Betelgeuse.

Balashon has a post about the star name Betelgeuse, quoting the explanation in American Heritage:

The history of the curious star name Betelgeuse is a good example of how scholarly errors can creep into language. The story starts with the pre-Islamic Arabic astronomers, who called the star yad al-jawzā’, “hand of the jawzā’.” The jawzā’ was their name for the constellation Gemini. After Greek astronomy became known to the Arabs, the word came to be applied to the constellation Orion as well. Some centuries later, when scribes writing in Medieval Latin tried to render the word, they misread the y as a b (the two corresponding Arabic letters are very similar when used as the first letter in a word), leading to the Medieval Latin form Bedalgeuze. In the Renaissance, another set of scholars trying to figure out the name interpreted the first syllable bed- as being derived from a putative Arabic word *bāṭ meaning “armpit.” This word did not exist; it would correctly have been ibṭ. Nonetheless, the error stuck, and the resultant etymologically “improved” spelling Betelgeuse was borrowed into French as Bételgeuse, whence English Betelgeuse.

Balashon links to Ian Ridpath’s Star Tales entry for more information and goes on to discuss the etymology and possible Hebrew cognates of Arabic jawzā’; I was struck by the odd entry in Andras Rajki’s Arabic Etymological Dictionary (see this LH post):

jauz : pair [zauj]

Balashon writes: “it would seem that jauz and zauj (also the Arabic word for ‘husband’, one member of the pair), are related through metathesis.” But Arabic doesn’t work that way, does it?

However, what most surprised me (“shocked” might not be too strong a word) was going to the OED and finding (along with the unhelpful etymology “< French Bételgeuse, < Arabic”) this list of pronunciations:

Brit. /ˈbiːtldʒəːz/, /ˈbɛtldʒəːz/, /ˈbiːtldʒuːs/, U.S. /ˈbidlˌdʒus/, /ˈbidlˌdʒəz/, /ˈbɛdlˌdʒəz/.

It would never in a million years have occurred to me to use ə for the last vowel, though in a French loan it makes sense. Sort of. It sounds weird and foreign to me, and I’ll stick with “beetlejuice.”

Comments

  1. Having three pronunciations for each dialect is way too on the nose.

    Arabic doesn’t work that way, does it?

    Hebrew has some metathetic shenanigans, although mostly in inflection (sipper –> *hitsapper –> histapper); I wanna say there’s stuff at the root level too, but I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head.

  2. sipper –> *hitsapper –> histapper

    Yeah, but that’s a well-known thing that happens predictably (I think) in particular circumstances. That’s quite different from randomly changing ABC to CBA.

  3. Andrej Bjelaković says

    In Serbian, the star is Betelgez, while the character is Bitlđus.

  4. I thought the European names of the stars originated in English, in a 14th-century translation of a treatise on navigation.

  5. It sounds weird and foreign to me, and I’ll stick with “beetlejuice.”

    Yes, thanks to Tim Burton & Michael Keaton I would have guessed that is the only pronunciation current among any North American younger than 60. British too, I would have thought.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    I like the film, but nevertheless say /ˈbɛtldʒəːz/. The character, after all, has no very obvious connexion with the star at all. And those who have any reason to actually speak the name of the star aloud, old or young, are probably an unusual subset of humanity particularly unlikely to model their pronunciation on the name of a (comic) film character.

    “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”* might have been more effective in altering my pronunciation, were it not that the pronunciation used therein is obviously supposed to sound silly.

    * Radio version. Of any other versions there may be, we do not speak.

  7. And those who have any reason to actually speak the name of the star aloud, old or young, are probably an unusual subset of humanity particularly unlikely to model their pronunciation on the name of a (comic) film character.

    I should make it clear that I did not model my pronunciation on any such thing, since I’ve been saying it that way since long before the film was a twinkle in anyone’s eye; I probably got it from my Aunt Bettie, who was into astronomy and told me about various stars in my young youth.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Interesting about the etymology. I had always vaguely assumed that the first element was “house”: “hand” makes a lot more sense. “Armpit” would have been even better, of course, but we can’t have everything.

  9. Huh, I’d never connected Betelgeuse (/ˈbɛtldʒəːz/, /ˈbe.tɔɫ.ˌχø.zə/) to the movie named Beetlejuice.

  10. timbuktu-manuscripts:

    When endeavouring to verify this conjecture, we must remember §51(d) where it was stated that according to BROCKELMANN (7, I, p. 271) in Arabian dialects metathesis may take place between z and ğ. And we have proof of such a metathesis in the Swahili jozi (=ğozi)<Arabic زوج=zauğ (zoğ).


    @DE, yes. I wondered if Bethlehem has to do with it…

  11. In the Renaissance, another set of scholars trying to figure out the name interpreted the first syllable bed- as being derived from a putative Arabic word *bāṭ meaning “armpit.” This word did not exist; it would correctly have been ibṭ.

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/باط

  12. “Betelgeuse” for Irish people of my generation and above mostly denotes a French supertanker which exploded in 1979 and is naturally pronounced à la française. Scouring the RTÉ archives I find Forbes McFall @0m24s saying /bɛlˈʒus/, but (1) it was breaking news and (2) he was Scottish God love him. Some months later Finín Ó Tuama @0m3s does much better.

    I don’t remember how long it took me to connect the film character to the star, but for many years after having made it I assumed the pronunciation was a joke invented for the film rather than an established one. I suggest that “betel juice” would make for a more interesting eggcorn.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    timbuktu manuscripts

    Yes, I agree with (what I take to be) your implication: it is unwise to press a Swahili form into service to “prove” that the original Arabic word had undergone metathesis before being borrowed into Swahili. Sound changes within Swahili, both regular and otherwise, need to be considered. There is no escape from the fact that you need to produce direct evidence of the (presumably Omani) original. (Otherwise you end up with figments like the “Arabic” msenzi.)

  14. In Korean it is 베텔게우스 Betelgeuseu [b̥etʰelɡeusɯ], meaning that it is treated as if it were a Classical Latin name except with a silent ‘e’ at the end (the usual epenthetic vowel 으 eu [ɯ] is added at the end as a sibilant cannot come in the coda in Korean). It was no doubt influenced by the Japanese ベテルギウス Beterugiusu, but the combination of the hard ‘g’ and the silent ‘e’ as in English or French is puzzling.

    Even more puzzling, where did the ‘i’ in German Beteigeuze [betaɪ̯ˈɡɔʏ̯ʦə] come from? Another misread letter, or analogy with another word?

  15. Beteigeuze

    Wow, that is super weird. You’d think the Wikipedia article’s Etymologie und Namensformen section would say something about it, but no.

  16. Josh Martin says

    In the actual film the character’s name is spelled “Betelgeuse,” but everyone just pronounces it like the title. I’ve never seen an explanation for how the name was chosen, though the character was originally written with “vaguely Middle-Eastern features,” so maybe there was a connection.

  17. Suter, H. “Beteigeuze” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, First Edition (1913-1936), Edited by M. Th. Houtsma, T.W. Arnold, R. Basset, R. Hartmann:

    The i has arisen from the careless writing of an l and the better form is therefore Betelgeuze.

  18. Stu Clayton says

    I was just wondering if that is the reason I’ve never seen Beteigeuze in Germany – the eye looks like an ell in so many fonts, and I expected an ell because of the English word. The word even sounds weird, but in conformity with German pronunciation rules for such a thing as Beteigeuze: “bay”-“tie”-‘goytse (cf. the audio clip at the top of the German WoPe article).

    People, pull those eye-dots up and stop slouching !

  19. Is there ever such a thing in English as /əː/?

    Ed.: Unless they meant a British non-rhotic pronunciation of -er-, which makes no sense here.

  20. The i has arisen from the careless writing of an l and the better form is therefore Betelgeuze.

    Boy, this star inspires errors in transcription!

  21. David Marjanović says

    Huh, I’d never connected Betelgeuse […] to the movie named Beetlejuice

    Me neither…

  22. Is there ever such a thing in English as /əː/? … Unless they meant a British non-rhotic pronunciation of -er-, which makes no sense here.

    OED transcription means precisely that, the NURSE vowel. The NURSE vowel is commonly used in British English to approximate the front rounded vowels /ø/ and /œ/ in French and German loanwords.

    The OED system was introduced by Clive Upton and criticised by John Wells, who keeps the /ɜː/ used by Gimson for the NURSE vowel, and says this:

    For many speakers there is no appreciable difference in quality between the short [ə] in ago and the long vowel of nurse. Hence Upton writes them with the same symbol, with and without length marks. The arguments against this are that (i) all other long-short pairs use distinct letter shapes alongside presence/absence of length marks; (ii) schwa is a weak vowel, restricted to unstressed syllables, and subject to very considerable variability depending on its position. This is not true of the nurse vowel. (I concede that the logic of this argument would lead also to the avoidance of the schwa symbol in the goat diphthong [əʊ]. It might well have been better if Gimson had chosen to write this diphthong as [ɜʊ]. I was tempted to innovate in LPD by using that symbol. But I decided, rightly I believe, that it was not worth upsetting an agreed standard for.)

  23. Is there ever such a thing in English as /əː/?

    Yes, specifically in East Riding dialect (not elsewhere in Yorkshire dialects).

    I was in a linguistics class that was introducing schwa as denoting ‘the’ (a?) unstressed neutral vowel in English. Another student took strong exception: schwa could be stressed in her dialect. (She grew up in Willerby, between Kirk Ella and Hull (pron. “‘ull”), if that’s relevant.)

  24. “the eye looks like an ell.”

    Are there standard spellings in English for the names of the letters of the English alphabet (as there are, say, in Spanish for the names of the Spanish alphabet: a, be, ce, de, e, efe, and so on)?

    If there are, where can I find a list?

  25. Stu Clayton says

    The standard spelling in English is simply the letters themselves. Some are referred to in speaking with extra sounds for phonotactic convenience, for example “x” is referred to as “eks”. These letters are like those in Spanish, where for example “f” is referred to as “efe” – but unlike them in that they are not written as they are spoken.

    For letters, Spanish has some alternative standand notations (e, efe) but only one pronunciation. English has only one standard notation and one pronunciation. Outside linguistic circles …

    I had two reasons for using eye and ell – I didn’t want to bother with quote marks as in “i” and “l”, and I wanted my little joke.

  26. Stu Clayton says

    I am referring only to written and spoken lists of the letters of the (slightly different) alphabets of Spanish and English. I am not referring to the use of these letters in orthography, that is, to indicate the pronunciation of words (or not, as is massively the case in French and English).

    Actual pronunciation, as driven by dialect, peevishness and the price of tea in China, is a different cuttlefish.

  27. Kristian says

    The story starts with the pre-Islamic Arabic astronomers, who called the star yad al-jawzā’, “hand of the jawzā’.” The jawzā’ was their name for the constellation Gemini. After Greek astronomy became known to the Arabs, the word came to be applied to the constellation Orion as well.

    What does this mean? Betelgeuse is in Orion. Gemini is pretty close. Calling Betelgeuse the hand of Orion makes sense, but if we consider it part of Gemini “hand” is hard to understand (Betelgeuse is closest to the feet of Gemini). Did the Arabs rearrange their constellations at some point? If jawzā’ was the name of Gemini, why would they apply the name to Orion as well?

  28. This page talks in a bit more detail about this etymology, but its research looks second-hand and unreliable. In particular, how is jawza’ ‘The Giant’? According to this much better researched page, jawza’ is ‘the middle one’, used at first to refer only to the belt of Orion, later expanding to include the four bright external stars as well.

    I’m not convinced by the yad/bayt “misreading” theory. Without the vowel marks, yad ‘hand’ is يد, bayt ‘house, place’ is بيت. Mistaking one for two dots under the first letter barely works as an ad-hoc explanation, but what about the other letters? Would someone who can read Arabic, even a benighted European, so easily mistake two very, very common words in the language?

    I hope someone here who actually knows Arabic will jump in.

  29. Could the /ǝː/ be a faux-learned attempt to represent the -eu-, interpreted as /ø/ or so? Cf. Goethe, heretofore discussed.

  30. ABCs: It’s funny, isn’t it, that the cornerstone of English literacy has always been transmitted purely orally.

  31. @DE, no, the implication was only that Arabic methatesis in this word has already been discussed here…

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/جوز

    Egyptian Arabic جوز • (gōz) m “husband”
    South Levantine Arabic جوز • (jōz) m (plural جواز‎ (jwāz)) “1. pair, 2. husband” Synonym: زوج‎ (zawj)

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/زوج
    South Levantine Arabic
    Learned borrowing from Arabic زَوْج‎ (zawj).
    زوج • (zōj) m (plural أزواج‎ (ʔazwāj), feminine زوجة‎ (zōje)) “1. couple 2. husband.” Synonym: جوز‎ (jōz)

  32. If there are, where can I find a list?

    Category:en:Latin letter names is not canonical and incomplete.

    The Chambers Twentieth-Century Dictionary was formerly the official Scrabble dictionary outside North America, and players knew the entries which were names for the consonants:
    bee
    cee or see
    dee
    ef (contrast “eff … euphemistic for fuck, esp in effing (adj) and eff off. effing and blinding swearing.”)
    gee
    aitch (still no haitch, grrr)
    jay
    kay
    el or ell
    em
    en
    pee
    cue
    ar
    es or ess (also “collar of esses a chain of links (also written SS) in the form of the letter S, worn by various dignitaries”)
    tee
    vee
    double-u or double-you
    ex
    wye
    zed or zee

    Even 50% of the obsolete letters lack standard spellings: wyn or wynn, thorn, eth or edh, yogh.

  33. Don’t forget izzard.

  34. See also Category:English spelled-out initialisms. C=sea in “Seabee” is a navy pun.

  35. I’m not convinced by the yad/bayt “misreading” theory.

    You’ve misunderstood something. The theory is that yad was misread as bad, not bayt.

  36. So I have.

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    جوزاء looks pretty odd as an Arabic word form; as far as I can make out, it doesn’t have an obvious etymology within Arabic, either. I wonder if it’s a loan (perhaps from Aramaic? – though I can’t come up with an obvious Aramaic source, if so.)

  38. Here’s what confused me. An short-lived Hebrew name for the star, coined sometime in the twentieth century, is בֵּית אֱגוֹזָה bēit ĕgōzā, lit. ‘home of the nut’ [insert joke about bedlam or mens’ underwear]. This is evidently from a folk etymology of the name Betelgeuse as Arabic بَيْت اَل جَوْز bait al jawz (if I got it right), from جَوْز ‘walnut’ (a borrowing from Middle Persian). I don’t know if this folk etymology exists or existed in Arabic. The current term for the star (per WP) is mankib al-jawzāʾ ‘the shoulder of [Orion]’.

  39. I didn’t see Beetlejuice when it first came out, nor did I pay a lot of attention to the advertising. It was only when I saw the movie a few years later on home video that I realized that the title and character name was not spelled the same way as the star.

  40. @Yuval: I wanna say there’s stuff at the root level too, but I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head.

    Here is a list (in Hebrew), from the Hebrew Academy’s site, of root-methathesized variants in Biblical Hebrew, including keb̠eś~keśeb̠ ‘sheep’, ‘āyēp̠~yā‘ēp̠ ‘tired’, śimlā~śalmā ‘outer garment’, etc.

  41. Betelgeuse is in Orion. Gemini is pretty close. Calling Betelgeuse the hand of Orion makes sense, but if we consider it part of Gemini “hand” is hard to understand (Betelgeuse is closest to the feet of Gemini). Did the Arabs rearrange their constellations at some point? If jawzā’ was the name of Gemini, why would they apply the name to Orion as well?

    Orion used to be called Gemini historically in Arabic! Whereas what’s called Gemini now was called The Twins
    https://ar.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1_(%D9%83%D9%88%D9%83%D8%A8%D8%A9)

    Also, my Arabic teacher loses his marbles at the جوز/زوج swapping — so it’s common enough amongst native speakers that it irks him! It goes as far as even being there in derived words e.g. متزوج/متجوز

  42. جوزاء looks pretty odd as an Arabic word form; as far as I can make out, it doesn’t have an obvious etymology within Arabic, either.

    Arabic جوزاء jawzāʾ has the appearance of a feminine adjective of the pattern qatlāʾ. (The constellation al-Jawzāʾ was conceived of as a woman.) This pattern is the regular pattern for the feminine of what are termed adjectives of color and physical defect (corresponding to pattern ʾaqtal for the masculine of these), and it is also sometimes used for the feminine of qatlān. Here is Wright on the pattern, §296, with interesting examples of the extended semantics of the pattern, such as هطلاء haṭlāʾ “falling heavy and continuously (of rain); raining heavily and continuously (of clouds)” (attested in the divan of Imru’ al-Qays, for example) beside the verb هطل haṭala “rain in heavy drops and continuously; flow in torrents; make a horse sweat”.

    The ultimate Arabic root of the formation jawzāʾ would be jwz (having to do with notions of passing, travelling through, permitting, crossing a space), seen in جار jāza “to pass, travel through, cross” and جور jawz “middle”. (This root *gwz seems confined to Central Semitic: Hebrew גָּז gāz “pass away”; Aramaic gwz “pass over” and Syriac gwz “go away, pass away, vanish, dry up”; Sabaic gwz “go, pass, pass through; be past (time); flow (lava)” (from Johnstone’s lexicon).)

    The 18th-century dictionary of Murtada al-Zabidi, Tāj al-ʻĀrūs, has this etymological remark on jawzāʾ:

    بُرجٌ فِي السماءِ، سُمِّيَت لأنّها مُعترِضةٌ فِي جَوْزِ السماءِ، أَي وسطِها

    A constellation in the sky, so named because it lies across the middle [jawz] of the sky, that is, its center.

    There is speculation along another, similar line on this interesting page:

    Like ath-Thuraya, al-Jawza’ is a long-used proper name, and its Arabic root conveys the sense of being in the middle of something else. It is likely that the name was applied on account of the visual appearance of a nearly perfect line of three stars spaced equidistantly, which together were located between two other pairs of bright stars that in time came to represent the hands and feet of al-Jawza’

    (I presume the hands are Betelgeuse and Bellatrix, and the feet are Saiph and Rigel.) For more on the cultural context of jawzāʾ, also here.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    Thanks, Xerîb! I was hoping you’d comment.

    (I was thrown by the hamza and by mistaken analogy with the feminine of elatives, and had forgotten about the bodily-defect pattern afʿal if I ever knew about it in the first place. Should have remembered the colour-adjective feminines, though. Wrong again …)

  44. زَوَّجَ • (zawwaja) II, non-past يُزَوِّجُ‎‎ (yuzawwiju) Denominal verb derived from زَوْج‎ (zawj, “pair”).
    “1. (ditransitive) to marry off, to give in marriage 2. to pair, to couple, to join in pairs 3. to double, to geminate ”

    جَوَّزَ • (jawwaza) II, non-past يُجَوِّزُ‎‎ (yujawwizu) From the root ج و ز‎ (j w z); compare جَازَ‎ (jāza, “to pass through”).
    “1. to allow, permit 2. to cause to travel over, pass through, perform 3. to carry through one’s views 4. to water 5. to give in marriage, to marry”

    I wonder if the marital meaning has developed independently.

  45. Wrong again …

    We all come to LH to find out how wrong we are.

  46. I wonder if the marital meaning has developed independently.
    Why? “to give in marriage” seems to me a straightforward extension of “allow, permit” – in traditional patriarchal societies, marriage involved the parents’ permission. It’s not so long ago that also in European cultures it was customary to ask fathers for the hand of their daughter.

  47. “to give in marriage” seems to me a straightforward extension of “allow, permit”

    Yes, that is why I asked. This meaning seems more or less natural here in j-w-z

    It also looks natural in z-w-j “pair” (from Greek word for yoke). Now if j-w-z obtained this meaning before/independently, it explains their interchangeability.

  48. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s not so long ago that also in European cultures it was customary to ask fathers for the hand of their daughter.

    I did this myself (though I did ask my future wife first.)

    “to give in marriage” seems to me a straightforward extension of “allow, permit”‘

    In Kusaal, you di “eat”* a wife. On the other hand, you kul “take home” a husband.

    A colleage of mine once rebuked a fellow-villager for saying he was going to da’ “buy” a wife (though bride-price is the local custom, in fact. A proverb goes: “the child didn’t see his mother when she was young, so he thinks his father wasted his cows.”)

    * True, but tweaked for maximum exoticism. You also “eat” a chieftaincy, for example, and you “eat” shame. The verb has a pretty broad semantic range.

  49. Though I did ask my future wife first.

    One checkers champion (I forgot who, he was a Dutchman, they used to be very strong at checkers) asked his father-in-law-to-be for the hand of his daughter in marrige, but the father demanded that the suitor first won the Amsterdam championship (old foggy was a checkers fan as well). When the championship was duly won, the young man came to claim the bride, but the father said that in this matter the prize should be consulted as well. Obviously, the prize was all for it.

  50. John Cowan says

    I have always held that the proper position to be taken by a father with a daughter is to wait until she says “Daddy, I want this one”, and then to reply “By all means.” Admittedly, my daughter (who is 35 today; I told her her life was half over, although I had to concede this joke is obsolete) has not actually married anyone yet, but the difference between “married” and “cohabiting along with their children” seems small to her, and indeed to me.

  51. David Eddyshaw says

    the difference between “married” and “cohabiting along with their children” seems small to her, and indeed to me

    In Ghana I was invited to the wedding of one of my colleagues, who was getting married to his wife (of many years.)

    The Presbyterian Church of Ghana, our mutual employer, was having an outbreak of misplaced censoriousness at the time. My colleague was ethnically Mossi, but the relevant custom among the Kusaasi, at any rate, is: you agree with the girl and her family that you’re going to get married, you pay the bride price to her family, you tell everyone you’ve done it, and voilà, you’re married. This seems to work fine.

  52. @DE, it is common here, because secular registration of marriage and the church rite are two different things (though most priests requre the former).

  53. David Eddyshaw says

    registration of marriage and the church rite are two different things

    This is also the case in the UK, unless you get married under the auspices of the Church of England (I think; as I have never actually done that, I’m not certain.)

    I would think that countries that actually do conflate the two are the exception. (And quite right too. Rampant Erastianism, I calls it!)

  54. @David Eddyshaw: I don’t know about Presbyterians, but Bede wrote that uncoerced affirmation by two people who were both baptized and free to marry was all it took to make a valid Catholic marriage. He also argued that it was, in most cases, extremely useful to have an official ceremony; however, it was not a necessity.

  55. David Eddyshaw says

    Sensible fellow, Bede. I don’t think that’s the official Catholic position de nos jours, though. (And of course, the Venomous Bead antedates the recent Lutheran unpleasantness by some margin, so to call him “Catholic” is an anachronism.)

  56. @David Eddyshaw: Actually, catholic was part of Bede’s own terminology on the matter. However, as he was both writing in Latin and coming from a time long before the Reformation, it would have meant something somewhat different from its modern sense.

  57. David Eddyshaw says

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_in_the_Catholic_Church#Validity_of_marriage_in_the_Catholic_Church

    it would have meant something somewhat different from its modern sense

    Very much so. I myself, Calvinist sectarian though I be, am “catholic” in Bede’s sense (reflected to this day in the so-called “Apostles’ Creed.”)

    The adoption of the name “Catholic” as an autodesignation for just one part of Christianity is (from my standpoint) rather like Bill Gates’ cheeky appropriation of the general terms “Windows” and “Office” for his own proprietary use.

  58. registration of marriage and the church rite are two different things

    This is also the case in the UK, unless you get married under the auspices of the Church of England (I think; as I have never actually done that, I’m not certain.)

    I would think that countries that actually do conflate the two are the exception. (And quite right too. Rampant Erastianism, I calls it!)
    I don’t know how much of an exception – a friend of mine married a Spanish lady in the 90s and the church ceremony also counted as civil ceremony and there was no separate civil registration necessary; AFAIK, that is still the law. And in Lebanon, there is no way to marry without a religious ceremony at all, be it Christian or Muslim; if people want to marry without religious ceremony, they have to do that abroad and then get their foreign marriage legalized in Lebanon.

  59. David Eddyshaw says

    I believe that Israel is another exception, at any rate, if you’re Jewish.
    But (as always) there are Hatters who will Actually Know.

    Saudi Arabia, I imagine, too.
    I would still guess that this is a minority quirk among the world’s nations, even when you factor in officially-Muslim states. Most African states are too internally diverse for it to be even workable, for a start.

  60. @David Eddyshaw: I also meant to add that Bede’s opinion is still (I believe) the official Catholic position—that a ceremony, celebrated with a Catholic priest, is strongly recommended but not required.

  61. In Israel, marriages have to be conducted according to the appropriate religious authority if at least one of the couple belongs to certain communities: Jewish, Christian (of a number of specified denominations), Muslim, and Druze. I think Samaritans can conduct their own marriages. Karaites have to go through Orthodox Rabbinical marriages. I’m not sure if Shi’ite and Alawi muslims can go through their own courts; I imagine so. When the couple both don’t belong to any of these groups, a sort of domestic partnership is available, with all the civil rights of marriage. Foreign marriages are broadly recognized, even those which would not be allowed within Israel, including same-sex marriages.

    Oh, and a citizen of the Palestinian Authority who marries an Israeli can’t get Israeli citizenship.

  62. January First-of-May says

    but the difference between “married” and “cohabiting along with their children” seems small to her, and indeed to me

    One of my mother’s friends recently (secularly) married a person she (the friend) had been cohabiting with for many years (though not with children yet AFAIK), because she was Russian, her husband was Ukrainian, and (in an approximation of their words) that way they could legally help each other regardless of which way the military operation goes.
    I suspect that if not for the military operation they might well have reached the “cohabiting with children” stage before any official marriage.

    In an unrelated situation, my mother herself was born in a cohabiting “marriage”; and when her mother – i.e. my grandmother – died of Covid in 2021, we found out that apparently said grandmother never bothered to officially divorce her previous husband, who left her twenty years before my mother’s birth.
    (We discussed this with some lawyers, and apparently by Russian law it’s possible to declare a marriage that had been ignored for so many years invalid in practice, but the question would only have been problematic at all if the previous husband actually showed up to claim his inheritance, which was highly unlikely, especially as he would now be in his 90s and thus most likely dead.)

  63. @DE but how common it is for people in Wales to undergo two ceremonies (secular and religious) as result?

  64. David Eddyshaw says

    I was actually married in Scotland, so I can’t speak to the position in Wales from first hand experience.

    However, it depends on what you mean by “ceremony.” If (as a Dissenter) you marry in church, you need to register your marriage as a separate step for state purposes (and you aren’t legally married until you do.) However, this is about as “ceremonial” as getting a passport.

    Or you can get married in a registry office, which can involve any kind of ceremony you like, though there apparently some restrictions against specifically religious forms.

  65. Lars Mathiesen says

    Denmark also, out of sheer inertia I think, has church rites counting “alone.” In fact, since we have a State Church, the Ministry of the Interior relies on the Registry-Keeping Pastor, of which each parish has exactly one, to keep track of names and marriages and stuff, which means that everybody who has a baby has to visit the church office to register a name, regardless of faith, or to change their name. As I said, sheer inertia, but nobody has bothered to create a new system to register these things.

    Maybe they are just waiting for computers to take over the running of the system enough that the pastors can be replaced by apps, and then we can disestablish the church like they did in Sweden.

    You can get married at the Town Hall, but I think not in any random field you like; I don’t know if the town functionary then enters the marriage in the systems, or if the newly-weds have to go to the church office themselves and show some document to get it registered.

  66. In Ireland after the Reformation, statutory regulation only applied to marriages of the established Church of Ireland; Catholic ones being ignored by statutes were still subject to common law. Later statutes gradually extended recognition and regulation to Protestant Dissenters and Jews, and negatively to Catholic priests (preventing them from marrying non-Catholics).

    Civil registration of marriages started in 1845, Catholics added in 1864. By the 20th century all these denominations had streamlined the interface between civil and religious registration, but:–

    (a) Muslims, Hindus, etc had to have a register office civil ceremony, religious ones disregarded.

    (b) the common-law aspect of Catholic ceremonies caused legal wrinkles. Notably, priests often remarried someone who had a church annulment (common) but no civil annulment (rare) or civil divorce (impossible until 1996). They signed the church register but not the civil register. Usually this was the crime of bigamy, almost never prosecuted. Occasionally it turned out the first spouse was actually dead or had a legally valid foreign divorce, in which case the second marriage was legal but the crime was failure to register it.

    Part 6 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 establishes a single national Register of Solemnisers for all clerics, humanist celebrants, etc. Fiancé(e)s notify the register office before the ceremony and get a form from there, then after the ceremony give it back stamped by the solemniser. I imagine there is still a theoretical possibility of an unauthorised religious ceremony (or an unauthorised ceremony by a non-religious registered solemniser?) creating legal problems or crimes as opposed to simply being ignored by the law.

  67. @DE, here:

    (1) you register your marriage in ЗАГС ([deparment of] записи актов гражданского состояния [of such and such district).

    It already provides and expects a rudimentary ceremony (and can bear the title of “palace of weddings” if it can provide more).

    Usually people want something more than rudimentary (the family of my friend’s husband was angry at him for appearing at his brother’s wedding in cheap boots and with bad teeth…) and for this they resort to assistance of wedding agencies (and shops and dentists?) and invite people etc.
    And what follows is everyone gets drunk and punches everyone’s faces.

    (2) there is a solemn church rite, венчание “crowning”. I think it is characteristc for Eastern Churches.
    Unfortunately the Russian Wikipedian article does not have an English translation – but I think there must be something about it somewhere in English Wikipedia.

    It is understood as something more than merely “rendering your marriage ‘valid’ for the Church”. You also can invite guests to the church and then have some tea and eat some cakes with fellow parishioners and then have a drunk party with another group of guests.

    Since the Soviet times there is a large group of people who underwent both ceremonies at very different times, and even those who did the second soon after the first, they still treat them as two meaningful events.

  68. David Eddyshaw says

    there is a solemn church rite, венчание “crowning”

    There’s a memorable one near the beginning of The Deer Hunter.

    And what follows is everyone gets drunk and punches everyone’s faces

    Ah: the apotropaic rituals. An essential part of all proper fertility rites.

  69. About Russian Orthodox wedding, one might try to watch Muratova’s Chekhovian motifs. I believe, there is a 40 minute scene of “crowning”. Civil registrar in Russia does provide some rudimentary elements of celebration and I know of an instance in which the couple requested an expedited process to be informed by the shocked official that in that case they would be married without Mendelssohn.

  70. David Eddyshaw says

    married without Mendelssohn

    Good grief! Is that even valid?

  71. No.
    In that case you live in sin.

    (there is a certain erotic appeal in the formulation “to live in sin”. Someone one may want to do to his/her beloved one…)

  72. @DE, actually, the Soviet situation is obvious (religion was discouraged).

    The post-Soviet situation was that there were many people who embraced religious traditions and many other people specifically concerned with the spiritual side of religion. These later people did not necessarily want to return to the Russian empire with Church-state marriage and everything (and did not necessarily see it as spiritually superiour). So it was a quest for spirituality (now when it is allowed) and they needed to find out the correct spiritual interpretation of rites as well.

    Back then I heard from religious people that this “crowning” only makes sense as a serious decision, celebrating of already present spiritual unity of two people (with examples of such and such who only did it when they were 60 or something). Having this said, a freind of mine who used to say it underwent the ceremony soon after they registered the marriage (“и я там был, мёд-пиво пил, по усам текло, в рот не попало”). I do not know if this view has any (earlier!) roots in Orthodox theology.

  73. In Germany, a marriage is only legal when registered officially (at the Standesamt); many municipalities offer the use of specific locations for the ceremony, but not for the reception (often a special room with historic decor; in Bonn it’s the old town hall that is only used for weddings and official receptions, while everyday municipal politics and administration have been moved long ago to a cavernous brutalist building). The big churches only marry people who can prove that they are legally married, so if you want a church marriage, you have to register at the Standesamt first.
    Cohabitation without marriage has become quite normal in the last 50 years, and there is registered cohabitation with some legal protection, although less than for marriage. Unregistered relationships became an issue during the COVID measures, when unmarried couples frequently couldn’t see each other during lockdowns or were prohibited from crossing borders to meet.

  74. David Eddyshaw says

    @drasvi:

    There’s a long tradition of quasi-mystical interpretation of marriage in Christianity, which as far as I can see gratuitously inverts what is deployed as a metaphor for the relationship of the Church to Christ in the actual New Testament. It’s rather as if there were a standard Christian interpretation of human anatomy, based on Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians 12:12ff.

  75. A linguistic point. Getting officially married in the registrars office is called расписаться, which means something like “sign [a document]” (another idiomatic use is in the phrases like расписаться в собственной глупости = admit one own’s stupidity). Which creates some distance between life and its official reflection.

  76. A certain ἡγούμενος (not a bishop but still) called a certian group of top Church officials “pubic lice on the Chuch’s body” on Church radio…
    The word in question is мандавошки cunt-lice-DIM, a well-known Russian profanity.

    But he was выведен за штат (I am not sure if because of this or other flaws).

  77. Which creates some distance between life and its official reflection.

    @DO, I read “life and its official rejection”. I re-read it, it was still rejection and I convinced myself that you meant that and that it makes sense.

    And then I saw it in the third time and it was -fl-.

  78. Well, I do not know if the people in question deserved this.
    The ἡγούμενος was a good man and would hardly approve promoting the idea of insulting Church authorities at random. He just tended to be direct.
    But it is a fine specimen of religious prophanity.

  79. Lars Mathiesen says

    I think I wrote about slegfredbørn here before — children of established but non-official cohabitational arrangements, as opposed to children of the hedgerows.

    slegfred is more or less cognate to “slack friend” — low effort (registrationwise, at least) but with benefits.

  80. David Eddyshaw says

    I have long described G4S, Capita, Serco etc as “tapeworms in the gut of the Welfare State.”

    “Pubic lice” has possibilities, I suppose, but it makes them sound too interesting and insufficiently damaging, as if they were mere annoyances rather than a gratuitous waste of resources.

  81. Yes, but мандавошка is a well established Russian prophanity and then the visual image of the Church as a woman…

  82. David Eddyshaw says

    Fair points …

  83. Well, тело церкви is idiomatic, but in the opposite register.

    “guts” are idiomatic in English. In Russian, in turn, глисты “tapeworms” are fairly idiomatic (cf. глисты в корсете – my brother’s PE teacher about his class).

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