What Your Pet Names Say About You

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What Your Pet Names Say About You
My boyfriend? My betrothed? The names we use for love.

Yes, love is a many-splendored thing but sometimes a person, in her down-to-earth moments, may feel as if a relationship is a series of problems to be solved. A few of those problems have to do with language.What terms should a new couple use to refer to each other? Are they "boyfriend-and-girlfriend"? "Partners"? "Significant others"? "Sigs," a still rare but up-and-coming descriptor? Or the retro and highly specific "POSSLQs" (persons of opposite sexes sharing living quarters, pronounced poss-ul-kew)? Some think of their relationship as so exceptional that it demands an exceptional word. A literary fellow I know introduced his new girlfriend to me as his "inamorata," and I had to stop my lip from assuming a snide curl. Relationships are only that special from the inside. If I'd overheard him whispering "inamorata" in her ear, that would have impressed me. Said to anyone other than the inamorata herself, though, a word like that turns both members of the couple into characters in an opéra bouffe.

A related problem for new couples is how to describe what they're doing together. Are they "dating," "seeing each other," "having a fling," "going out," "an item," or what? "We're just friends" has a particular, nonromantic meaning. "We're friends with privileges" is racier, if downright anti-romantic. I happen to like the word "courting," even if some people will feel that it comes from the same Gilbert and Sullivan show as "inamorata." Let's try it out: "So, are you two together?" "Well, we're courting." End of conversation, while a little dignified mystery remains, eh? Only someone really nosy and awful will persist: "What's that supposed to mean?" Whereupon it's possible to remain polite and give that someone the answer he or she deserves: "Oh, I don't know. Nothing very interesting. What a lovely day, don't you think?"

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