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I'm trying to find a word which encapsulates within it the meaning of the term 'widow' and the term 'female divorcee' implicitly.

So for example, rather than having to explicitly state:

The individual could be a widow or a female divorcee.

You could just say:

The individual is a __________.

and that word would imply both the aforementioned words.

Is there such a word?

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    How can it be both? You mean she divorced and then the man she was married to died? I don't think that can happen. If he first died then she can't divorce him. Or do you mean a term that means either one OR the other? Because you say "that word would imply both" – Zebrafish Mar 22 '18 at 23:36
  • @Zebrafish a valid point. Imagine we are having a conversation, the word I'm looking for should make you ask the question to clarify which one specifically the individual is. So, for example, I say: 'Person X is a ______.' and you'd ask something like 'Ah, widowed or divorced?'. My phrasing might be slightly off but by 'that would imply both' I mean it would imply both the above words in position, not meaning. To clarify, when I say 'in position', I mean as a single word hence the request. – Script47 Mar 22 '18 at 23:40
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    Do you have such a word for a man (widower or divorced)? – Dan Mar 22 '18 at 23:48
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    @Script47 - are you aware of such a word in any other language? – Dan Mar 23 '18 at 0:08
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    Single is accurate but not as specific as you want. I do't think you'll find such a word in English. I am a widow, and have had a lot of time to think about these sort of finer-grained distinctions in marital status. – Ellie Kesselman Mar 23 '18 at 4:50
47

There is no such word in English. There simply isn't. Any word encompassing both widow and divorcee is going to make both of them unhappy, and the word divorcee will make many divorcees unhappy (particularly those who dumped their husbands or who think of themselves primarily as, say, molecular biologists).

Neither of them will necessarily think it suitable to be called "single" or "unmarried" or "unremarried" (which I have never heard used), and a widow may recoil at being so described, however technically accurate it might be.

Nowhere is it written that there is a single English word for every condition that someone thinks there should be a single English word for. That is why we have phrases, sentences, paragraphs and entire books.

  • I agree. You could also add that none of the technically-applicable terms is gender-specific, as the OP requests (and as both "widow" and "divorcée" can be, for those who distinguish "widower" and "divorcé"). – 1006a Mar 24 '18 at 4:59
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"Widow" and "Divorcee" have slightly different meanings - one where the husband is dead, and one where the marriage was dissolved.

I am unaware of a single word that covers both cases. You could use the term "Previously married", as in "She was previously married"

  • Yes - I am aware of the differences in the word. If you see my comment to @Zebrafish, I've clarified exactly what I mean. I'm looking for a word which would imply that either or is the cause of said individuals separation with their partner. I guess, 'previously married' could be used and it would be ideal but it isn't 'catchy' (though, it would work). – Script47 Mar 22 '18 at 23:46
  • Although a woman on her second marriage can also be called previously married. – Jim Mar 23 '18 at 0:34
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    @Jim "Formerly married" would fix that i guess... – jkf Mar 23 '18 at 2:32
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    Arguably, "previously married" does not really work: many widows/widowers think of themselves as "married people", but unfortunately the spouse is deceased. The concept widow/widower is really different from "unmarried", in many contexts. – Fattie Mar 23 '18 at 9:39
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    Only "slightly different"?! – MrWhite Mar 26 '18 at 0:02
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It's hard to express both statuses in a single word or phrase and still sound idiomatic. That said, I would suggest:

  • "The individual was formerly a wife."
  • "The individual was once married."
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    "Once married" seems pretty close. I does make you wonder whether the person being described is widow(er)ed or divorced. Also, unlike someone @Chromane's similar suggestion of "previously married," clarifying "once married" does strengthen the implication that this person isn't remarried. – spoko Mar 23 '18 at 1:29
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    I've heard "previously married" used in the same way – barbecue Mar 23 '18 at 2:09
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    I would immediately assume those both meant "divorced". – Martin Bonner Mar 23 '18 at 15:44
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    In this day and age, "formerly a wife" might mean "has transitioned genders". – swbarnes2 Mar 23 '18 at 21:37
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You might go with unremarried

Which implies a previous marriage, thus eliminating the “never-been-married” and also implying that the previous husband is now out of the picture for an unspecified reason- could be death; could be divorce.

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    With the advantage that it can apply to men or women. +1 – Dan Mar 23 '18 at 0:30
  • I would rearrange the syllables: reunmarried, to make clear that he/she is re-turned to the state of being unmarried. – rexkogitans Mar 23 '18 at 8:01
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    @rexkogitans Using that for a widow(er) implies they unmarried by the passing of their partner. Many widow(er)s would disagree. Unremarried simply means they did not marry a new partner (yet). – Belle-Sophie Mar 23 '18 at 12:48
  • @Belle-Sophie I just realised that in my mother tongue, which is German, there is the term nicht wiederverheiratet, which indeed means non-remarried or not remarried, but it is never used as noun, always as adjective. – rexkogitans Mar 23 '18 at 13:25
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    @rexkogitans As a native English speaker, I wouldn't use "unremarried" as a noun, either. If I employed it, it'd be as an adjective ("unremarried women"). It could be noun-ish ("the unremarried") but that's an English construction which is a general feature of most adjectives, rather than being a noun per se. – R.M. Mar 23 '18 at 13:59
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I don't think there's such a word. There's simply very few contexts where you would need to consider both widows and divorcees as a single category, because other than being previously married they have very little in common. Maybe in previous eras such a term might have been useful, since unmarried women were considered incomplete, and both would be eager to find a new husband. But in modern, western society this isn't the case.

Also, in those earlier times I suspect divorce was much less common -- it's only in the last few decades that it has lost its stigma. So in earlier times most members of the category would be widows, and divorcees were considered tarnished, so people wouldn't treat them similarly. So again, there would be little need for a common term that encompasses both.

If you need to refer to both situations, you'd simply use a descriptive phrase like "formerly married".

  • Ngh. I was about to give you +1 until I read your last sentence. I would not interpret "formerly married" as including widows, I would only interpret it as divorced. To refer to both situations I'd want "has been married but has no living current husband". Or just use "widows and divorcees" as it's shorter. – AndyT Mar 23 '18 at 11:13
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    Two users had already posted answers saying there is no such word. I upvoted them. I don't think the OP needs to hear it a third time. – Mari-Lou A Mar 23 '18 at 13:54
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    @Mari-LouA I thought I added additional information about why there is no such word and why it's not needed. – Barmar Mar 23 '18 at 14:00
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    Society has changed greatly in the last 70 years. There's been all the time in the world to create this "word" but the truth is, there's simply no need. We have a word for a wife whose husband dies, and a word for a wife who is divorced. Why do we need a term for a woman who was once married or used to be? We've already got them. Add "unmarried" for someone who is not married and you've covered a pretty wide range. – Mari-Lou A Mar 23 '18 at 14:16
  • Exactly the point I tried to make in my answer. For general categories we only care about married and not-married. For specific purposes we need to distinguish all the not-married from each other (divorcees may get alimony and child custody, widows get inheritance). We don't need anything in between. – Barmar Mar 23 '18 at 14:58
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The closest to a single-word answer I can get is husbandless, although to exclude those women who have never married, you have to add now to imply that she once did have a husband:

The individual is now husbandless.

Unfortunately, it would also exclude women who were previously married to, and either survived the death of, or divorced from, another woman. The word spouseless (again with now) would encompass all those, but if used in the original sentence would not preclude men in a similar position. However, switching from The individual to She would allow:

She is now spouseless.

which I think covers all possibilities.


References:

3

(Ignoring the single-word requirement)

You could use an intentionally ambiguous phrase like "Her husband isn't around any more" or "Their father is no longer with us" both of which could be interpreted either way.

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If you can tolerate an adjective rather than a noun, you could say remarriageable, which while it may not occur in dictionaries, has obvious meaning to readers due to the strong parallel to the common word marriageable.

protected by Community Mar 26 '18 at 11:54

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