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Word Etiquette: partner

I often say I hate the word ‘partner’. I’m talking about ‘partner’ when used to mean ‘the person you are in a sexual relationship with’. However, on closer analysis I realise that it is not so much the word as its ubiquitous use that grates on me. The use of the word has gotten out of hand. It is bandied about willy-nilly and used at every turn. Why? Because no-one has written a guide on the use of this innocuous, insipid, uninformative, infuriating word. Here at long last are some clear cut guidelines for the use of the word ‘partner’.

DO NOT use ‘partner’ in the following situations:

1: If you know the status and gender of the person you are referring to.

What is your husband’s name?
Her husband is over there.
What is your wife’s name?
His wife is over there.

If you have made an official commitment to another person, why would you deprive them of their right honourable title?

2: If you are talking about your husband/wife/fiancé.

My husband is the father of most of my children.
My wife is a high court judge.
My fiancé does six impossible things before breakfast.

If you go to the time, trouble and expense of getting married/engaged, why on earth would you want to keep it a secret?

And there is nothing wrong with ‘girlfriend’ or ‘boyfriend’.

My boyfriend eats dog biscuits.
My girlfriend licks lollipops.

All right, for a person of mature age who is in a new relationship the terms girlfriend/boyfriend might seem a little twee (although I’d have no qualms in using ‘boyfriend’ myself). Here’s the good news; if you are in a live-in relationship and you don’t want to use boyfriend/girlfriend, you can use the terms husband/wife because you are common-law husband and wife.

DO use ‘partner’ in the following situations:

1: If you are referring to a mixed group.

Staff members are welcome to bring partners to the office party.

2: If you do not know the status/gender of the person you are referring to.

Do you have a partner?
What is your partner’s name?

3: If you are designing a form that needs to be filled in. Documents that, for some reason, include questions about the personal life of the person filling out the form might need to use the word partner to cover a wide range of possibilities. (husband/wife/fiancé/girlfriend/boyfriend/)

Please note: If you are introducing someone as your partner and you are not referring to ‘the person you are in a sexual relationship with’, please specify the type of partner you mean.

This is my dancing partner.
Allow me to introduce my business partner.
Mary is my performance partner.

If you follow these guidelines you will help to decrease the level of confusion and irritation in the world. JB 🙂

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