was just
gibberish, with no discernible real-world application, the One True Faith
disringushed between only two kinds of marriages: "valid and sacramental,"
troth was plighted in the presence of a priest; "valid and
non-sacramental," all other relationships involving the plighting of troth,
even if the plighting was only an "understanding," so to speak, between the
two people, as in the case of a common-law marriage.

But, here of late, it's become necessary to prevent gay people from joining
in a marriage that would otherwise be at least as "valid and
non-sacramental" as a common-law marriage, because God don't play that
shit. As the sainted Richard Pryor once noted, "Good ain't *never* dug no
whole lot of people."

On Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 9:57 AM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "redefining" marriage
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I've been using the AHD lemmas for "marriage" as a conversation piece in
> classes since the earlier and even more confusing entry in AHD4 (2000):
> 1 a. The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife.
>    b. The state of being married; wedlock.
>    c.  A common-law marriage.
>    d. A union between two persons having the customary but usually not the
> legal force of marriage: a same-sex marriage.
> Note the relation between "senses" 1a and 1d.
> LH
> On Jun 4, 2013, at 1:07 AM, Geoffrey Nunberg wrote:
> > I enjoyed Steve's piece, and my long association with the AHD has left
> me with nothing but respect for the capability of him and the other
> editors. At the same time, it seems to me the AHD's current def of
> 'marriage' is something of a jumble. Here's the whole thing, apart from
> some irrelevant senses:
> >
> > a. The legal union of a man and woman as husband and wife, and in some
> jurisdictions, between two persons of the same sex, usually entailing legal
> obligations of each person to the other.
> > b. A similar union of more than two people; a polygamous marriage.
> > c. A union between persons that is recognized by custom or religious
> tradition as a marriage.
> > d. A common-law marriage.
> >
> > Why four senses here? Do we want to say that the marriage between
> opposite-sex couples that is legally recognized in some jurisdictions isn't
> the same kind of thing as the legally unrecognized "marriage" among three
> or more people, or the "marriage" recognized by only a church? Are these
> really different meanings of the word? (And what do we do with "d. A common
> law marriage" -- what could be the sense of 'marriage' in the definiens, a,
> b, c, or something else?)
> >
> > Mind you, I don't think the AHD's new def is as cluelessly spineless as
> that of Merriam-Webster, who go with what I think of as a two-state
> solution, where the word is given two senses: "the state of being united to
> a person of the opposite sex," and "the state of being united to a person
> of the same sex in a relationship like that of traditional marriage." Which
> is to say that same-sex couples can be, like, "married" but not exactly
> _married_, if you take my meaning.
> >
> > But there are problems with the AHD def too, which I think come of
> trying to serve several masters at once. It seems to me that (a) in
> particular (in the AHD, the first sense is usually the most central meaning
> not the earliest) presupposes that the opponents of same-sex marriage are
> absolutely right to claim that the courts are "redefining" the word. That
> would entail that the phrase "legally married" is redundant, and that the
> historical restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples was not a legal
> restriction on who could ask for state sanction of their union, but a
> matter of lexical analyticity. In which case, until recently, at least,
> Rush Limbaugh was right to say that "By definition, same-sex people cannot
> be married."
> >
> > I much prefer the way the Encarta dealt with this, via lumping rather
> than splitting: "a legally recognized relationship ... between two people
> who intend to live together as sexual and domestic partners." As I
> understand that, it's not giving a "new meaning" to the word -- it reflects
> a realization that that's what "marriage" has *always* meant, even if the
> state and other institutions have historically denied some relationships
> the right to recognition. In other words, lexicographers should just go for
> it. The English language doesn't owe Antonin Scalia a living.
> >
> > I did a "Fresh Air" piece on this a couple of months ago that drew some
> further comparisons; it's at http://goo.gl/130d6
> >
> > Geoff
> >
> >> From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> >> Subject: our Steve Kleinedler on the lexicographer's waiting game
> >> Date: June 3, 2013 6:50:48 AM PDT
> >>
> >>
> >> The very definition of marriage
> >> A lexicographer awaits the court’s decision.
> >>
> >>
> >> IN THE RUN-UP to the momentous Supreme Court decision about marriage
> equality, one often hears the phrase “redefining marriage.” But who writes
> the definitions that appear in dictionaries? Even in this age of crowd
> sourcing and automation, the answer is a traditional one: a small number of
> lexicographers like me. As a member of the American Heritage Dictionary of
> the English Language editorial staff, I am interested in the court’s
> decision because it could affect our current definition of marriage.  […]
> >>
> >>
> http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2013/06/01/dictionary-editor-awaits-court-decision-gay-marriage/SrjR30muFvdfy0eYqFN9WK/story.html
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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