Why Do Married Couples 'Tie the Knot'?

10 February 2024

And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

On this program, we explore words and expressions in the English language. We give you definitions, examples, notes on usage, and sometimes we even use them in a conversation.

Valentine's Day is February 14. Because it is close to that day that celebrates lovers, we talk today about a romantic idiom: tie the knot.

FILE - Newlyweds hold hands during a mass wedding ceremony on Valentine's Day, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
FILE - Newlyweds hold hands during a mass wedding ceremony on Valentine's Day, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

To tie the knot is an informal term for getting married. In some marriage ceremonies, a knot is actually tied around the couple's hands with a piece of cloth or ribbon. This is done as a symbol of unity.

This wedding tradition can be called a handfasting ceremony.

Several websites claim that this is an ancient Celtic wedding tradition. The couple holds hands while someone else ties their hands together with material. This represents the two people being physically and spiritually tied to each other.

But let's go back to the word "knot."

A knot is an interlacing of string, ribbon, rope, or similar material that forms a connection between two, or more, loose ends.

The word "knot" can also describe a mass or lump of disordered material that is tangled. Some knots are hard to untangle. For example, if your hair has knots, the ends have become tangled together, and it cannot be straightened or combed. When talking about hair, having knots is not a good thing.

Knowing how to tie knots is important in many activities including sailing. For example, rope is used to secure sails. While sailing, you might want ropes to stay knotted at times, but you also need to be able to release knots quickly, at a moment's notice.

With a marriage, you want to stay knotted together. You do not want the bond to be easily broken.

There are other ways to say to tie the knot. In a formal situation, you can say two people have been wed. A very informal expression is to get hitched.

Now, let's hear two friends use the expression "to tie the knot."

A: Hey, I have a wonderful secret about our good friends Finn and Polly. They are tying the knot next month!

B: What? Finn and Polly? Are you sure?

A: Yes! Polly told me last week while we were bowling. She's on my bowling team.

B: I cannot believe that.

A: Well, believe it. But she made me promise not to say a word. So, don't tell anyone.

B: I am shocked.

A: Why? Finn and Polly have been dating for years.

B: I'm not shocked about that. Polly ... bowls?? I had no idea.

And that's all the time we have for this Words and Their Stories.

Until next time ... I'm Anna Matteo.

Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English.


Words in This Story

conversation –n. talking or a talk between two or more people

romantic –adj. related to love between two people or to romance

informal –adj. not used in official or serious writing or speech

symbol –n. an object that represents an idea

interlace –v. joined in a way that involves crossing thread, string or rope over and under

tangle –v. to become disordered and twisted together

bond –n. a strong, lasting connection