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 in any case less often used than widow.