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Sex, marriage, and the law. Always complicated. That’s why there are so many words to describe how two people (sometimes more) live and love together. Like polygamy.

Do you remember the 2007 arrest of Warren Jeffs, a religious leader and polygamist on charges involving multiple marriages and underage girls? The case, and polygamy, are back in the news.

The Utah Supreme Court reversed the charges against Jeffs and ordered a new trial, saying the jury received improper instructions. The legal situation revives interest not just in polygamy but in all the different types of marriage and the words that describe the multiplicity of matrimony.

Polygamy is “the practice or condition of having more than one spouse, esp. wife, at one time.” Here’s the important part: polygamy refers generally to multiple spouses or multiple marriages, not husbands or wives in particular. The opposite of polygamy is monogamy. Poly is the Greek root for “many.” Mono is “one.” Gamos is “marriage.” So these terms literally refer to “many or one marriage.” Another common gamos term is bigamy, “the crime of marrying a person while one is still legally married to someone else.” The bi- is Latin for “two.” But here’s one you may not know that complicates matters further: Digamy is what you call “a second marriage, after the death or divorce of the first husband or wife.” Di- can also mean “two” or “double.”

Is this complicated enough yet? Because there’s more nuptial nomenclature nonsense. It’s a common misconception that polygamy means one man married to multiple wives. The real term for that arrangement is polygyny, “the practice or condition of having more than one wife at one time.” Poly was defined above, and -gyny probably looks familar, from words like misogyny and gynecology: it’s the Greek gyne, “woman.”

What about a woman who has more than one husband at one time? That’s polyandry. (Andro is Greek for “man.”)

Our journey comes down to a few more words, one of which is quite controversial. amour in -amory. Tellingly, one definition of amour is “a secret love affair.” Polyamory cuts to a primal concern about love, marriage and relationships: fidelity, and its counterpart, infidelity.

Our last terms are how many people would describe with their relationships: monandry, “the practice or condition of having one husband at a time,” and monogyny, the same thing but regarding wives.

What do these words say about your relationship and the state of marriage in general?

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28 Comments

  1. Vampyr -  August 11, 2013 - 11:10 pm

    Timotheos said that “gamos” means not marriage but mating. Is not marriage formalised mating and is mating not the purpose of marriage? For whomever to come together to create new life and raise it? Our word matrimony is about making mothers. Love and marriage are not mutually exclusive, or are sex and love. One could argue that a sexless marriage is no marriage, because without sex, we cannot produce issue, which is the point or matrimony.
    With regard to religion, from what I can gather, all religions hold marriage in high esteem so, it is obviously something of great importance to the societies, which those religions serve. Not all religions, or societies favour monogamy and marriage, existing the world over, in every culture, predates Christianity, however, Christ held it in such high esteem that He raised it to a sacrament. The one thing that all marriages had in common, I think, was that the partnerships were of opposing sexes. I am not aware of any formal poly relationships that consisted of more than one partner of both sexes, i.e. two, or more men and two, or more women.
    I have been in a poly relationship; it did not last. I’m sure that there would have been problems, had a child resulted so, it is probably a good thing. I long to find a satisfying mono sexual relationship; I think that it would be less stressful, emotionally and as long as we both remained faithful, there would be no need to visit the clinic, for fear of acquiring some sexually transmitted infection.
    Relationships come in many forms, however, not all relationships are marriages, many people are happier not being married. Happiness is what we deserve and as long as what makes us happy is not evil, detrimental to others, or forces others to change, in order to satisfy only ourselves, we should embrace that happiness, when we find it.
    I’m not sure what “And as for any filthy pedophile scum who uses religion as a cover for his vile activities, I have much more respect for Adolf Hitler!” was about. Surely, if one is abhorred by paedophilia, it matters not how it is covered. From what I have learnt, paedophiles will find themselves jobs, or in situations that allow them to be alone with children. Personally, I would describe an actively paedophilic priest as evil. More respect for Adolf Hitler?

    Reply
  2. scratchPad -  January 7, 2013 - 2:07 pm

    Thank you, Stefan for pointing out that these polygamous relationships have been sanctioned by all big religions.

    Many a Bible-thumper would do well to actually read the tome.

    Amen.

    Reply
  3. stefan -  November 21, 2010 - 6:06 am

    polygamy was also supported by all major religions. it was never considered illegal or sin. here are the references of the verses from different religions below:

    (5) Permission for Multiple Spouses (Wives/Husbands):- Ramayana: 2:8:12, Dasaratha; Mahabharata: Draupadi, Krishna; //BIBLE: 3Kings 11:3; 2Kings (2Samuel) 5:13; 2Chronicles 11:21; Exodus 21:10; Deuteronomy 21:15; //QURAN: 4:3.

    for complete text of these verses, please refer the following blog:

    comparative-religion-points.blogspot.com

    Reply
  4. swan -  July 29, 2010 - 3:17 am

    I have been involved in various poly relationships and have known many others in who have also been involved in them. In my experience, they work for a while, but always break down in the end. This isn’t to say that mono relationships don’t, I just think that poly relationships are not designed for longevity. Humans are jelouse and poly relationships are much like families with many children – one person will always get more attention than the others which will always lead to tension. If you can get through that and really make it work, cudos to you, however after a nine year relationship involving multiple partners, I am happily monogamous and feel secure for the first time. I am not judging those who are poly, do whatever makes you happiest. Just think it though and know when it’s time to move on.

    Reply
  5. eddi -  July 28, 2010 - 9:43 pm

    I don’t know what to do with one partner. What in the world would I do will several?

    Reply
  6. Jeevendra -  July 28, 2010 - 7:41 am

    Great post… Very enlightening! Thank you….

    Learned a lot… Many thanks

    Reply
  7. Isaiah -  July 28, 2010 - 7:13 am

    By the way, an apology about my first statement in quotes. I had no idea, until I read it, that that statement was about Hitler.

    No, I don’t have any respect for Hitler either! May God always protect His chosen people.

    Reply
  8. Isaiah -  July 28, 2010 - 7:06 am

    First of all, the ones that I have read about “for a man who tortured and killed millions and MILLIONS of innocent men, women, and children”…I would like to know who that refers to. Certainly not the God of Heaven I follow, you know, the one that died on Cavalry for my sins and the sins of everyone on this planet (whether you believe that or not, it’s not for me to say)…but something most people do not know is that marriage, when it was first instituted, was because it was a covenant between Himself, Adam and Eve, when Eve was created as a “helper for Man”, because God felt that, after naming the animals, “Man should not be lonely.”

    As it is, if the commandments are to be followed (as well as reading the Bible, for that matter–I leave conclusions to be made up to the reader), then one would know that in the New Testament it is spoken that God, in His loving nature, still loves all the world, as they were created by Him to be his children. However, it is said that if any man were to sin sexually, then that man also sins against his own body. Also, in talking about homosexuality, it is said that if a man sleeps with another man, sexually, he would sooner or later reap the penalty for that sin, which is death. Now, I don’t know about you, but death, whether instantaneous or over the course of many, many years still, in the end, is death.

    I believe, though, that the reason for the ‘one man, one woman’ covenant is, simply put, that in the beginning, there was only one of each, male and female….therefore, it is simply due to the fact that there were no other options at that time.

    Myself, I believe that one man-one woman relationships work best, if for nothing more than this: How can one person make multiple partners happy? You divide the love between all, and no-one is ever loved as much as they could be, if there was only two people in the relationship. Just my thoughts.

    Reply
  9. Lauren -  July 28, 2010 - 5:25 am

    Stell,
    I whole-heartedly disagree with your reasoning in this statement: “One cannot even point to “traditional American values”, as in the time of our country’s formation, keeping a mistress was certainly a commonplace thing.”
    Notice that you used the word, “mistress” meaning a woman. If women had a voice at the time of our country’s birth, things would have turned out quite differently, I assure you. You should go back and ask all of the wives that knew about their husband’s mistresses and were forced to hold their tongues and smile, and then see if they agree with your point-of-view. Times have changed drastically, and both man & woman are able to choose a spouse for him/herself for perhaps the first time in history. Why not choose well the first time, and learn to be satisfied and faithful? Man/Woman always wants what they don’t have, so we throw out the rules too and then consume everything that our body wants, which may ultimately lead to our destruction. I’ll leave you with Robert Frost, as he can surely express better than I can:

    “Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To know that for destruction ice
    Is also great,
    And would suffice.”

    Reply
  10. lackofsleep -  July 27, 2010 - 9:26 pm

    The first marriage or love, they are the same thing, it would be destructive. They would devour each other. You learn the lesson. Digamy follows as compesation.

    Reply
  11. WTF? -  July 27, 2010 - 6:55 pm

    @Excuse me:

    Whoa, back up – you have more… RESPECT? for a man who tortured and killed millions and MILLIONS of innocent men, women, and children… than for someone whose sexual practices you disagree with…? Are you SERIOUS? Really… I mean, REALLY?

    That statement shocked me so much I’m typing in caps and discombobulated sentences… jeez, THINK before you spew crap out of your head like that!

    Reply
  12. David -  July 27, 2010 - 6:40 pm

    Regarding Nik’s comments: God has the unique ability to love and be committed to each person equally. Since man is unable to do that, God graciously determined that marriage should be between one committed man to one committed woman. That’s the way God planned it from the beginning. Just a warning: if you’re going to support “open relationships”- you’d better be right in your NEXT logical and necessary conclusion that there is no God. Because if you’re wrong (and you are), you’re gonna have a lot to answer for on judgment day.

    Reply
  13. Stell -  July 27, 2010 - 6:26 pm

    Multiple-marriage or multiple-partner arrangements have been in place in many many societies in the world for many many years, and have worked just fine that way. One cannot even point to “traditional American values”, as in the time of our country’s formation, keeping a mistress was certainly a commonplace thing.

    I am quite happy that rather than seeking what the other cannot give in a series of secret affairs, my husband an I are able to share with each other the meeting, dating, and falling in love with another that *can* fill those spaces, and that we can trust one another enough to talk about the tough issues that can arise. All it takes is honesty and communication :)

    I am very happy in my poly-whatever relationship. Doesn’t matter what it’s called, because ours changes fluidly. :)

    Reply
  14. RJ -  July 27, 2010 - 5:57 pm

    Personally, Dian–I don’t think it’s appropriate to proselytize on the basis of “God’s” idea of relationships. Yes, the end of the article said “What do these words say about your relationship and the state of marriage in general”, but proceed in defining all of the said states of relationships based on your religion’s doctrine is untactful.

    You may have be more successful in not being considered a closed-minded fundamentalist if you started to differentiate in you’re arguments whose “God” you’re referring to. Obviously, we all have different ideas–let alone religious doctrines–that influence what we personally believe, but to say statements like, “He being the all knowing God that He is I’m sure was fully aware of Satan’s plan to use sex as a means of destroying mankind through STIs”, is to not only shut down other opinions on the matter, but to also paint yourself as a didactic speaker–alienating others who have different religious background, if any at all. Please, before your next harangue, think about the idea that God (and Satan) do not move us around like pawns, elimating “bad” elements like concubinage and polyamory. If that were so, we would be rid of worse elements like political corruption and genocidal behavior, which could be eliminated just as easily be a God who could phase out an temporarily exceptable (and honored) system like concubinage. Worse than that, if God eliminated things that were likely to lead to a “whole host of other sins”, He probably would’ve eliminated the root: free will.

    Reply
  15. Bill -  July 27, 2010 - 5:37 pm

    It’s too bad my relationship – with a man and a woman – disgusts you “Katie” – because we’re all three quite happy with the situation and love each other very much. That’s more than you can say about a lot of “God” sanctioned marriages these days, isn’t it? And “Dian” – maybe it’s actually “Satan’s” plan to destroy humanity by tricking them into “being fruitful and multiplying” until they’ve destroyed the planet and the resources they need to survive; you’re certainly on the way already. So I guess I’ll just be over here in my 3-person, solar-powered, zero-population-growth happy household, hanging my head in shame… NOT!

    Reply
  16. Bahli -  July 27, 2010 - 5:29 pm

    This says to me that as people realize that the “traditional” (i.e. Modern American) vision of the isolated nuclear family (one monogamous heterosexual pairing and their offspring) is not one that works for everyone, they search out words and coin terms to describe what does work for them.

    My parents raised my siblings and I in a nuclear family.

    I have a polyamorous family that consists of myself, my fiance, his paramour, my boyfriend, his wife, their five children, and his wife’s boyfriend. We don’t all live together, but we love each other as any cohabitational family would. Both kinds of families are happy and functional; the only difference is that now there is a designated term to apply to my family. :)

    Thank you for recognizing the ever more visible diversity in our society. It means a lot to us!

    -Love from the Padma Tribe!

    Reply
  17. FFASGG -  July 27, 2010 - 5:27 pm

    Mister AnR

    What is a forum for if it isnt for expressing your opinion???

    Reply
  18. hangdog -  July 27, 2010 - 5:15 pm

    Re. AnR
    What is a forum for if it isnt for expressing your opinion???
    Just because it doesnt agree with you… getting all defensive now are we?

    Reply
  19. RELATIONSHIP | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  July 27, 2010 - 4:57 pm

    [...] think that was the HOT WORD “RELATIONSHIP” of which they were seeking explanation. — Gimme this and Gimme that and “Polly want a [...]

    Reply
  20. Excuse me -  July 27, 2010 - 4:49 pm

    AnR, the person who wrote this blog clearly finishes by saying, “What do these words say about your relationship and the state of marriage in general?”

    Is that not asking people for their opinions on the topic?

    Basically, these are just a whole lot of words for sexual depravity, the very thing that undermines the foundation of happy and prosperous societies. Marriage is the most profound expression of fidelity in human relationships. Every child deserves to be raised in a family where the parents are united in such a relationship, and committed to making it last.

    And as for any filthy pedophile scum who uses religion as a cover for his vile activities, I have much more respect for Adolf Hitler!

    Reply
  21. timotheos -  July 27, 2010 - 4:44 pm

    RE: polysyzygy – ‘syzygos’ is ‘mate’ or ‘ marriage partner’ and does not have a gender. so ‘polysyzygy’ is the same as ‘polygamy’ and does not mean ‘having multiple husbands.’

    By the way, ‘gamos’ is not marriage. Strictly speaking it means ‘mating.’

    Reply
  22. Anonymous -  July 27, 2010 - 4:37 pm

    “Toting on”? LOL

    Reply
  23. AnR -  July 27, 2010 - 3:12 pm

    This post was just showing the different definitions of the words, not toting on what is right and what is wrong. You are entitled to your opinions, but don’t bring them to a forum where there isn’t a place for them.

    Reply
  24. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  July 27, 2010 - 2:38 pm

    I would have to suspect or disagree with many of these:

    POLYGYNY, is having multiple women, including mistresses and consorts (female) … not merely wives …

    But the ‘genetic’ process is different in having multiple husbands…

    So,–

    POLYKYRY, is having multiple misters…

    POLYSYZYGY, is having multiple husbands…

    POLYSENY, is having multiple old men, (This includes the archaic gods’ practice of inbred-senior-siring)…

    POLYANDRY, is only having multiple men, But, the Greek small-word for man, is aneir (ανήρ Grk.), so– POLYANEIRY….

    Ray.

    Reply
  25. Katie Hernandez -  July 27, 2010 - 2:28 pm

    Dian is completely right! I am all for faithfulness. What about just getting all the fabulous love you can handle from one person? More than one?? Disgusting! Thanks anyways.

    Reply
  26. What Now -  July 27, 2010 - 2:22 pm

    I don’t know what to do with one partner. What in the world would I do will several?

    Reply
  27. Dian -  July 27, 2010 - 2:14 pm

    I would love to say that I agree with your post, but I don’t. It is not judgmental to make mention of the boundaries that God established, which is why the marriage union is the only sexual relationship that HE regards. Personally, I don’t feel that God really has a problem with multiple sex partners. Men had concubines in the Old Testament and it didn’t seem to be a problem. However, I do feel it was pretty one-sided. Also, I think he put an end to that because we are only human and jealousy, hatred and a whole hosts of other sins could stem from such relationships. Another thing is that He being the all knowing God that He is I’m sure was fully aware of Satan’s plan to use sex as a means of destroying mankind through STIs. Therefore HE established boundaries that if they were honored would bring all the sexual satisfaction we crave.

    There are a lot of people out there to love, but I don’t think we have to love them all sexually though. Sex complicates matters sometimes. Maybe not for you, but I’m more for the monogamous relationship.

    Reply
  28. Nik -  July 27, 2010 - 1:47 pm

    Great post!

    It’s nice to see a non-judgmental explanation of different ways of loving. I personally identify as polyamorous – while my partner and I are in a long-term committed relationship, the structure of it is open to other loves/lovers.

    I would venture to say that there are as many (or more) ways to love as there are people, and that none is better than another, so long as everyone communicates honestly, owns their own needs, takes responsibility for their actions, has healthy boundaries, and refrains from bringing willful harm to themselves or others.

    Reply

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