Sunday, 7 October 2007


Yes, I know who he is - after 17 years, I ought to! - but what is he?

I mean how do I refer to him?
This is the one question that the law relating to Civil Partnerships seems to have totally overlooked.

If you're engaged, then you are each other’s fiancé after which, if and when you marry, you have a range of possibilities: husband and wife, hubby and missus or her-indoors and him-down-the-pub…

But what word or words do I use when I want to say, "Hello, have you met David, he’s my -----------"?

OK, you could say, "my Civil Partner…" and in some instances (legal, medical or when someone at a party is coming on strong to one’s said CP) these indeed may be the words that should be used.

But it’s really not functional in a normal, everyday kind of way. So what is?

You can’t abbreviate to "my cp" because it sounds weird - sort of damp and oozy - and to the hard of hearing could easily be misheard as "seedy". Apart from which, in the sexual arena, CP has an altogether different meaning and one that is probably best to avoid using if one is to not wanting to excite the prurient or shock those of a nervous disposition.

What about just "Partner" then: well, yes, but… I called him that when we just lived together and people who aren’t wed or civil-partnered call their whatevertheyares partners so that won't quite do... And there is still the potential for confusion with the Other Kind of partner - as in Bradford & Bingley or Gabbitas & Thring…

I’ve never favoured those ubiquitous gay terms such as lover - which sounds too temporary and uncommitted - or boyfriend which is patently ludicrous when used by gents who are not too many bus-rides away from their free bus-passes!

There is of course spouse which is a Middle English word derived from the Old French spous which comes, in turn, from the Latin sponsus, from past participle of spondre: meaning to pledge or, in other words, one promised or betrothed to another.

But the law does not permit this option, as can be seen from various government notices in which spouse and civil partner are comparable by clearly distinct terms.

Our friend, Qenny charmingly refers to his whateveryoucallit as My Lovely Husband™ which is fun but, as he says, is his ™!

Incidentally, the history of the word ‘husband’ is, in itself, fascinating…
The English word husband, even though it is a basic kinship term, is not a native English word. It comes ultimately from the Old Norse word hsbndi, meaning "master of a house," which was borrowed into Old English as hsbnda.

The second element in hsbndi, bndi, means "a man who has land and stock" and comes from the Old Norse verb ba, meaning "to live, dwell, have a household." The master of the house was usually a spouse as well, of course, and it would seem that the main modern sense of husband arises from this overlap.

When the Norsemen settled in Anglo-Saxon England, they would often take Anglo-Saxon women as their wives; it was then natural to refer to the husband using the Norse word for the concept, and to refer to the wife with her Anglo-Saxon (Old English) designation, wf, "woman, wife" (Modern English wife). Interestingly, Old English did have a feminine word related to Old Norse hsbndi that meant "mistress of a house," namely, hsbonde. Had this word survived into Modern English, it would have sounded identical to husband.
So there we are, any suggestions would be helpful - meanwhile, maybe we’ll use Magician and Assistant!


LisaH said...

It's a difficult one - and there really should be something appropriate along the lines of civil partner.
Since seeing the photo of the beautiful rings you exchanged I thought momentarily that you could say 'ring bearer', but realised straight away that might not be a tasteful option.

Brian Sibley said...

MARK comments...

I’m no expert of course but isn’t the easiest option for each of you to introduce the other as your husband? Also to refer to your husband rather than your partner, friend or whatever when talking about the other one in their absence.

Makes it clear that you’re ‘married’ until and unless it becomes common place to use it as an abbreviation of ‘common-law husband’ in general parlance.

What looks odd though is Brian’s status on Facebook now – it just says he’s married. Of the options available it’s the most accurate but also potentially and unintentionally misleading for those who don’t know him.

Brian Sibley said...

Good point, Mark, I'll go back to being "in a relationship"!

Laurie Mann said...

Love the wedding picture!

Husband works for me.

Suzanne said...

Yeah... my first reaction was "what's wrong with husband & husband"?
Anyway, what's in a word? That which we call a *** (fill in the blanks), by any other name, etc. etc.

Brian Sibley said...

GILL comments...

At the risk of introducing a cliché into your search for what to call each other......don't forget that well known truism: "The Greeks have a word for it"!!

Don't know what it is though, you will have to ask Ireni...

Eudora said...

More difficult for a spanish like me resolve a litle problem of "titles" in english... All I can say is that in Spain the law permit not a simple civil contract but a real marriage, a "civil wedding" we call here (and is very, very, very complicate describe the crisis and shock that this subject created in the society.)

Then, you are, for all purpose, husban and husband.

We have to words, "esposo" (husband) and "marido" (from the latin maritus) but "marido" (very curious) is only for a man married with a woman... (¿?).

Definitely: husband, sponsus, "esposo".....and, of course, he is your rib (spanish sentence.)

Qenny said...

Although I refer to my Lovely Husband™ in those terms on my blog, in real life, I usually introduce or refer to him as my husband, plain and simple. It throws some people a bit, but they'll learn.

Personally, I've had more difficulty with the word used to describe our status. Are we married? Well, no, the legislation (both here and in NZ, where we did the deed) makes a distinction, and in NZ at least, makes specific provision to "protect the language of marriage".

There, it's a civil union rather than a partnership. Does that mean we are civilly unionised? That conjures up a picture of Arthur Scargill eating canapés. And here, is one civilly partnered. Can it be done in an uncivil manner? Or can it all be simplified by just pointing out that we're civilised?

The latter option has the unfortunate side effect of suggesting that straight people can never be civilised (here - in NZ, straight couples can choose civil union over traditional marriage).

Oh, it's a hornet's nest and no mistake.

I tried "husman" for a while, but it never really caught on. In contrast, my other nuptial neologism, "groomsmaids", took off right away.