Posted by R. Berg on January 04, 2001
In Reply to: Re: Make an honest woman of me. posted by ESC on January 04, 2001
: : : I must know the meaning of this saying and its origin. Please help! Thank you in advance!
: : To marry a woman you have been living with as your wife, so that she no longer needs to lie and pretend she is married.
: : It originated at a time when such concerns were taken more seriously than now when the phrase is usually used lightheartedly.
: : Fielding used it in Tom Jones in 1749 - "Miss Nancy was, in vulgar language, soon made an honest woman."
: : The nature of the quotation implies that the phrase was already in use then.
: : Gary
: There is an expression I heard growing up in West Virginia in the 1960s -- if a woman was married when she had a child, it was said that she "come by it honest." It being the baby.
It may be relevant that in Shakespeare's time "honest" meant "chaste"--Hamlet uses it that way when talking to Ophelia. Currently, around here (West Coast, U.S.), the couple needn't be living together for the expression to apply.