Sunday, March 28, 2010

What is a partner?

"Partnership - a cooperative relationship between people or groups who agree to share responsibility for achieving some specific goal.” From Google, of course.

Back when I became a partner in a law firm, I was a partner, not a “law partner.” I would introduce Joe or Sue, “my partner” who could help the client with a particular problem. It was obvious that Joe or Sue and I weren’t an item, or if we were, that we were also lawyers and that was the context in which I was introducing them.

Then, more and more lawyers started adding “law” to the description.

We’ve struggled for a few decades on describing an unmarried couple that were more than “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” Significant other was current for a while but never really caught on. Then partner caught on with its variations like “life partner” and “domestic partner” and caught on again as a description for a non-heterosexual couple. I couldn’t be just someone’s partner any more because that was taken.

The meaning of nouns often broadens and we have to add an adjective to describe the sub-categories. A century ago, a guitar was acoustic, but the latter word did not need to be said because it was subsumed in the noun. Then Les Paul came along and we needed adjectives, acoustic and electric. And often now, an electric guitar is just a guitar – it has become the main meaning of the noun.

What brought this post on was an article about a gay high school kid in today’s AJC.com. He, as opposed to the girl in Mississippi, will be allowed to go to his high school’s prom in middle Georgia with his boyfriend. The article had the necessary quotes from townspeople. The local hairdresser was opposed. The owners of a music shop had split opinions, but rather than being described as partners or co-owners, they were “business partners” with opinions about a budding partnership, no adjective, between the two teens who would be attending the prom.

Whether or not an adjective is needed, choose your partners carefully.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

For a while the official government designation was POSSLQ (pronounced posselcue)for Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. I always kind of liked that one. :)