SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Increasingly Significant Issue

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun May 5 02:19:05 UTC 2002

At 5:09 PM -0400 5/4/02, Rick Kennerly wrote:
>That's a tuffy:
>shack job, too crude
>main squeeze, too possessive and too arrogant
>roommate, too college and too temporary
>housemate, too Three's Company
>friend, too suspiciously vague while being hurtfully dismissive
>associate, too formal
>partner, too business-like (unless it's that kind of arrangement, I suppose)
>domestic partner, too stiff and too evasive (are they sharing lives or just
>laundry?  are their lives so compartmentalized that there are other
>partners--business partners, religious partners, golf partners? )
>live-in, too 80's and too in-your-face.

I agree with most of these assessments, but I think "partner", which
was never really limited to "business partner" but frequently
signalled something like "true companion" (cf. "pardner"), is
naturally adapted to this purpose and has already undergone the shift
away from the "business-like" trappings you mention.  In our current
Unitarian newsletter, two new (male) members of the society are
described as having been partners for twenty years; none of the other
choices (including the afore-suggested "friends") really fits here.
I suppose "companion" might, but that seems now to be somewhat passe.

>Perhaps Significant Other--or SO, as I hear it lately--isn't so bad after
>all.  It abbreviates well, and, in shorthand and without embarrassing or
>awkward explanation, conveys something about the legal, emotional and sexual
>status of the relationship as well as implying a level of serious commitment
>lacking in other common descriptions.  All in all, it seems to me to convey
>information equal to that supplied by spouse, wife, or husband.  To muddy
>the waters, however, I have heard a few married people refer to their legal
>spouse as their SO (and one married may referring to his girlfriend as his
>SO).  Perhaps SO is the great relationship leveler of the future, describing
>all serious, committed unions of two people, without the baggage of gender,
>law, or religion.
Well, to wax prescriptivist, as I understand it the whole point of SO
(from Maslow's coinage) was to have precisely a term that encompassed
spouse, lover, or anyone else, including parent, child, friend,
whatever, who was other than oneself but was particularly significant
to oneself.   It is thus too broad to serve the specific use we're
looking for here.  It's also either too long or too ambiguous, at
least orthographically (SO...WHAT?)


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