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Would it make more sense to use a third, different word, e.g. "spouse" instead of wife & husband, or use one of them, e.g. "actor" for actor & actress.

"Widow" seems like the obvious choice, since it's the simpler of the two.

  • This site takes a bit of a descriptivist stance: that was, we describe "English as she is spoke", and can't really speculate (much less dictate) how it will or should be used in the future (in the StackExchange vernacular, these questions are closed as "primarily opinion-based", aka subjective). You can certainly ask if such a gender-neutral term has been coined, or if any has any currency. I don't believe it has, though it's certainly possible. As for picking "widow": because no one yet uses it that way, it's liable to cause confusion unless you explain yourself first, which is self-dfting – Dan Bron Oct 26 '18 at 19:14
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    Predicting the future is always difficult, but with languages only doubly so, because that whole "wouldn't it make sense" affair is the very first thing that natural languages really really love to toss out of the window. – RegDwigнt Oct 26 '18 at 19:23
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    I don't think there is a single word for it yet. You can always use 'the deceased's surviving spouse' – Mitch Oct 26 '18 at 19:24
  • @RegDwigнt 1) I thought "wouldn't it make sense" is the only reliable thing about natural language and other things like consistency or syntax are the first to go out the window. 2) I can predict the future incredibly accurately in the next 1/2 second while driving. In fact I' – Mitch Oct 26 '18 at 19:26
  • It would make sense, so start saying it. – Weather Vane Oct 26 '18 at 20:11
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One good option is surviving spouse:

A spouse who lives longer than the other spouse.
US Legal


This expression is pretty widespread and is used on the Social Security webpage:

Benefits can be paid to the worker's children and the surviving spouse who is caring for the children even if the worker doesn't have the required number of credits.

It's also used on the Office of Personnel Management Retire FAQ (another government site):

If you are the surviving spouse of a deceased employee, recurring monthly payments may be made to you if your spouse completed at least 18 months of creditable civilian service and was covered under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS).

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