Amidst all this royal wedding palaver (how great is that word) what caught my ear was the “news” that Kate Middleton is not going to include ‘obey’ in her marriage vows. I wondered if ‘obey’ used to have a more subtle meaning and how long it’s been used in the wedding ceremony.

The OED defines ‘obey’ thus: “1: submit to the authority of; carry out (a command or instruction). 2: behave in accordance with (a general principle, natural law, etc.).” It came into English from Latin via Old French as to pay attention, or to give ear to something.

Church of England marriage vows use those from the Book of Common Prayer, which dates from 1549! So it’s likely that the word’s meaning has shifted since then – I wager that obeying was less about being subservient and more a promise to listen.

It was only the bride who had that in her vows though, and considering the modern meaning of the word it’s no surprise it gets dropped.

Advertisements