Words associated with weddings

Inspiration hat-tip to Kim and Kanye

The recent wedding of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West presents an opportunity to discuss the snarky “announcement” that ran in the New York Post. That the Post has published hundreds of column inches on the celebrity couple over the years, and that the above announcement does not appear on the Post website are not what we want to discuss here. This is, after all, a column on language. No, our discussion centers on a single word in this sentence:

“They were betrothed at Florence’s 16-century Fort di Belvedere castle.”

Actually, they were “betrothed” last October — the Post covered that, too.

So our subterfuge is exposed: We just wanted to use “Kimye” to draw traffic to the discussion of words related to marriage.

“Betrothed” means engaged, not married. It comes from the word “troth,” a noun meaning “faithfulness.” In many wedding vows or liturgies, it appears as “I pledge thee my troth,” or “I plight thee my troth,” an older variant of “pledge.” That relationship could be interpreted to mean that “betrothed” means “married” as well, but it rarely is, outside the Post. “Troth” has etymological connections to “truth” as well, so we hope Kim and Kanye were being truthful when they pledged their troths.

When Kanye popped the question, he became Kim’s “fiancé.” The original use of “fiance,” from the French word “to trust,” did not carry an accent, and meant “confidence” or “trust,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In the mid-1800s, the OED says, “fiancé” came to mean a person engaged to another, and it brought along its accent. (“Fiancée,” of course, is the feminine form.)

One word the Post probably wanted to use instead of “betrothed” was “nuptials.” Also from French, it refers to any of the activities related to a wedding. As an adjective, it used to mean the person you married, as in “your nuptial spouse,” but that usage is now all but divorced from English.

The zoologists out there know what the “nuptials” really are: The OED says “nuptial” also means “of, relating to, or characteristic of mating or the breeding season;” especially “designating behaviour or coloration specific to the mating season.”

And, as the Post and other outlets made clear, the “nuptials” of Kim and Kanye were all about the plumage.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.