Saturday, June 15, 2013

An English Teacher Rants About Proper Word Usage: Rant #2 "Traditional Marriage"

For the last several years, the debate about what marriage is or isn't has become an increasingly hot topic.  And lazy reporters, bloggers, and ordinary citizens repeatedly use the phrase "traditional marriage" as some kind of opposite to the term "gay marriage."  Here's an example:
Protecting Traditional Marriage: For centuries, marriage has been defined as a union between one man and one woman. Efforts are underway across America to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.
This drives me freakin' nuts because "traditional marriage" is such an ambiguous term.
Exactly WHOSE tradition does the speaker mean?  In some Middle Eastern areas, it's apparently legal and traditional for a man to marry up to four women -- and to have stoned to death any who are "guilty" of adultery.  In India, girls are often forced into arranged marriages at very young ages.  This is done according to tradition.  In some spots in Tibet, it has been traditional for one woman to marry 2 or more brothers, so as to keep the land inheritance going into the same family lines.  In Utah, polygyny (most often called "polygamy" instead) is the most traditional form of marriage in the state.  In ancient Egypt and in several royal households of Europe, incest was traditional, so as to keep the royal lines "pure."
Even if we limit "traditional marriage" to Judeo-Christian traditions, it's still pretty ambiguous.  This graphic (misspells "polygyny") shows most of the Old Testament forms of "traditional marriage."

(Yup, forcing a woman to marry her rapist is "traditional."  But that doesn't make it right, even if the Bible says it.  Sorry.)

Look, people, whatever your political views, stop using the ambiguous term "traditional marriage" as an all-purpose antonym for gay marriage or same-sex marriage.  If what you mean is "heterosexual monogamy," then learn to pronounce all those difficult syllables and start using the term.  NOW.


  1. Ya learn something new every day, and I did from both these posts. :)

  2. Very well said, Lisa! I totally agree.

    And I certainly would never call my four-year-old grandaughter a toddler!!