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Words Matter

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The other night someone asked me why I call my partner "partner" rather than "husband". I've been asked a few times, but this time it was at the writers' group, and that caught me a bit off guard. It made me think about words, as usual. So this is partly a #WordTrail, really.

The word husband comes from husbandry, which is the craft of tending herds of cattle and sheep. In the olden days, this made sense because a woman was her husband's property in much the same way as his sheep and cows were. But my partner doesn't own me (nor I him), so that word feels to me inappropriate. It's not a dig at English, by the way. In Hebrew, the word for a husband comes from the root of "to own" and also from the root of "to have sex". No one uses the second meaning anymore, but I find it incredibly telling that the two came from the same root.

So, I use the word partner. The writer who asked me this said that he feels that "partners" connotes more of a venture rather than a life-long commitment. To me, that's precisely the point. This is not a life-long commitment. I have every intention of staying in the relationship because my partner is amazing and our relationship is one of the main sources of happiness in my life and has been for over 20 years. But I think this relationship is good exactly because we don't expect each other to stay in it if we're unhappy. We work on our relationship every day. We don't take each other for granted.

It also made me think about "having" kids. I usually don't say I have kids. I'll say things like "I'm raising two children" or "mom of two" or something like that. Because they are not really mine when you stop and think about it. They are two wonderful young people, and while they're not independent yet and they still have a lot to learn, they are not mine. It's my job to teach them and ensure they grow and help them fill their potential, but I don't own them. That one is more difficult for me, to be honest, because saying you "have" children or even saying things like, "oh, my children are 7 and 9 years old" are so ingrained in the language that we rarely stop to think about it.

It takes work. It took effort to switch from "husband" to "partner", and we are still not entirely sure about him calling me "wife" (which is another word for woman, which is technically accurate so I'm not harping on that one). It takes effort to remember to say I'm raising two children. They are in my care. I'm responsible for them. But I don't own them.

To me, that effort is worth it. Because the words we choose to use matter. They build a picture. They build a world. We need to be careful, meticulous even, in the words we choose. I mean, that's kind of the job description, no?


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