Should “Husband” Be Banned?

While I was getting us all another round of java, I tried to scope out the two couples for clues. No hairy hands. Just how big was Pat’s Adam’s apple? I turned to take the cardboard tray from the barista before they noticed me giving them the once-over.

“So, you don’t like the word wife,” I said, “Now what’s wrong with husband?”

“Sounds too much like Lord and Master,” Lee said. “You know, like ‘husbanding your resources,’ guarding, managing.”

“Pat, can I see your tablet?” I asked.

“What, this? It’s just a multivitamin. I’m hoping it will restore some of the hair I’m losing.”

Hmm. No, it wasn’t male pattern baldness, just general thinning. “Not the pill. Your device here,” I said, tapping the case. “You were looking at the OED Online.”

“Oh. Sure.”

“See? Here’s the verb husband that Lee was talking about. It means ‘to administer as a good householder or steward, to manage with thrift and prudence’ and so on.’”

“Yep.” said Lee.

“Well, the verb is derived from the noun, which originally meant ‘the master of a house, the male head of a household.’ It showed up in Late Old English as húsbonda, from hús ‘house ‘+ bónda , from Old Norse bóndi, ‘peasant owning his own house and land.’ “


Ilya Repin, Ploughman. Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy in the ploughland. Wikimedia Commons

“What’d I say?” asked Lee. “Lord and Master.”

Pat reclaimed the tablet and clicked a link. “How about this? According to, in Old Norse bóndi meant ‘occupier and tiller of the soil.’ The original sense of the verb was ’till, cultivate’”

“I’m not going there,” I said. “And don’t forget: the current meaning of a word may be completely unrelated to its origin. For example, nice originally — around 1300 —meant ‘foolish, silly or ignorant’ and by the late 1300s it also meant ‘wanton’ or ‘lascivious.’”

“Isn’t that what it means now?” Aeron asked.

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