He never married

"He never married" was a phrase commonly used by obituary writers in the United Kingdom as a euphemism for the deceased having been homosexual. Its use has been dated to the second half of the twentieth century and it may be found in coded and non-coded forms such as when the subject never married but was not homosexual. A similar phrase is "confirmed bachelor".


The phrase was a staple euphemism of obituary writers used to imply that the subject was homosexual.[1][2] The ambiguity of the phrase has been commented on, however, by a number of sources. In 1999, James Fergusson, writing in Secrets of the Press about the coded language of obituaries that he compared with the clues in a cryptic crossword, commented " 'He never married' closed an obituary with numbing finality" and asked "Did it, or did it not, mean that he was a hyperactive homosexual?"[3]

In 2006, Nigel Rees dated its use to the second half of the twentieth century and noted that it can also be used without any implication of homosexuality, and that it also served the purpose of avoiding the use of the word gay for subjects who were open about their homosexuality but disliked the word "gay".[4] In 2007, Bridget Fowler also noted that the phrase could be used without a double meaning in her book The Obituary as Collective Memory.[5]

Rose Wild of The Times has observed, however, that even where used in an apparently non-coded form in historic obituaries, the phrase could still be revealing of the subject, giving the example of a school master's obituary in 1923 that stated "he never married" but continued that he "usually spent his holidays in a little inn frequented by seafaring men at Falmouth".[2]

In 2016, Christian Barker of The Rake, observed "Until quite recently, obituary writers had a habit of concluding with the euphemism 'He never married' to subtly indicate that the subject was gay", but continued by connecting the phrase to misogamy rather than homosexuality and asserting that there were plenty of examples of " 'confirmed bachelors' simply shrugging off the shackles of matrimony and choosing to remain single throughout their lives—experiencing no less success because of it".[6]

In 2017, Rose Wild wrote in The Times that the use of "He never married" began to die out in the late 1980s, "but not before it had become absurd". She noted its "otiose" use in the paper's obituaries for Robert Mapplethorpe (died 1989) and Danny La Rue (died 2009).[7]

"Confirmed bachelor"Edit

A similar euphemism was "confirmed bachelor", which was used in the second half of the twentieth century by the satirical magazine Private Eye. Rose Wild reported in The Times in May 2016, however, that she could only find around a dozen examples of the phrase in the paper's obituaries, some of which were of a non-coded form, causing her to wonder whether the phrase existed much outside the imagination of the writers of Private Eye.[2]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Death is the new black" The Observer, 28 April 2002. Retrieved 3 May 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Lives remembered with a loaded phrase or two", Rose Wild, The Times, 21 May 2016, p. 27.
  3. ^ "Death in the Press" by James Fergusson in Stephen Glover (Ed.) (1999) Secrets of the Press. London: Allen Lane. pp. 148–160 (p. 156) ISBN 0713992654
  4. ^ Rees, Nigel. (2006) A man about a dog: Euphemisms & other examples of verbal squeamishness. London: Collins. p. 274. ISBN 9780007214532
  5. ^ Fowler, Bridget. (2007). The Obituary as Collective Memory. Abingdon: Routledge. p. 122. ISBN 978-1-134-21802-8.
  6. ^ "He Never Married" The Case for Staying Single, Christian Barker, The Rake, July 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Don't read too much into the lives of bachelors", Rose Wild, The Times, 16 September 2017, p. 34.