Norwegian words in English: Husband

Photo: Jon Lind Before “husband” implied marriage to a wife, it was used to denote the head of a household.

Photo: Jon Lind
Before “husband” implied marriage to a wife, it was used to denote the head of a household.

M. Michael Brady
The Foreigner

The word husband in English comes from two old Old Norse words, hús, meaning “house,” and bόndi, designating a permanent resident. The combination husbonde in old English became the “husband” of today.

Initially, husbonde was the Norwegian legal designation of a man who owned and therefore was the master of a house in a town. That sense transferred to English ca. 1000 in the first biblical mention of the word. A husbonde in both Norwegian and English was the male head of a household.

Nearly three centuries on in ca. 1290, the word husband was used in the South English Legendary to designate a man joined to a woman in marriage. It was then that the Old English word for a woman, wíf, came to mean one joined to a husband in marriage. Hence the “husband and wife” of modern English. In that sense, the evolution in Norwegian differed: a man who married became an ektemann.

The words wandered different linguistic paths with time. Husbonde fell into disuse in Norwegian, but bόndi survived as the root of bonde, the modern word for “farmer.” In English, husband remains the correlative of wife. But in one sense, the old Norwegian agrarian connection lingers in the English word husbandry, which means the breeding of crops and animals.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Sept. 26, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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