Julianna Baggott, About One New Word

17 Apr

Last night I was at a dinner party, I turned to introduce my husband and said, “This is Dave, my … partner.” He was kind of surprised — not by the choice to call him my partner, but because of the pause. He’s always a little nervous when I pause, not sure what’s coming next.

Then I told the story of talking my parents into calling each other partner — in support of same-sex marriage — after 50 years of saying husband and wife. They said they would. But were Dave and I? Basically, we so rarely go out that there’s little chance.

But this past week, Delaware — my little home state, my small wonder, the first state — has passed a bill allowing same-sex civil unions– a nice first step. It’s also gay pride week, and I recently met some of the transgendered people in my community who were very warm and welcoming. And, all around, it’s been on my mind.

However I don’t really personally dig the term partner. Is it the country-western vibe? Is it the fact that it feels a little sterile — like Dave’s my business partner, which, in fact, he also is?

Well, just so happens, the woman I was introducing myself, Rachelle, had recently invented a new word for this: coband – instead of husband and wife, Dave and I could be cobands. Here’s Rachelle’s post on the word.  And a little more on the derivation of husband.

The Free Dictionary, online, puts it this way:

“The English word husband, even though it is a basic kinship term, is not a native English word. It comes ultimately from the Old Norse word husbondi, meaning “master of a house,” which was borrowed into Old English as husbonda. The second element in husbondi, bondi, means “a man who has land and stock” and comes from the Old Norse verb bua, meaning “to live, dwell, have a household.” The master of the house was usually a spouse as well, of course, and it would seem that the main modern sense of husband arises from this overlap. When the Norsemen settled in Anglo-Saxon England, they would often take Anglo-Saxon women as their wives; it was then natural to refer to the husband using the Norse word for the concept, and to refer to the wife with her Anglo-Saxon (Old English) designation, wif, “woman, wife” (Modern English wife). Interestingly, Old English did have a feminine word related to Old Norse husbondi that meant “mistress of a house,” namely, husbonde. Had this word survived into Modern English, it would have sounded identical to husband surely leading to ambiguities.

Now Dave and I aren’t new to inventing new words. This past week, I invented the term exaggerabation — when you exaggerate in your own head or aloud and alone.  I’ve also been working on a series of poems that use words dropped from the English language — dansyheaded, buzznack, hedgecreep.  One is forthcoming in the next Best American Poetry, edited by Kevin Young.

Dave is trying to get the saying “hug the bear” off the ground. Basically, he thinks that he once heard that the musculature of bears doesn’t allow them to scratch their own chests and so if you’re confronted by a bear, you should hug it. I don’t actually have faith in Dave’s understanding of the musculature of bears — or at least not enough to hug one that’s attacking me. But, still, I get it. When confronted with a huge problem that could maul you, sometimes you have to get in close and embrace it. (I find myself sometimes saying hug the bear, in spite of my issues with it.)

As the evening ripped along, I found myself really liking the term coband. Dave’s my coband. I’m his coband. We’re each other’s cobands. It started to settle into my head and, once I said it a few times, it felt right in my mouth.

And so my post for Aboutaword is really, quite literally, about one word. I might just be exaggerbating here, but I think it’s one of my favorite new inventions of the year!


Julianna Baggott is the author of seventeen books. Her latest novel, THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, was published this spring, under her pen name Bridget Asher. As Baggott, she’s published three collections of poetry, most notably, LIZZIE BORDEN IN LOVE. (Her first collection is free through her website. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Best American Poetry, Poetry, and on NPR’s Talk of the Nation. The first book of an upcoming post-apocalyptic trilogy, PURE, will be published next year. She teaches creative writing at Florida State University’s Creative Writing Program. For more musings, you can visit her blog.

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