The Civil Partnership Act went into effect in the United Kingdom in December 2005, so that civil marriages and civil partnerships would be registered in the same way. Prior to the Civil Partnership Act, unmarried women in Britain were legally known as “spinsters,” whereas unmarried men were officially “bachelors.” Ever since December 2005, however, the official term for both unmarried men and unmarried women has been the more neutral "single."
New spins on old terms:
- To a degree, the legal change codified societal norms. The term “spinster” has taken on a pejorative meaning and is rarely found in modern usage. On the other hand, “bachelor” has lived on, especially thanks to a certain reality TV series.
- The word “spinster” dates back at least to 1362, when it was first used in printed notices.
- Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with first using “bachelor” to describe an unmarried man -- in the 15th century it specifically referred to a young knight.