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January 10, 2013

Is there an age limit on the term "boyfriend/girlfriend?"

Throwing this out there for you language aficionados (yes, I do use big words in posts about language...what of it?)

We all know what a boyfriend or a girlfriend is, in the romantic sense (though linguistically, maybe there is even a question regarding when a woman is talking about her "girlfriends" as well?) Is there a time where this isn't the correct term to use?

Last night, I was reading one of my favourite blogs out there, Instapundit (it's now on my blog list on the right side of the page, so check it out!), and came upon this post. It links to a fairly humorous post on "The Cut" with some other ideas for naming your romantic partner.

The list is ok, but it does bring to mind the question: since language continues to evolve and language customs change, is it a bad thing to use those terms when they might not be appropriate?

Everybody knows what is being talked about when a 65-year-old woman talks about her boyfriend. Just like everybody knows what "their" means when you use it so you don't have to say "his/her" all the time, like when you say "when a student doesn't read their email..."

Going by the letter of the grammar law (and watch out for that ruler, kiddos!), both of them would be wrong. Can a 67-year-old man really be a "boyfriend?" Maybe not grammatically, but why play around with it? You know what you mean. I know what you mean. Even Emily Litella knows what you mean (but she will mis-hear it, most likely).

I like "boyfriend/girlfriend" a lot more than trying to figure out exactly what you mean by your word choice. Is he a "lover" if you have sex more than once a week? Does a "beau" mean that you haven't had sex yet? Is there a code? A dictionary? A Google Translate site?

So have at it, those of my fans with linguistic tendencies! Is it better to just say "boyfriend/girlfriend," or does that offend your sensibilities? And if it does, what would you say instead?

Extra credit if you can explain why women can use "girlfriend" for their female friends but guys can't use "boyfriend" for their male friends.

You only get the credit if you *don't* invoke "fear of being seen as gay" in your response.


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