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PSA: Brides have HORNS 🐐

Winter’s Wedding Words: special Japanese edition

I didn’t attend many weddings when I lived in Japan 20-odd years ago and only found out today that the traditional Japanese bridal head-dress, tsunokakushi (角隠し), literally means HORN CONCEALER!

It was/is believed to hide the bride’s “horns” of jealousy, ego and selfishness, and is a sign of her commitment to be a gentle and obedient wife.

Traditional Japanese bride wearing an ornate tsunokakushi headpiece and red kimono.
Beware what lies beneath the tsunokakushi. Photo: M’s One via Wedded Wonderland

With the gorgeously ornate tsunokakushi worn by brides now, I imagine (read hope) that the origins of the tradition are somewhat lost, and wearing one is now more an aesthetic decision, much like the western wedding veil. But that’s for another blog post.

Either way, take this as another reminder that the world is full of wedding traditions and you only have to follow the ones that work for you. Traditions are just peer pressure from dead people.

Photo from M’s One beauty salon (coincidentally in Gifu, my nearest city when I lived in Japan) via Wedded Wonderland 😈

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With this ring, I thee… bet?

Winter’s Wedding Words: Wedding

Are you a betting person? Fond of a flutter? Paying wages? Planning a wedding is closer to all of these than you might have ever thought.

You feeling lucky, punk?

The word ‘wedding’ comes from the Old English ‘weddian’, which meant to covenant, engage or pledge. Germanic linguistic history gives us loads of similar words meaning pledge, such as ‘weddia’ in Old Frisian, ‘wedden’ in Low Middle German and Middle and modern Dutch and ‘vedhja’ in Old Icelandic. Gothic also had ‘gawadjōn’ which actually meant to marry or espouse.

So it’s no great leap to see the connection to Modern German’s ‘wetten’, which means to wager or bet, as well as pledge. When you think about betting, what you’re actually doing is promising to pay if you’re wrong. Indeed, Old English ‘wedd’ meant being pawned or mortgaged.

Our Modern English word ‘wages’ also has the same linguistic root, wages also being a promise or pledge, i.e. of a reward for completed work.The germanic languages seem to agree; Middle and Modern Dutch ‘wedde’ means wages.

The Latinate side of English’s origins cognates with the germanic too. Latin’s ‘vas’ (genitive ‘vadis’) and Lithuanian’s ‘vādas’ meant surety or bail.

Finally, ‘wedlock’ doesn’t actually have anything to do with locks. It is simply Old English ‘wedd’ (pledge) plus the suffix ‘lac’ which signified a noun. The suffix changed to ‘lock’ by folk etymology, through association with the similar sounding ‘lock’.

Padlock, wedlock… same-same but different
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Old wives’ tales

Winter’s Wedding Words: wife

I’m disappointed.

Not in an epically understated way, like my gracious German cousins last week ⚽️🎉.

More like when I go out for Chinese food and the main course never seems to live up to splendiferous platter of prawn toasts, satay chicken sticks, spring rolls and duck pancakes we had for the starter.

I blame husband. Not my husband, nor anyone else’s, but the word ‘husband’ itself. Specifically, its etymology. Because after I learned that it shares its origin with 007 and bondage for my last blog post, I had high hopes for its feminine counterpart.

Disappointment (1882), by Julius Leblanc Stewart. I don’t know what he did either.

Alas, ‘wife’ began its recorded life as Old English wif, meaning… wife.

However, ‘wif’ could also mean woman, irrespective of marital status. So I researched ‘woman’. And here I found my nugget of geek gold.

An anomalous quirk of English language evolution is that the word ‘wife’, i.e. a woman as a man’s possession (the predominant mentality of the time), predates ‘woman’ as a female person generally.

Disappointed AND retroactively outraged.

So I embroidered the shit out of a veil and felt much better.

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Ooh, Matron!

Winter’s Wedding Words: Matron

Matron. Matriarch. Maternity. Matricide. All share a common root: the Latin ‘mater’, meaning mother. So why does ‘matrimony’ derive from the same?

Hatty Jacques’s Matron from the Carry On… films

As with many marriage traditions, the answer is in its patriarchal origins. Marriage was seen as literally the act of establishing a mother in the household.

Clearly this is problematic. It is male-centric, where the man is the active participant bringing the passive woman/mother figure into his domicile. It is hetero/cis-normative. It also assumes that every woman getting married wants to, and will, become a mother, not to mention that this is the primary purpose of marriage.

So, does this mean that technically only hetero/cis couples planning children can be joined in matrimony? Of course not. It’s not the 1300s, from when ‘matrimony’ was first recorded, spelled ‘matrymony’ at the time. Language evolves. Spellings and semantics change. Mercifully, so do (some) patriarchal social norms.

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Honeymoon is not as sweet as it sounds

Winter’s Wedding Words: Honeymoon

Remember that scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral where Carrie asks Charles why he thinks it’s called a honeymoon? Charles suggests that it’s honey because it’s as sweet as honey and moon because it’s the first time a husband gets to see his wife’s bottom. Well, wouldn’t you just know it? He’s actually (partially) right. Just not about the butt cheeks.

I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon.

It is indeed honey because it’s something sweet. BUT (not butt) it’s actually meant ironically, to describe something that seems wonderful now but won’t last, hence when people talk about the ‘honeymoon period’ of a project or endeavour, etc, with the implicit expectation of it all going to shit.

This is because of the nature of the phases of the moon: it is no sooner full than it begins to wane. So, ‘honeymoon’ is a rather cynical remark on the newlyweds’ long-term prospects for happiness.

Perhaps the last laugh is on the cynics though; they seem to have forgotten that even when the moon disappears entirely, it will start to wax once more and reach its full glory again (and again, and again) soon enough. That sounds sweet enough to me. Peachy even.

🍑
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Husbands, 007 and bondage: their surprising shared history

Winter’s Wedding Words: Husband

I’m never one to kink shame but I have to admit I nearly spat my tea when I was researching this one; under ‘husband’ in my etymological dictionary was the instruction to, “See ‘Bondage'”.

Another surprise on this etymological adventure was that it would lead me to 007 himself.

‘Husband’ is a compound of two words: ‘house’ and ‘bond’ (not ‘band’). Old English (about 800 years ago) combined ‘hus’ meaning ‘house’ and ‘bonda’ meaning ‘hold’ into ‘husbonda’, which meant householder, lord of the house, house owner. Before this, it probably came from something scandiwegian as Old Icelandic has the very similar ‘hūsbondi’.

But get this. The ‘bond’ bit originally meant tennant (ie not land owning) farmer, or serf. When you think about the modern meanings of bond, it starts to make sense. Tie, fetter, bind, hold, commit. These folk would hold their land temporarily rather than own it. You can also see how ‘bond’ became ‘bondage’ as in enslave or servitude.

It’s also probably the source of the surname Bond. The original Bonds were unlikely to be driving an Aston Martin. 007 has come a long way.

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Why White?

How Queen Victoria, new-fangled photography and rubbish laundry facilities created the iconic western tradition

Ever wondered why western brides wear white? Queen Victoria sparked the trend in 1840 and actually raised eyebrows by choosing white, which was usually only worn by debutantes for their presentation to court.

Victoria & Albert on their wedding day, and her trend-setting dress displayed at Kensington Palace.

Before then (and for a while after), brides would wear their best dress, whatever colour(s) it happened to be. There wasn’t even a concept of a wedding dress as something you wore just for your wedding day. It was expected that you’d wear your wedding dress again for other functions ans indeed, Queen Victoria did.

A bride and groom in Chicago in the 1890s

This expectation helped make the white wedding dress aspirational as it was only really practical to wash and maintain white fabrics, especially silk, if you were mega-rich. Ideally, you had staff to take care of that for you. European royals and nobility did of course and so the white wedding dress became associated with wealth and high social standing.

Simultaneously, photography was becoming more advanced and accessible and white dresses looked good in the early sepia photographs. Even nearly 200 years ago, we were all about the ‘Gram.

All of this means that you can still consider yourself a traditional bride if your dress isn’t white. This week, I took delivery of this stunning lace-satin-glitter (yes, all of them, in one fabric) fabric and I am ridiculously excited about it.

Satin, lace AND glitter all in one fabric. BIG plans for this beauty. HUGE.