Punching People in the Face with Linguistics

I was in this online conversation where somebody objected to the term “girlfriend” being used to refer to an adult female. This guy said the term was wrong and I pointed out that English does not have term for adult non-married relationship partner that has caught on (partner sounding too vague and significant other sounding too gay to be used consistently). The following is the rest of the conversation:

Yes, but, the lack of a word that sounds pleasing to you does not make an adult into a “girl” or “boy”. “Life partner” may sound gay, but “girlfriend” is inaccurate.The people where I live (Iowa) say “husband” and “wife”. You can explain repeatedly that you aren’t married, and it doesn’t matter.

Then the people of the state of Iowa are liars. The term “girlfriend” is not innaccurate when referring to an adult female sex partner because language isn’t something that is the result of a bunch of logicians getting together wearing white coats and referring to etymology as the standard for all truth. Words and language shift through time largely based upon the usage of the people who speak that language.

For example, the word “alternative” comes from the Latin “alter” meaning “other of two”. A good example would be heads or tails. If heads is one option then the alternative is tails. Going by the original meaning of the Latin word there could be no third “alternative” because then it would be other of three, not other of two. HOWEVER the usage panel of the American Heritage College Dictionary 2nd Edition (or maybe it was 3rd, I forget) determined that, according to general usage, it is now acceptable to use alternative in situations when there are more than two options.

The definition of a word is not simply based on the root of the word itself and the experts telling people what is right (the prescriptivist position), it is more based upon the way in which the word is generally used by the people who speak that language (the descriptivist position). The intellectually dishonest people of the state of Iowa notwithstanding, in general usage of people who speak American English it is readily understood that the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” can be and often are used to refer to adult persons.

Oh, there is one more word I am searching for at this time. What is it? Oh yeah, booyah!

4 Responses to “Punching People in the Face with Linguistics”

  1. DG says:


    Eggs-zachary! Language is dynamic. Who knew the term “Drama Queen” would end up in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition?

    Not me.

  2. Mexigogue says:

    Most new words are actually new definitions or compounds made up of old words. I like to see totally new words come into to the language. Like one time Phelps used the term “grok” and I had to look up the definition. It seems like a very succinct idea and useful term, I just wish it would catch on.

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