Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

I’d like you to meet my life partner...

IT'S QUITE easy to prove that there are too many useless words in the English language. Just get divorced or separated. Get a new partner (that’s the easy part) and then find the appropriate word to describe him or her (that’s the hard part). 

There is a smorgasbord of words to choose from; partner, lover, mate, sweetheart, boyfriend, girlfriend, lady friend, man friend, special friend, best friend, bed friend, fuck buddy, companion, paramour, date, significant other, better half, bed warmer, life partner, soul mate, smooch mate, toy boy, cougar and on it goes…

If you like country and western music and denim suits you could always say my man or my woman, but that’s best said wearing a cowboy hat while playing guitar on a bull with large horns. My woman was also the preferred term of endearment for cave-dwelling men with large clubs and primal urges.

Girlfriend/boyfriend sound like you are still wearing braces (Fr. appareil orthodontique) and waiting for the onset of puberty. Date is an old-fashioned term for a potential relationship, salty popcorn, swallowing tongues and a Disney movie.

If you work for the USA census office you might prefer POSSLQ - pronounced possilcue - person of opposite sex sharing living quarters – but it does lack a bit of warmth and sounds really bizarre in French.

Significant other, also known as SO, is about as romantic as possilcue.

Toy boy and cougar are terms best left to be used by your cynical or insanely jealous friends.

Smooch mate sounds like you are going out with a shaggy dog with a big wet tongue.

Mate is confusing. For some, it’s two Australian males drinking beer, which is not anyone’s idea of romance. For others, it’s a gene-sharing activity practised by most living organisms. For further information turn to page 76 of your Year 12 Biology book.

Paramour has an aura of illicit Euro glamour and neatly trimmed moustaches, but it sounds like a naked paratrooper in military boots has just parachuted into your bedroom (which might be your cup of tea).

Suitor sounds like you are in a queue in the Supermarket of Love and the cashier’s name is Helen of Troy.

Electric blanket, hot water bottle and bed warmer are very utilitarian terms, favoured by salespeople in department stores on the coldest day of the year.

Life partner sounds contractual and begs the question: Darling, have you put a deposit down on a double plot in the cemetery?

Mistress and gigolo are best used in your fantasies.

Partner is pretty useful, but some people may think you play golf and own a law firm.

Companion lacks a sense of commitment, as if you are slightly bored and tag along to keep each other company. Dogs, cats and smooch mates make good companions.

Bedfriend or fuck buddy are increasingly popular terms, but the relationship is clearly mattress-dominated and there is little or no attachment, except for the pink fluffy handcuffs in the top drawer.

Lover is much more intense, but can range in meaning from a secret second person you are having sex with (paramour), to someone you really care about and would most likely give your life to make them happy… which is quite a challenging term to use on the second or third date.

Soul mates (two souls with a deep strong connection) is even more intense than lover; easy to say, but hard to find. But like lovers, soul mates are often downgraded to partner status or bed warmers after the initial romantic rush.

Special friend and best friend are waiting to be upgraded to boyfriend or girlfriend status. If you are a special friend ffn (fun for now), the chances of getting an upgrade to lover are pretty much zero. You still have a chance if you’re a special friend ltp (long term potential).

Confused? The answer is easy.  Next time you have to introduce your better half, a good worse half would simply say: This is Marie-Celeste or I would like to introduce you to William.

Let the others wrestle with the terminology so you can concentrate on some serious loving.


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