I came across a phrase unfamiliar to me, the D word, in an article of Time magazine (November 18, 2010 Issue) titled Who Needs Marriage? How an American institution is changing.

The D word appears as a caption of a sentence followed by the following sentence, which gives me no clue for deciphering, in parallel with other captions such as the new marriage gap, the kid may not be all right and what to do about I do. I checked the D word into Wikipedia, which defines ‘the D-Word is a worldwide online community for professionals in the documentary film industry_. But this doesn’t make sense at all to me. I know D-Day, but I have no idea about D word. Can anybody tell me what the D word means in the following context together with my second question?

The D Word
Even when couples are married, family life is a different experience for those with a college education and those without one. Professional occupations are much more likely to offer provisions for parental leave, the ability to work from home and flexible hours.

(The second question.) The above section is wrapped up with the following sentence:

Marriage (of the college-educated) is insulated from some of the stresses of balancing work and family. A sick child throws a much bigger wrench into the machinery of a factory or retail or service worker's life.

In the above sentence, is the machinery of factory a separate phrase from retail or service worker’s life, or the machinery is modified by factory, retail or service worker’s life as a group?

  • 7
    The D-word in the context of "Who Needs Marriage?" may simply be divorce.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 16, 2011 at 1:16
  • 2
    it's a bit weird that your accepted answer only half-answers half your question :)
    – Benjol
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 12:41

5 Answers 5


The larger context, which it seems only Brian Nixon's answer has alluded to, is that the construction "the x-word", where x is some letter of the alphabet, is often used to refer to an unpleasant or taboo word starting with that letter that one does not want to utter. For example, people will say "the F-word" to refer to the word fuck without saying it, or "the N-word" to mean a certain racial slur, and so on. I'm pretty sure "the D-word" is not a standard phrase, but given the context of marriage one can figure out what unmentionable word it is being used to refer to.

  1. “The D Word”, in the context of an article about marriage, is divorce. (The sense being that nobody wants to mention divorce when advocating marriage, so use of the word itself is avoided.)

  2. The structure of the excerpt in the second part of your question is: “the machinery of [the] life of a factory worker or a retail worker or a service worker”. It is into that [metaphoric] machinery that the [metaphoric] wrench is thrown.


The D-word in the context of "Who Needs Marriage?" may simply be divorce.

The phrase "throws a much bigger wrench into the machinery" should be taken as a metaphor. "Throwing a wrench" (or, for our British friends, a "spanner") into the machinery (or the works) of something simply means to cause that thing to malfunction in a major way. They're simply saying factory or service workers have a much bigger problem — the machinery of their lives is more disrupted — when a child gets sick than professional workers do.

  • 2
    Hope you don't mind the edit. I think it's best to include the direct answer here too.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Jan 16, 2011 at 1:34
  • Robusto and Noldorin. D-Word means Divorce. It's cool! I'll mind not to be thrown D-Word by my old partner at this age, simply by being hooked up on the forum all days. Commented Jan 16, 2011 at 4:54

"A sick child throws a much bigger wrench into the machinery of a factory or retail or service worker’s life.

The 'machinery' is "the machinery of (non-professional) workers' lives", and the specific types of workers spelled out are 'factory workers or retail workers or service workers'.

The choice of 'machinery' in close conjunction with 'factory' is unfortunate, but clearly an oversight. It is not referring to "a sick child throwing spanners (wrenches) into factory machinery", though without the "or retail ..." ending, it would be a syntactically valid but implausible sentence (most sick children stay at home and do not get given the chance to throw spanners around factories).


Just to make explicit what I think the misunderstanding is with the sentence:

A sick child throws a much bigger wrench into the machinery of a factory or retail or service worker's life.

It is removing redundancy; there are three kinds of workers lives referred to here: "factory", "retail" and "service", so the repetition is elided. The compact sentence is made more confusing by the slight pun of "throwing a wrench into" someone's life especially when they work in a factory.

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