SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Increasingly Significant Issue

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Apr 11 00:36:24 UTC 2002

At 7:27 PM -0400 4/10/02, Joanne M. Despres wrote:
>It seems to me that "partner" (less formal) and "domestic partner"
>(more formal) are the terms of choice for gays, lesbians, and
>bisexuals.  I'm not usually the first to catch on to newer trends,
>though -- maybe others have a different impression.  To my ears,
>those terms sound more to the point and less euphemistically
>vague than "companion" and less klutzily p.c. than "significant
And "significant other" has roots in (I believe) Maslow's
psychological theory where it meant "significant person other than
oneself", hence including spouses, children, parents, friends, etc.,
as well as lovers.  Even granting the meaning shift, I know that for
some people it still includes "spouse".  (It sometimes appears on
departmental invitations precisely to avoid the
disjunction--"significant other" = 'spouse OR partner'.)  Of course,
"partner" can sometimes include spouses too, but more
self-consciously I believe.  (I know some people who refer to their
spouse as "my partner" but that's a conscious decision to abstain
from heterosexual and connubial privilege.)

"Domestic partner" is increasingly the form used in (or at least in
discussing) laws that award NON-spouses benefits (economic, legal,
social) that more traditionally were reserved for spouses, and I
agree that "partner" is the more informal and frequently used version
of this, especially when the context makes it clear.  And when it
doesn't, William Safire noted a couple of years ago, "business
partner" is increasingly used as a retronym.


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