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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) equipment; random odds and ends

Formed from the Greek para, essentially meaning ‘beside’ or ‘alongside’, and pherne, meaning ‘dowry’, the word paraphernalia was originally a legal term used to refer to all a woman’s possessions—such as her clothes and jewellery—that remained her property, and did not automatically pass over to her husband on marriage.

In this context, the word was adopted into English from Roman family law: in the legal parlance of Ancient Rome, a woman’s paraferna were all of the items she held onto outside of any other assets that would have comprised her martial 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.

In English, the word paraphernalia first appeared in this context in the mid seventeenth century, before use of the word became more generalised, coming to mean simply ‘any possessions’ and later ‘any necessary equipment’, in the early 1700s.

Due to the introduction of the Married Woman’s Property Acts by Parliament in the late nineteenth century, meanwhile, the legal sense of the term has now long since become obsolete.


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