Etymology
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wife (n.)
Origin and meaning of wife

Middle English wif, wyf, from Old English wif (neuter) "woman, female, lady," also, but not especially, "wife," from Proto-Germanic *wīfa- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian wif, Old Norse vif, Danish and Swedish viv, Middle Dutch, Dutch wijf, Old High German wib, German Weib), of uncertain origin and disputed etymology, not found in Gothic.

Apparently felt as inadequate in its basic sense, leading to the more distinctive formation wifman (source of woman). Dutch wijf now means, in slang, "girl, babe," having softened somewhat from earlier sense of "bitch." The Modern German cognate (Weib) also tends to be slighting or derogatory; Middle High German wip in early medieval times was "woman, female person," vrouwe (Frau) being retained for "woman of gentle birth, lady;" but from c. 1200 wip "took on a common, almost vulgar tone that restricted its usage in certain circles" and largely has been displaced by Frau.

The more usual Indo-European word is represented in English by queen/quean. Words for "woman" also double for "wife" in some languages. Some proposed PIE roots for wife include *weip- "to twist, turn, wrap," perhaps with sense of "veiled person" (see vibrate); and more recently *ghwibh-, a proposed root meaning "shame," also "pudenda," but the only examples of it would be the Germanic words and Tocharian (a lost IE language of central Asia) kwipe, kip "female pudenda."

The modern sense of "female spouse" began as a specialized sense in Old English; the general sense of "woman" is preserved in midwife, old wives' tale, etc. Middle English sense of "mistress of a household" survives in housewife; and the later restricted sense of "tradeswoman of humble rank" in fishwife. By 1883 as "passive partner in a homosexual couple." Wife-swapping is attested from 1954.

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wife-beater (n.)

1855, from wife (n.) + beater. Related: Wife-beating. As "sleeveless undershirt" by 1990.

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wifely (adj.)
Old English wiflic "womanly, pertaining to a woman," from wife + -ly (1). From late 14c. as "befitting a wife."
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fishwife (n.)
1520s, from fish (n.) + wife (n.) in the "woman" sense. Also fish-fag.
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alewife (n.)
herring-like fish of North America, 1630s, named from the word for female tavern keepers (late 14c.), from ale + wife; the fish so called in reference to its large abdomen.
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wive (v.)
"to marry (a woman)," Old English wifian, from wif "woman" (see wife). Compare Middle Dutch wiven. Transitive sense "provide with a wife" is from 1510s. Related: Wived; wiving.
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midwife (n.)

"a woman who assists women in childbirth," c. 1300, literally "woman who is 'with' " (the mother at birth), from Middle English mid "with" (see mid (prep.)) + wif "woman" (see wife). Cognate with German Beifrau.

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goodwife (n.)
"a matron, mistress of a household," early 14c., from good (adj.) + wife (n.). As a term of civility applied to a married woman in humble life, it is a correlative of goodman. "Used like auntie, and mother, and gammer, in addressing or describing an inferior" [Farmer].
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husband (n.)
Origin and meaning of husband

Old English husbonda "male head of a household, master of a house, householder," probably from Old Norse husbondi "master of the house," literally "house-dweller," from hus "house" (see house (n.)) + bondi "householder, dweller, freeholder, peasant," from buandi, present participle of bua "to dwell" (from PIE root *bheue- "to be, exist, grow," and compare bond (adj.)).

 Slang shortening hubby is attested by 1680s. Beginning late 13c. it replaced Old English wer as "married man (in relation to his wife)" and became the companion word of wife, a sad loss for English poetry. Old English wer, in the broadest sense "man, male person" (from PIE root *wi-ro- "man"), is preserved in werewolf.

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housewife (n.)
early 13c., husewif, "woman, usually married, in charge of a family or household; wife of a householder," from huse "house" (see house (n.)) + wif "woman" (see wife (n.)). Compare husband (n.). Originally pronounced "huzzif;" the full written form of it began to be used from c. 1500, representing a pronunciation shift that was made at least in part to distinguish it from its offspring, hussy. In 16c., "housewife and hussy were still realized to be same word," and it was felt "that a distinction between the two was due to the reputable matron" [Fowler]. From mid-18c.: "It is common to use housewife in a good, and huswife or hussy in a bad sense" [Johnson]. Related: Housewifely.
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