SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Increasingly Significant Issue

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Apr 11 20:04:22 UTC 2002

At 3:51 PM -0400 4/11/02, Mark A Mandel wrote:
>On Thu, 11 Apr 2002, Joanne M. Despres wrote:
>#But seriously:  I believe "lover" is still used by GBTs, especially
>#those in the above-40 age bracket, though less automatically than
>#it used to be.
>A male couple that I knew in the 80s used that expression normally. It
>somewhat squicked me because it seemed to me to (over)emphasize the
>sexual aspect of the relationship, but R., the one I was closer friends
>with, challenged me to come up with a satisfactory alternative, and I
>don't think I was able to.
It's clear that in other contexts "lover" (unlike partner, companion,
SO, spouse, boy/girlfriend) really DOES mean 'sexual partner':

"How many lovers have you had?"
"Am I the best lover you've had?"
"We'll make better friends than lovers"

(The last one being a line from a song.)

This makes it difficult to use it in the context we've been
discussing without it overemphasizing the sexual aspect--a kind of
taboo avoidance, in that the more specific and more potent meaning
colors and eclipses the more "innocent" or general one, even in cases
of overlapping polysemy (as here) as opposed to homonymy (as with
"ass" or "heroin(e)").   Compare our recent discussion of "make love"
and Fr. "baiser".  Or what's currently happening with "hook up".


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