Origins of Common Words - Alimony

About the history and origins of the common word alimony.


Alimony - Eating money--literally "money from which to receive nourishment" (Latin alere). Originally the term was closer to a widow's pension or current welfare check than a reluctant husband's subsidy. In its present legal usage, the word dates back to the mid-17th century: "He should appoint the said Emme Pinkney reasonable Alimony" (1655). Although usually connoting a male-to-female funding, the word is sexless in origin, and occasions of a husband receiving alimony from his wife are found by the early part of this century in Massachusetts, Virginia, Rhode Island, Iowa, and Oregon. Similarity to the word alimon, a shrubby plant that was well known to the 16th-century herbalist and was fabled to dispel hunger, is probably accidental, although many a hard-up ex-husband may wish that dispelling hunger were all that was required of him.

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