Term of the Week: “Wife Up”

Keeping up with American slang is impossible. That’s why people use it, after all. But I felt especially “out of it” when I first heard “wife up” from the lips of Bethenny Frankel’s assistant, Max Meisel, on episode 10 of Bethenny Getting Married?

According to Max and the other twenty-somethings in the bar, “everybody” uses the term. As he explains to Bethenny, “wife up” means “to marry,” as opposed to merely “date” or “see.” More specifically, the term connotes eventually marrying a girl after dating her for a while. Where did this come from? Why am I only hearing this now? Bethenny, who obviously prides herself on being hip, wondered the same thing.

A little research on the internet revealed that “wife up” apparently originated in rap or hip-hop culture. Beyond that, origins are obscure. Although many associate the expression with Dr. Dre, the first use in a lyric that I could find occurred in “California Lyrics” in 2009 by the rap artist, Eastwood:

I don’t need no ice in my cup they make the Remy flat,

haha, you ballers trickin on the wrong sh-t,

the same broads you tryna wife up she be on my d-ck,

Other instances include internet posts commenting on celebrities who “wife up” prostitutes, stalkers, or other persons not usually considered suitable marriage prospects.

As the expression migrates from rap to wider usage, it retains something of a pejorative connotation, I think. Indeed, why not just say “marry?” Consider how most people employ the term “man up” to mean to be masculine, to fulfill one’s manly responsibilities despite one’s insecurities, to meet a difficult challenge. Likewise, in the case of “wife up,” there appears to be a sense of a man’s fulfilling his responsibility, perhaps reluctantly. Imagine a couple of with-it guys in a midtown Manhattan bar:

“Hey, you and Kimberly heading out to the Hamptons this weekend?”

“Yeah, her folks have a place out toward Montauk.”

“You been seeing her for a while. You getting serious?”

“I suppose. We been going out for a couple of years now. Guess I’m gonna have to wife up one of these days.”

This usage isn’t exactly the same as in rap culture, but it nevertheless conveys an emotional distancing and, perhaps, a less-than-heartfelt regard for women as annoying occasions for enforced commitment (at least if men are to continue to get what they want). I might be reading too much into the expression, but otherwise why depart from ordinarily appropriate terms such as “marry?”

What do you think?

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