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I’d Like You to Meet My…? The Dilemma of Labeling Your Love I’d Like You to Meet My…? The Dilemma of Labeling Your Love
Culture

I’d Like You to Meet My…? The Dilemma of Labeling Your Love

by Mark Peters

February 15, 2009
Ever since Adam introduced Eve to Barney the dinosaur-talk about awkward!-the nomenclature of relationships has been fraught with difficulty.Boyfriend and girlfriend are the most acceptable terms for the person you're dating, yet seem too childish for oldsters or even thirtysomethings. In conversation, we often settle for bulky phrases like "person I'm hanging out with" or "she/he who makes the celestial choirs sing." Sadly, it just isn't kosher to refer to your better half when you've only had two dates.Since I am here to be helpful, I've compiled a helpful list of terms to call the object of your affections, along with pros, cons, and nuggets of linguistic history. My heartfelt apologies to old man, old lady, boy toy, beau, paramour, schmoopy, and sweet patootie.partnerHistory: One of bazillions of senses of partner, the romantic meaning goes back to at least 1667 and Paradise Lost, that date movie of the 17th century.Pros: Applies to any sexuality and implies a 50-50 situation.Cons: Judy McGuire-author of How Not to Date and many columns, said by email "…partner is just so sterile. When used to describe one's mate I imagine a couple that never knock boots, but instead have a partnership chock full o' mutual respect, good deeds and granola." That doesn't sound too horrifying, but partner gives me the ibby-jibbies too.main squeezeHistory: In the late 19th century, a main squeeze was less likely to be squeezed or serenaded with Barry White: it referred to a boss. By the 1920s, the big cheese and cuddle monkey senses were both in use, before love won out over management.Pros: Humorous and physical, but not sleazy.Cons: Implies that there could be secondary and intern squeezes. Also, the term may not comfortably carry all the connotations of eternal love found in a Drew Barrymore movie.significant otherHistory: Originally a social psychology term for, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, "any person with great influence on the behavior, self-opinion, etc., of another (esp. of a child)." The first hootchie-kootchie-ish meaning was found in 1977.Pros: Makes the person feel significant-or at least significant-y.Cons: Pretentious. Pretentious. Did I say pretentious? Also, it's vague. I've viewed certain pizzas as worthy of significant-other status, but that may be a personal problem.sweetheartHistory: Has meant "a person with whom one is in love" since 1576. Nineteenth century nonces sweetheartdom and sweetheartship would fit comfortably in my little dictionary or any VD card.Pros: It's sweet. Sugar rush!Cons: It's sweet. Sugar coma!Related terms: sweetie, sweetie pie, sweetie face, sweetie-whatever. Erin McKean-author of That's Amore: The Language of Love for Lovers of Language says, "I do think you should run, run, run from anyone who calls you sweetums, but that's just my prejudice."POSSLQHistory: This 1970s-era census term stands for "Persons of opposite sex sharing living quarters".Pros: Very attractive to acronym fetishists.Cons: It is insane.loverHistory: Since lovers are well-known for knowing each other Biblically, it's fitting that the first known use of this word (with this meaning) is found in the Bible.Pros: Kind of accurate. Lovers love, just as haters hate and exorcists exorcize.Cons: I think Liz Lemon spoke for us all, in the 30 Rock episode "Secrets and Lies," when she said: "That word bums me out unless it's between the words ‘meat' and ‘pizza'." Judy McGuire isn't a fan either: "… whenever I hear it, I immediately envision the couple in question licking honey off each other and then rutting doggie style on a circular-bed. It just conjures up visions of 1970s porn starring whomever uttered the word."soulmateHistory: Dates from 1822 and a letter by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in which the poet wrote "You must have a Soulmate as well as a House or Yoke-mate".Pros: I can't help you.Cons: Quite possibly the most loathsome, barf-provoking word in the English language or any other.Sources cannot confirm that soulmate is objectively the worst word in the world. However, McKean-who collected romance-related terms from many languages in That's Amore-says many are far better, or at least "weirdly evocative," such as Zuckerschnecke and jegar, German and Persian words for a sugar snail and a liver, respectively. Says McKean, "A cute snail! Made of sugar! A large internal organ! These are the things we call the people we love." Reaching even deeper into the cereal box of language, McKean also recommends bookie-sug, a South Carolina term for sweetheart collected in the Dictionary of American Regional English, saying, "I like it because it's so absurd."What about you, my sugar snails and bookie-sugs? Let us know the terms you love, hate, like, and like-like, in comments.
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I’d Like You to Meet My…? The Dilemma of Labeling Your Love