Beyond the Rhetoric


Grammar 101: By the Power Invested/Vested in Me…

October 19th, 2012 by
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Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

The confusion most commonly arises in the context of a wedding with the words spoken by the priest, minister, or officiant. It’s a line that we hear all the time in television and in movies…

“By the power invested in me by the State of California, I now pronounce you husband and wife….”

The power “vested” in me? Or is it the power “invested” in me? Because we really only hear the word “vested” when it comes to weddings, it’s understandable that people may not know what is the correct word to use in these circumstances.

What Does Vested Mean?

When something is vested, it means that it has been assigned to a person or it has been secured in the possession of a designated person. If something has been “vested” in you, it means that it cannot be taken away from you by a third party.

Similarly, if you have a “vested interest” in a certain subject, it means that you value the subject in some way. You have a personal stake in the matter. If you own shares in a solar panel manufacturer, then you surely have a “vested interest” in affairs related to green energy legislation. It would be very difficult for you to be unbiased, because you have “skin in the game,” so to speak.

How Is That Different From Invested?

When something has been invested, on the other hand, it means that something (usually money) has put into some sort of monetary instrument with the expectation of a financial return. When you “invest” in a mutual fund, you are putting money into that fund with the hope or expectation to turn a profit. You can also talk about investing your time, as would be the case with building up your seniority being employed at a company.

So, Back to the Wedding…

Using the hypothetical example above, the State of California (as in the Californian government) has assigned the legal ability to marry two individuals to the priest. As such, the priest has power “vested” in him by the local government.

It would not be accurate or appropriate to say that the State of California “invested” this power in the priest, because the government is not expecting some sort of financial gain by “investing” this power in someone else (the priest). And so, the correct phrasing is indeed:

“By the power vested in me by the State of California (or whatever other jurisdiction), I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

Those last few words can certainly change. I’ve heard “man and wife” just as often as “husband and wife,” and it’s not terribly uncommon to have “husband and husband” or “wife and wife” these days either. At least now you’ll know that the power is “vested,” even if the marriage is an “investment” in your future together.

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7 Responses to “Grammar 101: By the Power Invested/Vested in Me…”

  1. AOA says:

    I’m not so sure. My SOED told me that invest was used to mean to endow with right, authority or privilege as early as the 16th century.

    • Michael Kwan says:

      I just looked it up and Webster seems to agree, though that kind of usage is archaic. Check definition 1.c here:

      It offers “vest” as a viable alternative. My guess is that usage of “invest” to mean granting authority fell out of favor over the years, but I could be wrong.

      • AOA says:

        I would say the line is as old as the wedding ceremony. That usage might have passed over generations into modern curreny, but only in similar situations. That is not uncommon in Chinese. Archaic usage and pronunciations survive in some fixed combinations. In addition, the SOED does not label it as archaic or obsolete.

      • AOA says:

        I checked Merriam-Webster’s Usage Dictionary. Its says the two part are homophones. They have different etymologies. The “put in” sense was from Italian while the “endow” sense from Latin.The Dictionary is an old book, copyrighted in 1994. It is a very long time since it was last updated. But it recorded the use of the “endow” sense as late as 1971 in New Yorker.

  2. Anne Wicks says:

    Michael, you said.

    ““By the power vested in me by the State of California (or whatever other jurisdiction), I know pronounce you husband and wife.”

    It should read “I now pronounce … ”

    I think vested is the better term, but invest isn’t always about money. People also invest their time in things. Invest also means to entrust. And a priest is definitely entrusted to marry people.

  3. Franki says:

    1. to put (money) to use, by purchase or expenditure, in something offering potential profitable returns.
    2. to use (money), as in accumulating something: to invest large sums in books.
    3. to use, give, or devote (time, talent, etc.), as to achieve something.
    4. to furnish with power, authority, or rank.
    5. to endow: Feudalism invested the lords with authority over their vassals.
    6. to infuse or belong to: Goodness invests his every action.
    7. to provide with the insignia of office.
    8. to install in an office or position.
    9. to clothe or attire.
    10. to cover, adorn, or envelop.
    11. to surround with military forces; besiege.

    A lot of words require definition by their context, and not by what the term makes you think of first, because of hearing it used repeatedly in a single context.

    Both, invest and vest, are viable and appropriate, because the context in which they are used displays the proper definition.

    The choice then falls to simple opinion, not that one is correct or the other wrong, but how the person or persons understand the definitions of a particular word or how to surmise such definitions by its context.

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