unclaimed blessing

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Here’s a word I worked on earlier this week: unclaimed blessing. This word is not used very often nowadays; its hey-day was in the 19th century and up through perhaps midway into the 20th century, though in some circles you still hear it used. And it’s one of a small number of words that I consider to be “sensitive words” because it is very easy for people to take offense at their use. As you can imagine, the thoughts and feelings of an unmarried person regarding the state of being married or not being married can be very intense and personal. For one to be called an unclaimed blessing, or for one to adopt that label for oneself, can be a complicated business.

Scroll down a bit to see my current working definition of the word.

Question for discussion: Do you think words that can have the potential to hurt should be included in a Christianese dictionary at all? After all, some people take offense at Christianese terms such as unchurched, heathen friends, heathen food, and EGR (“extra grace required”). Should we exclude all these words? (Notice how all these terms are ways of describing people—which is always a delicate matter in any language or dialect.) Some people say that the best way to move on from painful words or memories is to stop referring to them. And then there are those who say that when we stop talking about what has passed, then we are doomed to simply repeat it again.

My opinion is that it’s better for a dictionary to include all the words that Christians have used, and then to define and describe them objectively and fairly. In this way we acknowledge our entire history, not merely the parts we are proud of. But I am open to hearing ideas from all sides of the equation.

But what do you think?


unclaimed blessing n. An unmarried yet eligible Christian woman who is considered by some people to be older than the age at which women typically marry.
This term must be used carefully; some women take offense at it (see citations for 1980 and 1990), though others have applied it to themselves with good humor (see citations for 1855, 1918, 1965).
See also *gift of singleness; *singles.
1855 Anon. Nimrod Nunn 151 : But, then, Miss Borrer was a single lady—or, as she preferred to style herself in more poetic language, an unclaimed blessing. 1869 Bowman Chapters in the Life of Elsie Ellis 34 : Miss Melville lived at Ivyburn alone, and seemed to have ‘nobody belonging to her.’ … But what a benefit it was to the community in general, and to all who might be in any trouble in particular, that Anne Melville had remained all her life an unclaimed blessing! For she was always at leisure to help, and always ready to sympathise. 1884 O’Rell John Bull and His Island 86 : The misunderstood woman—the old maid … Go, dear kind soul, unclaimed blessing, the wretch who disdains your treasures of love will never know what he has lost! 1918 Halsey America’s Daughter 187 : “My dear Poco,” chimed in the Best Beloved, “there are a great many things that are more objectionable than being a woman without a mate. But to be called an ‘unclaimed blessing,’ as we are sometimes, sounds as if you were worth the asking, even if you had never accepted.” 1941 Lewis God’s Ideal Woman 21 : One thing worse than being an old maid is getting the wrong man for a husband. It is far better to be “a Bachelor Girl,” or “unclaimed blessing,” than to have your heart crushed and home broken by an unfortunate marriage. 1965 Witherington “Miss Sarah” Guardian of Truth 38/12 (1994) 16 : Her name was Sarah Scoggins. She was a retired teacher. We affectionately called her “Miss Sarah” because she had never been married. As she put it, shortly after our arrival in Louisville [in 1965], she was “an unclaimed blessing.” 1980 Jay Reflections for Women 6 : Not many years ago a girl who was not married was tagged with such titles as “an unclaimed blessing,” “old maid” or one of many other unkind names and descriptions. 1990 Smith A Singular Devotion n.p. : Today’s single adults have no consciousness of the legacy of single adults who lived and achieved when it wasn’t acceptable to be unmarried, when “old maid,” “unclaimed blessing,” and “spinster” were painful labels.
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