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From Middle English bigamie (having two spouses simultaneously, bigamy; second marriage; marrying a widow or widower) [and other forms],[1] from Anglo-Norman bigamie and Middle French bigamie (having two spouses simultaneously; second marriage; marrying a widow or widower) (modern French bigamie (bigamy)), and its etymon Late Latin bigamia (having two spouses simultaneously; second marriage), from Late Latin, Latin bigamus (bigamous) + -ia (variant of -ius (suffix forming adjectives from nouns)).[2] Bigamus is derived from bis (twice, two times) + Ancient Greek γάμος (gámos, marriage; matrimony) (from Proto-Indo-European *ǵem- (to marry)). The English word is analysable as bi- +‎ -gamy.



bigamy (countable and uncountable, plural bigamies)

  1. The state of having two (legal or illegal) spouses simultaneously.
    • 1584, “The Storie of Saint Margaret Prooued to be Both Ridiculous and Impious in Euerie Point”, in The Discoverie of Witchcraft, [], London: [] William Brome, →OCLC, book XV (The Exposition of Iidoni, []), pages 459–460:
      But now we may find in S. Margarets life, who it is that is Chriſtes wife: whereby we are ſo much wiſer than we were before. But looke in the life of S. Katharine, in the golden legend, and you ſhall find that he was alſo married to S. Katharine, and that our ladie made the marriage, &c. An excellent authoritie for bigamie.
    • c. 1593 (date written), [William Shakespeare], The Tragedy of King Richard the Third. [] (First Quarto), London: [] Valentine Sims [and Peter Short] for Andrew Wise, [], published 1597, →OCLC, [Act III, scene vii]:
      A beauty-waining and diſtreſſed widow [Elizabeth Woodville], / Euen in the afternoone of her beſt daies / Made priſe and purchaſe of his [Edward IV's] luſtfull eye, / Seduct the pitch and height of al his thoughts, / To baſe declenſion and loathd bigamie, / By her in his vnlawfull bed he got.
    • 1661, Thomas Wilson, John Bagwell, Andrew Simson, “Not to take a Wife to her Sister”, in A Complete Christian Dictionary: [], 7th edition, London: [] Thomas Williams [], →OCLC, page 592:
      Not to take a Wife to her Siſter] Not to take one Wife to another, or not to have at once two Wives. This ſentence condemneth Bigamie, and Polygamie, having two or more Wives together, Lev[iticus] 18. 18. Neither ſhalt thou take a Wife to her Siſter to vex her.
    • 1720, John Johnson, “Supposed Constitutions of Archbishop Reynold’s”, in A Collection of All the Ecclesiastical Laws, Canons, Answers, or Rescripts, with Other Memorials Concerning the Government, Discipline and Worship of the Church of England. [], 2nd part, London: [] Robert Knaplock [] , and Samuel Ballard [], →OCLC:
      It is the Complaint of many that ſecular Judges and others make an Objection of Bigamy againſt Clerks when they are taken and impriſon'd for their Crimes, and demand to be ſent to the Eccleſiaſtical Court; [...] Farther he who marries a Widow, or two Women oftentimes does not contract Bigamy according to them, and they do not eſteem ſome to be Bigamiſts, who really are ſo.
    • 1807, W[illia]m Blackstone, Edward Christian, “Of the Clergy”, in Commentaries on the Laws of England, [], Portland, Me.: [] Thomas B. Wait, & Co., →OCLC, book I (Of the Rights of Persons), footnote 2, page 377:
      This is a peculiar privilege of the clergy, that sentence of death can never be passed upon them for any number of manslaughters, bigamies, simple larcenies, or other clergyable offences; [...]
    • 1847 March 30, Herman Melville, “Taloo Chapel.—Holding Court in Polynesia.”, in Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas; [], London: John Murray, [], →OCLC, pages 305–306:
      The missionaries have prepared a sort of penal tariff to facilitate judicial proceedings. [...] The judge being provided with a book, in which all these matters are cunningly arranged, the thing is vastly convenient. For instance: a crime is proved,—say, bigamy; turn to letter B.—and there you have it. Bigamy:—forty days on the Broom Road, and twenty mats for the queen. Read the passage aloud, and sentence is pronounced.
    • 1868 February 15, “Mr. Sala on Sensationalism”, in The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art, volume XXV, number 642, London: Published at the office, [], →OCLC, page 201, column 1:
      The providers of our sensational fiction [...] have gone on describing murders, bigamies, and forgeries, forgeries, bigamies, and murders, until at length these crimes have become about the most commonplace acts that a hero or heroine can perform.
    • 1999, Stephen King, “Hearts in Atlantis”, in Hearts in Atlantis, trade paperback edition, New York, N.Y.: Scribner, published November 2017, →ISBN, chapter IV (Ted Goes Blank, Bobby Goes to the Beach. McQuown. The Winkle.), page 95:
      Anita laughed and hugged him and told him he was the best kid in the world, if he was fifteen years older she'd commit bigamy and marry him. Sully-John blushed until he was purple.
    • 2015, Maia McAleavey, “Introduction”, in The Bigamy Plot: Sensation and Convention in the Victorian Novel (Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-century Literature and Culture), Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: University of Cambridge, →ISBN, page 6:
      One of nineteenth-century Britain's most important pieces of marriage law legislation, the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, immediately preceded the explosion of bigamy novels in the early 1860s. [...] Bigamy plots thus suggest a literary-historical asymmetry: just when middle-class Victorians no longer needed to commit bigamy, or, for that matter, murder, to get rid of an unwanted first spouse, bigamy was transformed from a real crime into a popular narrative device.
  2. (ecclesiastical law, historical) A second marriage after the death of a spouse.
    Synonyms: deuterogamy, digamy

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  1. ^ bigamīe, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ bigamy, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2008; bigamy, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

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