What a Difference a Name Makes

Now that the Civil Partnership Act is to extend legal status to homosexual relationships, the Government has decreed that bachelor and spinster, terms ordinarily used to describe newlyweds on their marriage certificates, are to be replaced with the more egalitarian yet distinctly blander single.


Students of semantics may be surprised at the move, and not just because of the obvious grammatical difficulties of employing an adjective to do the job of a noun. The term bachelor (confirmed) has long been used as a polite euphemism for the gay lifestyle now being acknowledged in the eyes of the law. Bachelors themselves — confirmed or otherwise — may feel somewhat wistful at its passing, as it is a word that speaks of freedom, youth and glorious irresponsibility. Being single, however, merely implies that there’s something lacking.
Most women, on the other hand, will be relieved. There is nothing glamorous about being described as a spinster. Neither the august company of Elizabeth I (the face that sank a thousand ships), nor the folklorist charm of the old woman who lived in a shoe (not just unmarried, but with the added stigma of being a single mother too) can change the fact that the word carries derogatory connotations.
Of course, the term was originally used to describe a woman who spins. Only later did it develop into the legal term for an unmarried woman, its occupational meaning having died out along with the spinning trade. What irony, then, that an administration that has single-handedly revived the art of spinning should seek to eliminate the word from the lexicon. Thereby, surely, hangs a yarn.
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