Is "matrimony" a religious term?
February 9, 2014 1:08 PM   Subscribe

I've been asked by a friend of mine who is a marriage officiant to translate his marriage ceremony speech into English, and I have a question about wording. In a secular marriage, can you say "joined together in matrimony", or do you have to say "joined together in marriage"?

I personally think "matrimony" sounds better (especially since the word "marriage" is repeated several times in the text) but to my ears it also has a slight religious feel to it. I suppose that is because in religious ceremonies you say "joined together in holy matrimony", but even without the "holy" it still has an air of religiosity. Or maybe that's just my imagination?

I should say that I have literally no details of the wedding or people involved (not even their genders or names), but my friend is a judge, not a priest, so I'm fairly confident it's a secular ceremony. Also, his original Swedish text contains no religious terms.
posted by gkhan to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Matrimony isn't a religious term. It's only the addition of "holy" that makes it religious. You're just used to always hearing them together. But really there's nothing wrong with saying "joined together in matrimony".
posted by bleep at 1:11 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

"matrimony" isn't any more religious than "hegemony", "alimony" or even "sanctimony". the only religious mony i can think of right now is simony.
posted by bruce at 1:16 PM on February 9, 2014

OED's etymology:
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman matermoine, matremoine, matrimoigne, matrimone, matrimonie and Middle French matremoine, matrimoigne (14th cent.; c1155 in Old French in sense ‘property inherited from one's mother’: compare 1a) < classical Latin mātrimōnium state of being married < mātri- , māter mother (see matri- comb. form) + -mōnium -mony comb. form. Compare Old Occitan matrimoni (1198), Italian matrimonio (a1294), Spanish matrimonio (1335), Portuguese matrimōnio
posted by Flunkie at 1:17 PM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding bleep and bruce. "Matrimony" and "marriage" are equivalent terms. The OED and Merriam Webster (as two sample sources, one British, one American) both define matrimony as marriage, and neither mentions a religious connotation.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:18 PM on February 9, 2014

Good question. Here's what Wikipedia says about the etymology:
The word "marriage" derives from Middle English mariage, which first appears in 1250–1300 CE. This in turn is derived from Old French marier (to marry) and ultimately Latin marītāre meaning to provide with a husband or wife and marītāri meaning to get married. The adjective marīt-us -a, -um meaning matrimonial or nuptial could also be used in the masculine form as a noun for "husband" and in the feminine form for "wife." The related word "matrimony" derives from the Old French word matremoine which appears around 1300 CE and ultimately derives from Latin mātrimōnium which combines the two concepts mater meaning "mother" and the suffix -monium signifying "action, state, or condition."
So, motherhood. There's nothing religious here, but depending on the circumstances I might avoid the term based on that connotation. I tend to be a prescriptivist stickler, so I might think twice about using the word "matrimony" when discussing a couple that doesn't plan to have children, or indeed a marriage between two men.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:22 PM on February 9, 2014

Just to expand upon the OED's etymology, when it says "mātri- , māter mother (see matri- comb. form) + -mōnium -mony comb. form.", the "-mony" it mentions is "Occurring in essentially abstract nouns mainly denoting a state, condition, or action." So it seems to me that if you go all the way back as far as we can, "matrimony" comes from something that essentially means "motherhood".
posted by Flunkie at 1:22 PM on February 9, 2014

Ok, thanks guys! I pretty much figured this to be the case, but I just wanted to double check. I think I'll stick with "marriage" though, rereading the full text it just sounds a bit better.
posted by gkhan at 1:22 PM on February 9, 2014

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