The ubiquity of ‘partner’

I rang the hairdresser to say I had to be 10 minutes late for the hairdo: my husband is disabled, I explained, and I had to pick up some medications for him which delayed me.

That was fine, and as the young woman was cutting my hair she asked chattily: “So, how long has your partner been disabled?”

“Look, honey,” I said. “I went to the trouble of marrying this guy! He’s not my ‘partner’. He’s my husband!”

“Oh, sorry,” she mumbled: but I could see she was a little aggrieved. Partner – husband – what’s the difference?

Correct morals

I mustn’t be cantankerous, I told myself: but when I was a girl, older women were inclined to correct you, and that was especially so in France, where matriarchs laid down the law about everything from correct grammar to correct morals.

I always swore I wouldn’t reprimand the young, who have their own way of doing things: I bite my lip when I hear ‘he was learning me to drive’ or ‘I like them gadgets’, (stifling my old English teacher’s voice barking out -“those gadgets, please!”)

But am I entitled to insist that after nearly 40 years’ wedlock, I have earned the right to say ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ rather than ‘partner’? A partner, to me, is someone you do business with: if you write a book with a co-author, you have a writing partner: if you set up a firm with someone, that’s a partner. If you dance, you may have a dancing partner, but it doesn’t necessarily imply he or she is your partner for life.


It’s the distortion of language – making it less precise, more vague – that I reject.

Two social pressures are foisting ‘partner’ on us: one is the decline of marriage and the rise of co-habitation, and in co-habiting relationships, people don’t quite know what to call their ‘other half’. (Sometimes they say ‘my other half’, which is, funnily, almost more sacramental than husband or wife – ‘other half’ really does imply ‘two in one flesh’.)

Same-sex unions

The second is the rise of same-sex unions, although again, paradoxically, in some cases same-sex couples actually prefer ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. I believe the singer Elton John and David Furnish refer to each other as ‘husband’.

But I honestly don’t think some young folk now know the difference between ‘husband’, ‘wife’, and ‘partner’ (let alone ‘spouse’ – still favoured in France, by the way – ‘epouse’. French unmarried partners are described as ‘companions’ – Valerie Trierweiler is President Hollande’s ‘companion’.)

Perhaps the Pope’s consultation about the future of marriage and the family should address this ubiquity of the word ‘partner’ replacing that of spouses.


Appalling attitude to Jews

A Berlin synagogue has put on display an exhibition about the horrific Kristallnacht in November 1938 when German Jews were attacked and killed, and their synagogues and shops burned and destroyed. Among the exhibits is a shameful report by the Irish envoy Charles Bewley, who was notorious for his anti-Semitic views, in which he referred to the ìundesirables in the Jewish raceî.

In fact, a year earlier, in 1937, The Irish Catholic announced it was ìappalledî by the attitudes shown by Mr Bewley: this paper condemned utterly a speech Bewley made to Berlin saying ìYour Reich and its Leader [Hitler] has many admirers among our youthî. ìIn Ireland, as elsewhere,î commented this newspaper, ìthere may be some ignorant hero-worship of Hitler, but we are safe in stating that so far it is the character accorded to American gangsters or criminalsÖ.Every Irish man and woman, Catholic or Protestant, worthy of the name entertains the utmost contempt for present-day GermanyÖî This was in the context of Hitlerís attacks on the churches; in any case diplomats like Bewley should stop saying ìthe quare thingî abroad and be reminded of their duty ìto the susceptibilities of the people whom they representî.

Bewley was a scion of the distinguished Quaker family of Bewleyís Cafeterias, who converted to Catholicism, but with his own fanatical gloss. The lustre of his name promoted him in Irelandís foreign service more than was wise, or right. He was dismissed in 1940 and turned to writing propaganda for Goebbels. His family still regards him with bafflement.

Remembering our war dead

The November commemorations of the Great War of 1914-18 are always touching: my mother often told me how she watched the departing Irish soldiers marching around St Stephensí Green singing ìAre we downhearted? No!î, and tears would spring to her eyes as she thought of those young lads. The youngest Irish volunteer ñ who died – was a 14-year-old drummer boy from Wexford.

It is respectful to their memory that An Uachtar·n and An Taoiseach should participate in these commemorations, and I applaud the Sinn Fein Mayor of Belfast, M·irtÌn ” Muilloir, for doing so, too.