Wife Husbandry

With all this talk about marriage lately, I thought Engels’ The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State would be even more apropos than normal. His thesis was that marriage was institutionalized as a mechanism for the inheritance of private surplus wealth. When land belongs to all in common, there isn’t much of a need to prove paternity.

Here’s what I thought about the gay marriage debate on the basis of economics two years ago: For Better or for Worse. My conclusion: “Instead of asking why certain people aren’t given the rights and economic privileges that come with marriage, we should be questioning why marriage carries these perks in the first place.”


If one looks up the noun “husband,” one will learn that the etymology of our current term is the Old English “hūsbonda,” meaning “master of a house,” from the combination of the Old Norse words “hūs,” (house) and “bōndi” (householder). The first definition entry is, not shockingly to our modern sensibilities, “1: a married man,” but the third entry points to the origins just mentioned: “3: a frugal manager.”

Of what, exactly, should we suppose a married man is the so-appointed frugal manager? Looking at “husbandman” and “husbandry,” one finds “1: one that plows and cultivates land” and “1: the care of a household; 2: the control or judicious use of resources,” respectively. That this same reader should then infer that “cultivate” and “control” are the two operative verbs, and that “resources” is synonymous with “property,” should be obvious enough at this point. Or, if not, she could ask herself the question: “What do animal husbandry and wife husbandry have in common?”


2 thoughts on “Wife Husbandry

  1. That’s why I’ve long considered that I might legally marry a man at some point for pragmatic reasons (I mean if we’re living and sleeping together and the license would put more money in our pockets, afford us both access to health insurance, etc.), but he would never be allowed to refer to me by the term “wife” and I’d certainly never refer to him as “husband.” No tradition should be adopted without research, questioning, and customization.

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