9 October 2011


Tonto with his partner.

"Partner". It used to be a word reserved for solicitors and The Lone Ranger. Then somewhere along the line its usage changed so that gradually "partner" became a term you could use to describe your live-in lover, your boyfriend or girlfriend.

I first heard the word being used in this new way about twelve years ago by a whirlwind science teacher called Mark Kelly. He was from the Isle of Man. Several times he'd drop "my partner" into conversation without the accompaniment of a personal pronoun. "My partner likes cheese on toast" or "My partner does all the washing and ironing". Naturally, I concluded that he was gay because in my previous experience of life and language, young men had always referred to their lovers as their "girlfriends".

To me the word "partner" implies a businesslike relationship, as if embarked on some kind of a mission together. I don't like it. I still prefer "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" for unmarried couples. "Lover" would also be better. Like tattoos and the consumption of pizza, language can be like a virus that spreads so that gradually the term "partner" has become an unquestioned fixture in common usage.

Over the last ten years several other irritating words have followed the example of "partner" to gain acceptable footholds in common usage. Two other examples that occur to me off the cuff are "gifted" and "stand-out". The wealthy entrepreneur gifted an art gallery to the city of his birth. Why not simply "gave" or "donated"? And Rooney was the stand out player of the tournament. Why not: Rooney was the most outstanding player?

The English language is forever evolving with new words being embraced or introduced from other languages. I think that that is wonderful and it's partly what makes the language so rich and fascinating. Ultimately, I guess I will have to give in to "partner", "gifted" and "stand out" but I swear that I personally will never use those words in the irksome ways described above.


  1. I couldn't agree more; Business partner, Bridge partner, but NOT Sexual partner! So many of these nasty 'modernisms' come from across the pond where it's standard practice to change a noun into a verb. YUK.

  2. not sure if I agree

    I couldnt call chris my boyfriend
    he's FAR TOO old!!!)
    when what do I call him...?
    other half?, him Indoors ( awful phrase)....husband ( not yet legally)

    answers on a postcard

  3. CRO MAGNON You're right, we do seem susceptible to Americanisms because of the economic might of American media.
    JOHN Before the arrival of "partner" in, I would say, the early nineties, I wonder what other terms were used by gay couples? What's wrong with "boyfriend"? If you don't like it, why not call Chris your "best friend", your "other half" or simply your "butler"?

  4. "Significant other" or "friend" is good. "Partner" always makes me think of lawyers in a law firm. "Sexual partner" is a bit too explicit, although "bedmate" (I just made that one up) is a possibility because it says a bit more than "roommate" (although do we really need to know more?)

    To POSSLQ (Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters, an actual category on a former U.S. decennial census form) I suppose we could add PSSSLQ (Person of Same Sex Sharing Living Quarters)...

    Or, speaking of language, we could just make a noun out of an old Anglo-Saxon word beginning with F.

  5. Didn't the cowboys say 'pardner', rather than 'partner'? And didn't Tonto call the Lone Ranger 'Kemo Sabe' which I have it on good authority (Wikipedia) means 'trusted friend'.

    I've always thought the use of 'partner' to describe your 'significant other' was part of the malaise of secrecy that has entered the language.

    It tells you that someone is in a relationship, but not its status. As an expression of communication, it conceals more than it reveals.

  6. humm
    if you were not married YP
    how would you refer to your shirley?

  7. Veering off subject, that photo of the Lone Ranger and Tonto was a real blast from the past. :)

  8. RHYMES WITH AND SHOOTING PARROTS It is a relief to find that I am not alone in feeling slightly uncomfortable about the term "partner".
    JOHN If we weren't married I think I would call her my nurse! No seriously, she would still be my "girlfriend". I think there's something rather sweet about unmarried middle-aged couples using such a term.

  9. I don't mind "partner," although i did respond to one woman when she referred to my husband as my partner, i.e., "Oh, you mean my husband?"

    I'm not fond of "gifted" as a verb, and i don't use "stand-out" as an adjective (although i've used it as a noun with no trouble, i.e., "So and so was a real stand out in the play").

    My current beef is people saying "reach out" for "contact." "Reach out" to me has a more tangible aspect, and the people who encourage me to "reach out" to them would be the same who'd report me for offensive touching if i took it literally.



  10. Cro Magnon: I am from across the pond, and am doing my bit to resist the functional shift of changing a noun into a verb when it seems trendy. And yet, "emailing" and "blogging" are in my vocabulary.

    YP: I don't know of a satisfactory term for two people who live together who intend to be committed to each other for life, but have not gone through some sort of legal or social ceremony. "Boyfriend" or "girlfriend" doesn't have that connotation for me... yet.

    Personal gripe: "Friend" as a verb, i.e. "I friended him/her on Facebook." Urgh. I will befriend you, alienate you, or simply ignore you (ha!), but I shall Resist the Friending.

  11. I have to say that I prefer "partner" to the older term " de facto" which was previously used here in Australia for a co-habiting unmarried hetrosexual couple.
    To me it is a way of differentiating the marital status of a couple.

  12. I don't mind "partner", imperfect though it is, because I can't think of an alternative that isn't twee. I don't like those nouns used as verbs though. When I read your post I tasked myself with thinking if I knew of any others - - ah, er, yes.


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