Sunday, June 24, 2007
Today's The Word column by Jan Freeman treats a little lexical oddity in English, one that's related to something that's been floating on ads-l in related form of late: How should we refer to a person somebody has a romantic relationship with but isn't married to?
Freeman starts with the case of Paul Wolfowitz's "girlfriend". (As Wonkette noted when the story was current, the alarming part is that Wolfowitz wasn't/isn't single.) Saying that the now former "World Bank prez" and still "wrong-about-everything-ever neo-con hero" (to quote Wonkette) has a girlfriend is unsettling, just plain does not work. Let's propose a Wolfowitz test: Is there a term to we could apply to Shaha Riza in reference to her relationship with him that does not make us gag?
The ads-l discussion revolved, in good part, around the term fuck buddy. Can't use that in the papers, I imagine. Partner is widely used, but has gotten so common for gay and lesbian couples that it can cause confusion — I've heard it taken to mean specifically same-sex partner when it wasn't intended to. "Significant other" is just awkward. Freeman cites Safire as proposing a return to sweetheart. Right, we'll get on that. Nothing comes close to passing the test. But maybe that's a test no mere lexical item could be expected to pass. (Remember the guy licking his comb? Remember the insane war he worked so hard to get us into?) Maybe, lacking a term to describe such a relationship, Wolfowitz should be condemned to a life of solitude, maybe as in solitary confinement.
Like Jan Freeman, I'm intrigued by these little oddities, what the best current solution is, and where things are headed but consider the bottom line for folks like Safire: As a culture, we have failed to develop a serviceable term for this extremely common relationship. And words are easy to invent, to pick up, to use. Hey, mavens, if you can't fix this one, maybe you should reconsider the whole "saving the language" enterprise.
Posted by Mr. Verb at 10:02 AM