On 'taking a wife'

The English language, like probably most languages, is a slippery thing. Words don't always mean what you think they mean.

Take, for example, the notion of one person 'taking' another as their spouse. Do you, A, take B to be your lawfully wedded wife? seems to have a gentle, perhaps romantic air about it. It's common, and usual, and probably has connotations of an accepted proposal which asked Will you marry me?

Which is why it was only today, while reading about cultures where women and men speak different languages, I realised that taking wives in historical accounts is in no way gentle. It's a man's word for rape and slavery:

…groups of Carib warriors conquered them, killed most of the men, and took the women as wives. …

…he ordered his crew to kill all the men on the island. … many of his crew stayed behind to make wives of the remaining women.

Source: Cultures Where Men and Women Don't Speak the Same Language.

This is that other meaning of 'take': using force to remove. Here it means slavery. I have no doubt that no-one approached any of the women with some kind of 'proposal' to which they agreed. No, these women were forcibly removed and then obliged to perform sexual acts with their enslavers.

So why do writers use the innocent-sounding term take as a wife?

Next time I read historical accounts of men taking women as their wives, I'll pause and ponder what was really going on: rape and slavery.

Miraz Jordan @Miraz

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