Partners, other halves and significant others

There was some discussion last night at the polyglot conversation group about the words boyfriend and girlfriend and their equivalents in other languages, particularly in Dutch. In English the words boyfriend and girlfriend seem to indicate someone who is relatively young, so don’t seem quite appropriate for use by more mature couples when referring to each other. There are many alternatives, including partner, life partner, other half, better half, companion, gentleman/lady friend, soul mate, significant other, sweetheart, lover, paramour and so on. Do you use or do you know others?

In Dutch it’s much easier – a special male friend is referred to as mijn vriend (my (male) friend), and a special female friend is referred to as mijn vriendin (my (female) friend). A non-intimate friend is simply een vriend(in) (a friend) or een vriend(in) van mij (a friend of mine).

In Welsh it’s straightforward as well – cariad covers both boyfriend and girlfriend, and cyfaill or ffrind is used for ordinary friends.

This entry was posted in Dutch, English, Language, Welsh, Words and phrases.

13 Responses to Partners, other halves and significant others

  1. In several Turkic languages they use ‘yoldash’ to talk about the beloved one, girlfriend/boyfriend. It literally means ‘companion of the way’ (yol: way, dash: companion, partner). The tradition is probably rooted in nomadic ways.

  2. David Eger says:

    “In Dutch it’s much easier – a special male friend is referred to as mijn vriend (my (male) friend), and a special female friend is referred to as mijn vriendin (my (female) friend).”

    I have always found that problematic. German has Freund and Freundin, but what about a friend of the opposite sex who is not ‘special’? Perhaps it is so modern a concept that the (formal) language has not yet caught up with it. By the same token, it is assumed that a friend (Freund or Freundin) of the same sex as the subject is not ‘special’.

    I sometimes hear women of my mother’s generation and older refer to their female friends as ‘girlfriends’ (usually only when talking about their youth). I’ve never heard a heterosexual man refer to his ‘boyfriends’, though.

  3. Remd says:

    I think it’s much easier in Spanish. We use novio/novia for boyfriend/girlfriend (I think it comes from groom/bride) and it’s completely different from a normal friend with whom you are not romantically involved, which would be called amigo/amiga. There’s also another word for husband/wife which is also different, just as in English.

    As far as I know it’s quite similar in other Romance languages, not all of them though. In Romanian prieten/prietena means friend and it’s used just as in Dutch. (prietenul meu – my boyfriend vs. un prieten de-ai mei – a friend of mine)

  4. Simon says:

    David – according to a friend of mine who’s studying German, the German words for friend can be used in the same way as Dutch: mein Freund (m) = boyfriend, meine Freundin (f) = girlfriend, and ein Freund (von mir) (m) / eine Freundin (von mir) (f) = a friend (of mine) – an ordinary friend.

  5. David Eger says:

    That’s useful to know, Simon.

    Something else I remember from Latvia is that Latvians, when speaking English, would sometimes refer to a longer-term boyfriend or girlfriend as their ‘husband’ or ‘wife’; presumably, their Latvian counterparts, ‘vīrs’ and ‘sieva’ would be used in the same way, if a relationship were considered ‘permanent’ (even though it may not be), regardless of actual marital status.

  6. Zohar says:

    In Hebrew, “חבר” (xaver) means “(male) friend” when spoken by a male, and boyfriend when spoken by a female, and “חברה” (xavera), “(female) friend” by a female and girlfriend by a male, with the words “ידיד” and “ידידה” (yadid/yedida) to cover the opposite-gender friend case.

  7. Jayarava says:

    What case is the Welsh in though?

  8. Jim M. says:

    Indonesian: “pacar” covers both genders, all ages.

  9. Simon says:

    Jayarava – I mention the Welsh equivalent in the post – cariad for male and female intimate friends. Which is also the equivalent of darling, dear, i.e. a term of affection.

  10. Rauli says:

    Finnish has “ystävä” for ‘friend’. The one you’re in a relationship with is called poikaystävä (boyfriend), tyttöystävä (girlfriend), miesystävä (“manfriend”), naisystävä (“womanfriend”). There is no clear age limit as to when to start using the latter words, and even adults can use the first ones.

    Then there’s avomies/avovaimo when you live together without being married, and mies/vaimo when you are married. “Mies” is literally just ‘man’, but the possessive makes it a husband (mieheni = my man = husband). If you want to be clear, you can say aviomies/aviovaimo (married husband/wife). Note the difference between avo- and avio-. None of these words have any problems in describing same-sex relationships.

    Japanese has 友達 (tomodachi) and 友人 (yuujin) for ‘friend’. Yuujin is more formal than tomodachi. A boyfriend is 彼 (kare) or 彼氏 (kareshi), a girlfriend is 彼女 (kanojo). Originally they just meant ‘he’ and ‘she’, and can still be used in that function as well. Except kareshi, which I think only means a boyfriend.

  11. David Eger says:

    “What case is the Welsh in though?”

    I’m not sure what you mean by that, Jayarava. Welsh doesn’t have cases in the sense that Latin or German does. It does have mutations, which can sometimes have a similar function to cases (They are applied to nouns following prepositions – but also occur after possessive pronouns). ‘Cariad’ is the unmutated form of the word. The mutated forms are: ‘gariad’, ‘chariad’ and ‘nghariad’.

  12. Yenlit says:

    It’s true that ‘cariad’ is used for either gender girlfriend/boyfriend or ‘darling’ although grammatically the noun’s gender is masculine.
    Cariad is also used to translate ‘love’ as in:
    llawer o gariad ‘lots of love’ (ending of letters; greeting cards etc.)
    cariad brawdol ‘brotherly love’
    cariad llo bach ‘puppy love’
    cariad perffaith ‘perfect love’
    There’s also other older, slightly twee ‘cariad’ words corresponding to ‘sweetheart’ cariadfab (boyfriend) and cariadferch ‘lady-love’ (girlfriend)

    Obviously ‘cariad’ is derived from the verb ‘caru’ (to love) with an agent noun suffix ‘–iad’ (car + iad)
    Interestingly, the initial ‘C’ in British Celtic words originating from Indo-European initial ‘K’ sometimes corresponds to initial ‘H’ in Germanic English and German words from Indo-European. The initial ‘K’ is also to be seen in equivalent Latin words.
    Welsh caru (to love)
    Latin carus (beloved, dear)
    Old English hôre (whore)

    Proto-Indo-European *kāro- (English whore), akin to Sanskrit काम (kāma, “love”).

  13. pittmirg says:

    In Polish the words for ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ are identical to the words for ‘lad’ and ‘girl’ (chłopak and dziewczyna, respectively). Generally, when these are modified by a possessive pronoun, the former meaning is intended.

    There’s also a gender-neutral (though grammatically feminine) word sympatia, which can mean ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’.

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