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Q From Richard Blair, Sydney, Australia: In the movie Sleepless in Seattle (that I recently saw again) the Meg Ryan character muses over the Tom Hanks character, whose wife has recently and suddenly died, that he has become a widower. She says that a widow is widowed, but a widower is also widowed. She wonders, why not widowered? Any thoughts?

A Strictly speaking, widowered exists, as does widowerhood, the state of being a widower. The Oxford English Dictionary has two nineteenth-century examples of the former. Thomas Hardy used it in a satirical poem entitled The Coronation, written in May 1910 when George V was about to be crowned; in it he described Henry VIII as “much self-widowered”.

I’ve turned up a few other examples, but it is true to say that in British and Commonwealth English widowered is extremely rare. It is, so far as I can tell, a smidgen less so in the US. It appeared, to take one case, in a review of the film Boynton Beach Club in the Chicago Sun-Times in August 2006: “Here he meets Harry, who takes him under his widowered wing with personal cooking lessons and dating advice.”

There’s nothing wrong with the word in itself — its form follows the rules of English grammar. It’s less common, though, largely because widower is less often used than widow, but also because the unstressed er in the middle of widowered is so easily lost.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 17 Feb. 2007

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 17 February 2007.