1. A man joined to another person in marriage; a male spouse.
2. Chiefly British A manager or steward, as of a household.
3. Archaic A prudent, thrifty manager.
tr.v. hus·band·ed, hus·band·ing, hus·bands
1. To use sparingly or economically; conserve: husband one's energy.
2. Archaic To become a husband to.
[Middle English huseband, from Old English hūsbōnda, from Old Norse hūsbōndi : hūs, house + bōndi, būandi, householder, present participle of būa, to dwell; see bheuə- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Word History: The English word husband, even though it is a basic kinship term, is not a native English word. It comes ultimately from the Old Norse word hūsbōndi, meaning "master of a house," which was borrowed into Old English as hūsbōnda. The second element in hūsbōndi, bōndi, means "a man who has land and stock" and comes from the Old Norse verb būa, meaning "to live, dwell, have a household." The master of the house was usually a spouse as well, of course, and it would seem that the main modern sense of husband arises from this overlap. When the Norsemen settled in Anglo-Saxon England, they would often take Anglo-Saxon women as their wives; it was then natural to refer to the husband using the Norse word for the concept, and to refer to the wife with her Anglo-Saxon (Old English) designation, wīf, "woman, wife" (Modern English wife). Interestingly, Old English did have a feminine word related to Old Norse hūsbōndi that meant "mistress of a house," namely, hūsbonde. Had this word survived into Modern English, it would have sounded identical to husband—surely leading to ambiguities.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2018 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.