- Paul Anthony Jones
(n.) accoutrements, random odds and ends
Most popular on HH this week was the curious fact that the word paraphernalia originally referred to all of a woman’s possessions that didn’t automatically become her husband’s property after their marriage.
In that sense, paraphernalia literally means “outside the dowry”. It derives from the Greek roots para, meaning “beside” or “contrary to” (as in paranormal) and pherne, meaning “dowry” (which probably has its own roots in an even earlier word meaning “to carry”).
From these Greek roots, the Latin word parapherna emerged as a term in Roman law used to refer to all the items a woman held on to outside of any other assets that would instead constitute her dowry. By law, her husband could not use or sell any of these possessions without her permission, while she retained the exclusive control to bequeath them to others in her will, rather than have them obligatorily pass to her spouse on her death.
When paraphernalia first appeared in English in the mid seventeenth century this legal meaning was still in tact, but over time its use became more generalized, eventually morphing into another word for “possessions” and later “all necessary equipment” or “random odds and ends” in the early 1700s.
But due to the introduction of the Married Woman’s Property Acts in the late nineteenth century, the legal sense of paraphernalia has long since become obsolete.