Remember when Elton John got married a couple months ago in England, which had just legalized same-sex civil unions? Well it turns out that wasn’t the only change to rules governing the old ball and chain: the government also stopped officially classifying women applying for marriage licenses as “spinsters.” So now they’re just “single.” Men don’t get to be bachelors anymore, either. But of course “bachelor” always had an air of choice about it and brought to mind wood paneled walls and extravagant takeout instead of a life resigned to cat hair and Lean Cuisine. Should we be glad about this linguistic leap out of the Middle Ages? I suppose so. But why am I ambivalent, then? Maybe because I like spinsters, and I think the word is on the verge of reclamation. Just the other day I was visiting a friend’s new house and she was showing me her new cleaning products. She beamed and told me she was settled into spinsterhood. It warmed my heart.
In related news, the Cambridge dictionary is dropping the definition of spinster as “a woman who is not married, especially a woman who is no longer young and seems unlikely ever to marry.” Should we be glad about this? No, we should not. How can you reclaim a word if no one remembers what it originally connotated? And was Miss Havisham single? No. She was a spinster, thank you very much.