Monday, January 21, 2013

Just Come Live With Me, Dammit, and Be My Love!

The New York Times lamented in a recent article that there is not a completely satisfactory word to refer to either of two people who live together and are not married.  Wife, husband, and spouse are obviously out of the question, since they have specific meanings related to a state- or church-sanctioned unions. 

The Times article suggested that partner was “awful—anodyne, empty, cold”; lover too sexualized; boyfriend or girlfriend too youthful sounding; significant other too “1980s,” whatever that may mean; and special friend simply “ridiculous.”  As for POSSLQ the abbreviation coined in 1980 by the U. S. Census Bureau for “person of the opposite sex sharing living quarters,” it’s a bit unwieldy.  The Times quotes Charles Osgood’s whimsical quatrain: 
         You live with me, and I with you,
         And you will be my POSSLQ.
         I’ll be your friend and so much more;
         That’s what a POSSLQ is for. 

And, of course, POSSLQ is not useful for same-sex couples.

Now that seven million Americans live with a paramour who is not a spouse, it’s time to come up with a term we can all get behind. 

Not mentioned in the Times article is the word I have always favored to describe one in such a relationship: convivant, which seems to derive from the Latin con (“with”) and vivere (“live”).  The suffix –ant is Greek, by way of Old English, and means “one that performs (a specified action)” or “one connected with.”  If you wanted to distinguish between male and female, you might borrow from French and substitute the feminine ending –ante.

An Urban Dictionary entry says convivant was coined by British author Simon Winchester (who wrote a best-seller about the Oxford English Dictionary) on an NPR program in 2002.  But I came across the word (on an actor’s room request form for a national tour) in 1988, so it’s been around a good while.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has also been around a good while—correction, make that a “long” while.  There isn’t much about him that we would call “good.”  See for yourself:

         If you will be my POSSLQ,
         I promise I won’t jostle you;
         I shall be your apostle true,
         And not like some old fossil who 
         Imparts a dour and docile view.
         I’ll ply you with some wassail, too!

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