SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Increasingly Significant Issue

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun May 5 16:28:42 UTC 2002

At 10:54 AM -0400 5/5/02, Michael Vezie wrote [re "partner"]:
>I wonder if or when it will supplant the business usage (will business
>partners stop using "partner" for fear it will be misinterpreted, and
>start using something else, like "associate").  I can imagine raised
>eyebrows or confusion with, "Hi, I'm Joe, this is my wife, Jane, and
>this is my partner, Frank."

Safire's last "retronym" column in the Times Magazine 4 years ago
began with "business partner" being increasingly used as a retronym
(replacing "partner") to forestall exactly those raised eyebrows.
("Life partner" is not, I think, much used, maybe because it's too

March 22, 1998, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
  SECTION: Section 6; Page 22; Column 3; Magazine Desk
  HEADLINE: On Language; Retronym Watch

  BYLINE:  By William Safire

Used to be, your partner was the guy you were in business with. Now
the word needs modification. We have life partners, people in a state
of permanent cohabitation, straight or gay, connoting a more equal
relationship than companion or live-in boy- or girlfriend.

  That's why we see an article in The New York Times begin, "Mary
Bidgood Wilson and her business partner of five years, Wendy
Wilson..." The modifier business is now needed lest the reader be
forced to guess what kind of partnership the writer had in mind.
That's a retronym, a phrase with a modifier fixing a meaning to a
noun that needed no modifier before: the shift to night baseball
created day baseball, just as the invention of the electric guitar
required us to call the old-fashioned instrument an acoustic guitar.
To every water-skier, the crazies who slide
down mountains are snow-skiers.

[and so on]

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