A friend, contemplating the marriage of his son to his son’s future wife, is wondering whether “woman” is somehow a diminutive of man.
The Big list has:
The female counterpart wif survives today as wife, but to the Anglo-Saxons the word meant any woman, not just a spouse. You can see this usage in the word alewife, a woman who brewed and sold beer, and in midwife. In addition, Old English also had wæpman, literally meaning a human with a weapon and used to refer to a male human (weapon was an Old English euphemism for the penis), and wifman. Wifman survives today as woman.
Is that then the “wife of the man?”
My friend’s question is whether “woman” is a diminutive of “man” and he asks whether other languages have such diminutives for woman.
In the languages I know a bit about, like German, they are “ der Mann” and “die Frau.” Not related words etymologically I don’t think. Not one the diminutive of the other.
I once did a wedding in Spanish and the old version of the vows was “Jo N te recibo a ti N como mi ‘Mujer.’” (I, N. receive you as my woman). (She was fluent in both English and Spanish, her betrothed wasn’t.) The young woman asked that I change it to “como mi esposa.” She thought that “Mujer” to be too abrupt or somehow sexist. I don’t know.
The modern English vows are “I take you to be my husband/my wife.” I recently did a marriage between two woman, and I believe I used “wife” for both, but I can’t remember. I don’t think I used “spouse.”