“Getting hitched” is one of our most common slangs for getting married, but where did this phrase come from?
A Uniquely American Expression
We’re not certain how the worth “hitch” enters English (though there are a few theories), but it’s originally associated with an irregular movement or jerking sensation from about the 15th century. It doesn’t come to mean tied or fastened for a century, first gaining that meaning in 1570. From there it came to be used to describe tying horses up to a wagon, and then in the US it came to be used to describe getting married, as if two people were being tied together the way that horses are tied to a wagon.
Equality in Marriage
The phrase is a natural one for a society that was primarily agrarian and utilized animal power for most of its industrial activities. From plowing to transport to running a mill, people had a sense that animals were used for work, and this phrase emphasizes the fact that marriage and maintaining a household are work.
The phrase also carries with it an egalitarian 19th century sensibility, that when two people are bound together in marriage they should bear the responsibilities of life equally, the way a team of horses is supposed to work to pull a wagon.
A Biblical Connotation
The phrase has an additional meaning for a strongly religious community because it has several potential parallels in the Bible. For example, the passage, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” (2 Cor. 6:14) is commonly interpreted as referring to a prohibition of Christians marrying non-Christians, referring back to Deuteronomy’s law against plowing with an ox and a donkey yoked together (Deut. 22:10).
It also refers back to Jesus’ admonition, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:29-30) Read in this context, the work of marriage takes on a redeeming, joyful quality.
With all these meanings, it’s no wonder that the phrase gained quickly in popularity to become one that we still use, more than a century and a half later.
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