By the year 2016, it was predicted last week, the majority of children in Britain will be born out of wedlock. At the moment, the rate of babies with unmarried parents is running at 47.5 per cent, and heading upwards. It’s a funny word, “wedlock”, reeking of ancient custom, with echoes of a key turning inexorably in a heavy door slammed shut on the single life.
The marital state of Britain today suggests that many people, when they hear “wedlock”, react as one might to the ominous clang of prison gates, and retreat. They find it much easier to have a baby together than to tie the knot, even though marriages can be broken, but a baby means (in theory, at least) that you are forever connected in some style to the other parent. There are couples who, if they crave a public statement of permanence, are more likely to seek it in the tattoo parlour than the registry office. Yet, in fact, there is no true “lock” in “wedlock”: the word grew out of the Old English “wedlac”, or pledge-giving, and the “lac” suffix means “offering”: more volition, less imprisonment.