Why 'Partner' Isn't More Popular Than 'Husband' or 'Wife'

What do you call your significant other? In our modern times, it can be difficult to find the right word.

For The Atlantic, Jen Doll writes about "the curious staying power of husband and wife," noting that despite the proliferation of "cohabitation, same-sex marriage, and women who ably bring home the bacon," husband/wife is still the preferred term of choice for married folks:

One reason for the durable appeal of husband and wife is surely this: gender-neutral alternatives are sorely lacking. Many of them don't feel special enough—take the bureaucratic-sounding partner. Or companion, which once referred to a drinking buddy and later became a coded word for someone in a same-sex relationship. Sometimes they feel too special, like consort, which has royal connotations. Significant other is a twee mouthful, and though it was once used as a synonym for spouse, today it doesn't necessarily convey marriage.

I'd add that as is the issue with so many words, "partner" doesn't feel specific enough. Humans love defining terms and understanding exactly what we're talking about. When I was in high school a teacher once referred to her serious boyfriend as her partner in passing. To my curious/nosey classmates, "partner" didn't give us anything. Was she dating a woman? A man? Was she referring to her business partner? We didn't have enough intel and we desperately wanted more.

Doll did interview a lexicographer (great job title) who said that the "use of life partner is on the rise." Unfortunately for this lexicographer, this will not stand. While life partner is a great substitute for partner in that it's specific, it's a horrible, horrible term. "Hello, this is my life partner Kate" is basically all you'd have to say to make sure I was never your life partner again.

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