Old English wedlac "pledge-giving, marriage vow," from wed + -lac, noun suffix meaning "actions or proceedings, practice," attested in about a dozen Old English compounds (feohtlac "warfare"), but this is the only surviving example. Suffix altered by folk etymology through association with lock (n.1). Meaning "condition of being married" is recorded from early 13c.
Entries linking to wedlock
Old English weddian "to pledge oneself, covenant to do something, vow; betroth, marry," also "unite (two other people) in a marriage, conduct the marriage ceremony," from Proto-Germanic *wadja (source also of Old Norse veðja, Danish vedde "to bet, wager," Old Frisian weddia "to promise," Gothic ga-wadjon "to betroth"), from PIE root *wadh- (1) "to pledge, to redeem a pledge" (source also of Latin vas, genitive vadis "bail, security," Lithuanian vaduoti "to redeem a pledge"), which is of uncertain origin.
The sense has remained closer to "pledge" in other Germanic languages (such as German Wette "a bet, wager"); development to "marry" is unique to English. "Originally 'make a woman one's wife by giving a pledge or earnest money', then used of either party" [Buck]. Passively, of two people, "to be joined as husband and wife," from c. 1200. Related: Wedded; wedding.
"means of fastening," Old English loc "bolt, appliance for fastening a door, lid, etc.; barrier, enclosure; bargain, agreement, settlement, conclusion," from Proto-Germanic *lukana-, a verbal root meaning "to close" (source also of Old Frisian lok "enclosure, prison, concealed place," Old Norse lok "fastening, lock," Gothic usluks "opening," Old High German loh "dungeon," German Loch "opening, hole," Dutch luik "shutter, trapdoor").
Ordinary mechanical locks work by means of an internal bolt or bar which slides and catches in an opening made to receive it. "The great diversity of meaning in the Teut. words seems to indicate two or more independent but formally identical substantival formations from the root" [OED]. The Old English sense "barrier, enclosure" led to the specific meaning "barrier on a stream or canal" (c. 1300), and the more specific sense "gate and sluice system on a water channel used as a means of raising and lowering boats" (1570s).
From 1540s as "a fastening together," hence "a grappling in wrestling" (c. 1600). In firearms, the part of the mechanism which explodes the charge (1540s, probably so called for its resemblance to a door-latching device), hence figurative phrase lock, stock, and barrel (which add up to the whole firearm) "the whole of something" (1842). Phrase under lock and key attested from early 14c.
From late 14c. as "capacity for knowing, understanding; familiarity;" also "fact or condition of knowing, awareness of a fact;" also "news, notice, information; learning; organized body of facts or teachings." Sense of "sexual intercourse" is from c. 1400. Middle English also had a verb form, knoulechen "acknowledge" (c. 1200), later "find out about; recognize," and "to have sexual intercourse with" (c. 1300); compare acknowledge.