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Welcome to the Greenwood.Net Curiosity Corner

Love Is In the Air

Apr 18, 2018

Curiosity Corner
Dr. Jerry D. Wilson,
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Lander University

In the springtime, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love, which may end up in a wedding. I’ve checked out the origins of some of the customs associated with this popular ritual before, but with wedding season right around the corner, I thought you might be getting curious again.

Wedding customs are largely symbolic and often based on traditions that have long-since died out. The first “marriages” were probably caveman style – a man would sneak into another group’s dwelling, steal his bride and hide her away in his cave until things died down. (None of this “on bended knee” stuff that stemmed from knights’ chivalry.)

Here’s what I found out about some of the subsequent terms and customs:

State of holy wedlock: “Wed” is an old Anglo-Saxon term meaning to assign property to the bride’s father as payment. “Lock” means a pledge. Hence, wedlock is a promise to pay for the bride. (Of course, “holy” implies the church, but there are secular marriages, too, with ceremonies performed by judges, magistrates, justices of the peace, and even notaries in some states.)

Engagement and wedding rings: The engagement ring symbolizes a promise or pledge, and rings have been used to pledge bargains since ancient times. Also, it shows a lady is taken. Diamonds have become the common engagement stone (right, girls?) but only in the last century. They were scarce earlier. Cecil Rhodes established diamond mining in South Africa in the 1880s, which came to be known as the DeBeers Company. They gave us the phrase “a diamond is forever.”

The wedding ring seals the bargain – an unbroken band as an emblem of continuity and undying love. The wedding ring is placed on the fourth finger of the left hand (it was once believed that a “love vein” ran from the heart to the end of the finger). In a few countries, it is more popular to wear the wedding ring on the right hand. And, I have noticed in Europe that sometimes a wedding band serves as an engagement ring, and when married, it is shifted to the right hand.

Bride: In old English, this was the word for cook. (Be careful, girls.)

Groom: Derived from a word meaning male child. That would make the bridegroom a male cook, but it is thought that this term comes from German and means the person marrying the bride. (Sounds reasonable to me.)

Best man: (Shouldn’t this be the groom?) In very early times (around CE 200), if a guy couldn’t find a wife in his own community, he would go to a neighboring town and abduct one. There may be a little resistance to this, so a good friend would be taken along to help get the bride and stand guard during the wedding. This friend became known as the best man (the one who today forgets the ring).

Bridesmaids and ushers: These relate to an old Roman law that required ten witnesses to help keep away evil spirits that might upset the wedding ceremony. The bridesmaids and ushers were dressed similarly to the bride and groom, so the evil spirits wouldn’t know who was getting married. Later, the ushers (or groomsmen) were helpful in standing watch during the honeymoon period.

Honeymoon: It was once customary for the newlyweds to drink a potion containing honey on each of the first 30 days of their marriage. During this time, the Moon went through all of its phases – hence, a honeymoon.

June weddings: The Roman month of June was named after Juno, the goddess of women. They believed she blessed marriages that took place in her month.

Throwing rice: Rice is a symbol of fertility, health and prosperity. The custom began in the Orient (lots of rice there), and the Romans adopted it, occasionally using nuts instead of rice. Confetti is sometimes used and, in these environmentally conscious times, birdseed.

Old shoes tied to the honeymoon car: This comes from the custom of the father of the bride giving the groom his daughter’s shoes as a symbol that the groom was now responsible for her.

Carrying the bride over the threshold: This custom prevented the bride from tripping or using the wrong (left) foot when stepping over the threshold of her new home. Both were considered a sign of bad luck.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): Love makes the world go 'round, with a little help from intrinsic angular momentum. —Anon

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or email jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.

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