Thursday, February 7, 2008

Looking for Real Words

So I missed out on my promised Thursday post last week. A teething baby, a house full of guests ... ack.

There are a number of minor language topics on my mind this week: politically correct terms, thoughts on The Golden Compass series, questions of mass language manipulation. But the most recent one to come up is one of those niggly little issues that annoys me like a mosquito buzzing around my half-asleep ear every time I turn the light out.

I'm looking for words for two concepts that, as far as I know, don't have real words. The first is one I heard for the first time this week: heterosexual life partner. This, I'm told, is something like what a bosom friend used to be, except we don't really use that phrase anymore outside of bra shopping. My younger sister has one, and another old friend has one. But what an ugly thing to call the person you consider to be more than a best friend but less ... attached, shall we say, than a spouse! Besides which, to me it can be confused with the relationship of heterosexual people who live as spouses but aren't married.

In fact, I hate the word "partner" for describing that kind of relationship. It sounds so much like a business arrangement, nothing romantic or hopeful or optimistic in it, really.

Anyway, any good suggestions for heterosexual life partner?

The other is a little more complicated. It's a writing issue. I'll try to explain.

Sometimes you write a scene in a story, or go into a long thought-chain in an essay, in which the character or narrator is meant to be in a particular place -- this especially comes up in travel writing. And you get caught up in your narration or thoughts on the character or whatever, and your words go on long enough that the reader forgets where you are meant to be. When this happens, bringing the reader back to that place can be a little jarring.

So when you're revising, or someone's editing for you, you need to put in little placement reminders. For example, I was working on a colleague's essay about Cuba. She was describing sitting at an outdoor restaurant there, and was writing about Cuban economics and people's personal career situations and so on. She thought it went on too long, but all she needed was a little reminder that we were sitting in the restaurant: "The waiter brought us beers and I shifted the milk crate I was sitting on to let an old woman pass" or something like that.

I find these lines really important, and for myself I made up a shorthand name for them. I call them 'locator lines.' But I'm thinking there either must already exist a good term for them, or someone can come up something a little shorter or more poetic. Any ideas? If I haven't explained very well, please say so.


Karen M said...

Hi, IntrovertGirl! FYI... things have been busy at UT and elsewhere on the FISA issue, as well as Torture, and miscellaneous other abuses...

Your questions are a welcome relief. I think the first one is more difficult. I also live with someone and we're not married... and I just refer to him as my boyfriend, which doesn't seem quite dignified enough now that we are of a certain age... There use to be that acronym: posslq, but I think that might be more appropriate for your friend's situation than for ours.

Your second question sounds like more fun... brainstorming for a new coinage. Your locators are a little bit like life-lines, but not quite that dramatic. Maybe tethers?

Hopefully, others will chime in, too. The more the merrier when you're trying to storm brains...

Introvert Girl said...

Ah, Karen, one of the other people (besides my sister) who mentioned her heterosexual life partner also refers to her spouse as her "boyband": boyfriend, husband, since she doesn't like the word "husband."

I told her she reminded me of something I'd read in a book (L.M. Montgomery?) that said, " 'Husband' is such a strange word. Somewhere between a grumble and a thump."

John Cowan said...

My wife and I used to use partner for each other until we got married. Unromantic is in the eye of the beholder: it's the term used in Le Guin's The Dispossessed, for example, a book we both love.