According to the Webster dictionary a widower is “a man who has lost his wife by death and has not married again”. Is this definition broad enough to encompass the case whereby a man kills his wife, since, in that case, he loses her by death as well?

From a purely logical perspective, this may be true. However, we have to agree on the meaning of “losing someone by death”. I can hardly see a murderer, who deliberately takes the life of her spouse, as someone who lost his wife. I consider a widower as someone who suffers a loss, whereas a murderer actively causes what could at most be said a “self-inflicted loss”.

  • 2
    Questions about definition or connotation of non-technical words, rather than abstract semantics belong on one of the language exchanges.
    – user9166
    Mar 23, 2018 at 22:24
  • Hi, welcome to Philosophy SE. Please visit our Help Center to see what questions we answer and how to ask. One-line posts are discouraged because it is hard to tell from them what people are looking for. There is no "logical perspective" on the meaning of words, there is only prevailing usage. Whether most people tend to count wife-killers as widowers decides whether they are so counted, and even then one is not forced to follow the majority usage, especially in such special circumstances.
    – Conifold
    Mar 23, 2018 at 23:19
  • @jobermark I see your point. I thought that this exchange were the right place because the definition of “widow/widower” doesn’t vary significantly from language to language (to my very limited knowledge, at least) and my question also entails a sort of moral speculation. Mar 23, 2018 at 23:52
  • @Conifold Thank you for the welcome. I read the Help Centre section about what questions I am allowed to ask, and, as I said above, I thought that my question, albeit borderline, could be legitimate. However, if the moderators decide otherwise, I obviously won’t complain: I see that my question is not perfectly on topic. As for logical perspective and word meaning, I beg to differ. I think that one is allowed to analyse the meaning of a word, regardless of the prevailing usage of that word. Geoffrey Thomas in his answer proved it, and I think that he had some good points. Mar 24, 2018 at 0:04
  • One can certainly analyze meanings and suggest improvements to use, but until they are adopted the result is moot, there is no fact of the matter as to what the meaning "should" be aside from the use itself. And such analysis would be semantic, not logical, logic collects formal tautologies and so has nothing to say about meanings.
    – Conifold
    Mar 24, 2018 at 0:33

1 Answer 1


'Lost' is metaphorical and vague; it has no proper place in such a definition. I should say that 'a widower is man whose wife died during their marriage and who has not married again'. Clearly in no idiomatic sense does a man who murders his wife (merely) lose her; he terminates her existence. 'Lose' is passive; 'terminate' is highly active.

A widower might not suffer any loss at all. He might relish his new-found freedom.

Colloquially we would not, I think, call a man who murdered his wife a widower. This is not because he isn't one but because (a) 'widower' is an empathic term, suggesting sympathy with the man when, as a murderer, he does not have our sympathy at all; and (b) because 'murderer' is the ethically dominant description here. He is referred to as a 'murderer' rather than a 'widower' because his being a murderer is a morally more significant 'fact' about him than the fact of his widowerhood.

  • You had some very good points here. Every man whose wife is dead is a widower, regardless of circumstances of her demise. But being a wife-murderer prevails on being a widower, on the grounds of a more significant moral emphasis of the first circumstance. I also think that the reference to sympathy is very accurate and on point. Mar 24, 2018 at 0:13
  • As the use of "black widow" suggests colloquial usage is not overly concerned with empathy, Simpsons even named one of their episodes Black Widower. In any case, I see no philosophical grounds for prescribing the use of "widower".
    – Conifold
    Mar 24, 2018 at 0:27

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