17 mar 2010

Etymology: origin of the word "bride"

From German origin, the word “bride” in Present day English means “a woman on her wedding day or just before and after the event”, although according to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we can see that it hasn’t always been the case. Consulting the Oxford English Dictionary, it can be found that the word is recorded to be used with this meaning from the 11th century. It is a word which has been used in the language for more than a millennium, so the meaning has not changed significantly over the decades. Nevertheless, it also indicates that during the 15th and 16th century the word also denoted a bridegroom. This is exactly the case in that example for it says “a gentleman to be her bride?” The play is believed to have been written between 1591 and 1595 the time in which the signifier “bride” could mean either a bride or a groom.

The semantic change that this word has undergone during this time is certainly narrowing. Narrowing it is the process in which a word comes to have more restricted applications. As we can see in the 15th and 16th century this word has more than one meaning, not only “groom” but also some other meaning s which were rare such as “a bridle, rein” “to mince” or just simply “a maiden” but most of them were found occasionally. This is why this meaning ended up fading: the meaning “groom” was used until the 16th century; the meaning “a bridle was only used until the 19th century and many other meaning were lost too. In conclusion, in PDE the meaning of this word was narrowed to mean what I said above. There are also some other meanings registered in PDE but they are occasionally used in a specific register or situation.

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© Pablo Camus
Maira Gall