A Man is Not a Widow (Widow vs. Widower)

By Maeve Maddox

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Last night, not for the first time, I heard someone refer to a man as a “widow.” Not only did I hear this usage, I saw it headlined across a Powerpoint slide at the presentation I was attending.

In English a widow is a woman whose husband has died.

A man whose wife has died is a widower.

As widow is feminine in meaning, the regional expression widow woman is a tautology. That is, it says the same thing twice.

Another tautology inscribed on a subsequent slide at this same meeting was “the 100th Year Centennial.”

A centennial is the observance of a 100 year anniversary. Ex. The city council announced that the town would observe the centennial of its founding.

TIP: As I urged in one of my very first articles for DWT, Let the Word Do the Work!

Here are some examples of the redundant “widow woman” usage around the web:

I am 28 year old man.I am attracted by a widow woman who is interested to talk with me deeply. What can I do? – Quora.com

I read in the paper that Jesse James held up a train and when he found out a widow woman who was on the train didn’t have any money to give him… – Book

In 2017 a movie titled “The Widow Man” was released, probably increasing the confusion on people’s minds. The careful writer will observe the distinction and avoid the redundancy when using widow and widower.

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18 Responses to “A Man is Not a Widow (Widow vs. Widower)”

  • Kristi Holl

    This redundancy is certainly a pet peeve of mine as well. I think the worst “fingernails on the blackboard” phrase I’ve heard was someone’s personal experience that was “deja vu all over again.” 😎

  • Maeve

    Hear, hear. I mentioned that particular “scraper” in Let the Word Do the Work.

  • John Greenwell

    One redundancy that bothers me is “past history.” Isn’t history, by definition, in the past? I asked this of someone once and he told me there is history that hasn’t happened yet; that is, “future history.” My response was, “Yes. It’s simply called the future.” I can’t find confirmation of this anywhere, but am I wrong in my thinking? – John

  • Elizabeth

    The other week, I heard a speaker address a large audience and announce that there were at least two “centurions” in attendance. Turning around and expecting to see two Roman commanders, I realized that the speaker was celebrating the attendance of two “centenarians” who were not and had never been officers in the Roman army. They would have needed to be much much older than one hundred years old!

  • Deborah

    First Annual Fill-in-the-Blank (Conference, Seminar, Banquet, etc.)

    I say it’s not annual until you’ve done it a second time. And I dislike numbering events anyway. Just a personal thing I suppose. Who care if it is the 39th Annual Berry Picking Party. Just call it the Berry Picking Party and get on with it.

  • Bill Salter

    β€œdeja vu all over again”

    I may be mistaken but I think that refers to a Yogi Berra statement. Berra was renowned for mangling the language but was beloved for his malapropisms– if that’s the correct term.

  • Gary

    Thanks for pointing this out. I hear widow used incorrectly occasionally, but I always have to stop myself from correcting the speaker.

    Could you do a comment on using “orphan?” Recently an adult acquaintance said that she was an orphan now that her father had died. I sympathized with her but since she is in her fifties. I found the use odd. It is correct in that her parents are both gone, but still I think the word is more for children.

    Thanks and I really like the blog.

  • Meg

    I think that “Deja Vu all over again” is meant to be a joke, because deja vu is the feeling that something has repeated, and then you’re repeating yourself inside the phrase. πŸ˜‰

    I can’t explain the in-post examples, though. Those are just silly.

  • Roderick

    Here’s another for you… the Sahara Desert! The word Sahara means desert so in effect you are saying desert desert.

  • George Craig

    Is it against the law for a man to marry his widow’s sister?

  • Rachna

    How can I download e book basic english grammer as now I have taken the email subscription

  • Colleen

    To George Craig,

    It is impossible for a man to marry his widow’s sister. If his wife is a widow, he must be dead. Do you mean “is it illegal for a man to marry the sister of his dead wife?” or is this a cute joke to catch people out? πŸ˜›

  • venqax

    Roderick: True, but a bit different. Since Sahara comes from a different language from English, it is reasonable to assume that even an educated and careful English speaker is not aware of the native meaning of the word. In English, Sahara is simply the name of the desert and so cannot be considered wrong. Compare, Avon (afon) is the Welsh word that simply means river. So is it “wrong” to cite the River Avon in England? Of course not.

  • Beepall

    Did you not create a tautology when you defined tautology? lol.

  • Maeve Maddox

    Probably not. In following the word “tautology” with its definition, I was considering readers who might not be familiar with the word. If I’d later written something like “Here are examples of redundant tautologies,” THAT would have been a tautology.

  • Nico

    “100 year anniversary” is also a tautology. The “anni-” part of anniversary means “year”. Ironic, much?

    Just say “100th anniversary”.

    Yes, I do realize that this article is eleven years old.

  • Ben

    So I was just wondering what do you call a man Whose husband passed away? Would he still still be a widow??

  • Maeve Maddox

    Good question! Another thing to consider in these gender-shifting times.
    I just looked up the etymology of “widow” and discovered that one of its meanings has been “unmarried man.” The word goes back to an Indo-European word meaning “to be empty” or “separated.” (check out the the OED or the marvelous Online Etymology Dictionary)
    In answer to your question, I’d say, yes, you could call a man whose husband has passed away a widow.

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