Friday, 5 November 2010

Witness the awesome power of synoyms!

In primary school (dunno what non-UK equivalents are. Kindergarten?), they told us never to use the word said. Or nice. We had a big list of synonyms up on the wall, and we were told synonyms had power. Synonyms were strong and had specificity (my new favourite word).
So we, as asexuals, have the generic word ‘friend’, which we’re trying to extract highly varied, nuanced and specificitised (sorry) meanings from. And we’re having as much luck as juicing a stone. Time to turn, as my teachers would be glad to hear me say, to the awesome power of synonyms.

As a thought exercise, inspired by a comment from WritingFromFactorX, I’m going to list a variety of synonyms and the meanings we might have a chance of getting them to have:

Someone I know- Less formal-sounding than acquaintance, without the commitment of friend.

Acquaintance- A fairly simple one. It’d be nice if we used this more. If you ‘Acquainted’ someone on facebook. It would remove a lot of the extreme end of the devaluation of friend. However, it sounds rather frosty. It’d be tricky to use often in real life without people thinking you were standoffish. Which you especially don’t want to do when you’re forming your Awesome Circle of Asexy Intimacy.

Associate- Someone you associate with. Someone you work as a team with? Would be useful, if it didn’t sound as if you were threatening corporate takeover every time you used it.

Mate- Still fairly casual. To me implies someone you spend time with, but it doesn’t run that deep. Banter and paintball, not soul-searching and commitment. Alternatively pal, buddy, etc.

Confidant- A nice word, indicating a relationship very deep but not romantic or necessarily committed. I think this could be one of the more useable ones on this list, especially if you find yourself with an inner circle who you tell everything to.

Companion- You could get it to imply some sort of faithful commitment outside of sexual/romantic relationships. There’d be a bit of the romantic idea brought it. I think this word would only really be useful if you had a few strong, primary relationships, romantic friendships, binary-blurring stuff, and decided together that you would actively use the word ‘companion’ instead of ‘partner’, to indicate the different nature of your relationship.

Partner- A good fallback for a primary relationship that’s still not best described by standard labels. However, it’s a bit too monogamous.

Darling, dear, treasure, honey, pet, duck- Said with a bit of humour, I think meaning could underlie the joke. If there’s someone with whom you’re very intimate in some way, constantly referring to them as ‘my darling’ (both in first and third person) could show a little more flexibility in the status of the relationship than just ‘friend’. Definitely that you see your relationship as important enough to give them their own unique title.

What do you think? What words do you want in your vocabulary?

PS. The online thesaurus has girlfriend as the antonym for boyfriend. How peculiar.


  1. You know, I was thinking about "mate" from the perspective of being American, where the word actually has a strong romantic/sexual context (we don't use it to refer to humans much, and certainly not friends). And then it struck me that "mate" (in the UK context), "buddy," and "pal," all seem very masculine to me--not something that women tend to use to describe friends at all. I wonder, is that a reflection of that kind of acquaintanceship simply not being a typical female friendship pattern, or a reflection of the words simply being more likely to be used by men?

    One of the other things I hear is referring to people as "my people," which is oddly possessive but at the same time... protective? In a reciprocal way? I tend to hear it in an implication that someone is willing to go to bat for you, and you feel likewise about them.

  2. All of your synonyms describe relationships in terms of two people. Sometimes identifying someone with a group helps describe the relationship. Putting the relationship in context of other relationships is also useful, so the listener can compare with other relationships.
    Some phrases I use:
    Friend of a friend-someone who is friends with one of my friends, enough that I know they're OK.

    In my group of (adjective) friends- . the group can be "school friends" "work friends" etc. The meaning here is that they are a friend and the relationship we have is what would be expected socially of people in that situation who are friends. If they were closer, I'd say "a close friend" or use some other term.

    Family friend- someone who is close to several people in my family. can also refer groups. "the Smiths are family friends" "Bob and his girlfriend are family friends" etc.

  3. WritingFromFactorX, extremely good point, that I hadn't really noticed. Friend words gendered male tend to be an awful lot less close. Then again, what friend words are gendered female? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any.

    Anonymous- I kept to two people because I was looking for words you could use to describe one specific person, but you're right, mentioning your relationship in terms of other relationships can be much more nuanced.

  4. Off the top of my head, "BFF" and "bestie" are specifically gendered female, as is the use of "girlfriend" to mean a platonic female friend rather than a girl whom one is dating. All of those are skewed rather young, though. "Girlfriend" is maybe a little less close than the other two, but they all connotate a fairly intimate relationship.

    I know that the women I know are much more likely to address eachother as "dear," or "darling," or other pet words like "sweetheart."

    I wonder--does some of this gendered language stem from latent homophobia? Much of the language we use around friendships imagines same-sex homosocial friendships being the dominant paradigm, and I wonder how much of our male-specific conceptions of friendship are influenced by not wanting to be thought of as gay. It seems like an issue which is a lot less potent for women.

  5. The online thesaurus also has sisterhood as the antonym of brotherhood, despite being similar ideas. I was wondering if you used brotherhood in an ironic sense in your last post since it was about gender, but maybe we could have a Fellowship of Aromantics instead?

  6. Quantum Moon- it betrays a complete lack of understanding of what antonyms are.

    I used Brotherhood even though I knew it was an exclusionary term because I was going for sarcastic, and Brotherhood sounds more 'secret society-y'. We can indeed have a Fellowship of Aromantics. With hooded robes. And sigils.

  7. I approve of this idea. What color hooded robes, incidentally?

  8. Oh god! I sense the flag debate all over again! We don't want a depressing colour- black is too evil, and white stains to easily. Then again, purple velvet would possibly be a little... pompous- especially given it's associations throughout most of the last 2000 years of Western history. We could go for red, since I already have a red velvet hood, but that doesn't represent much (except hymens, hence troubling narratives on virginity).

    Hmm. This needs much thought. I think we can all agree, though, we should end up looking like this guy:

  9. If we're aiming to look like that guy, black seems entirely apropros. :P

    I thought of grey, but that's not only depressing but it also sends entirely the wrong message. Anyway, oughtn't aromanticism have its own color pattern separate from asexuality? I like a nice blue, myself.

  10. I had a thought shortly after commenting- the colour of a nice, slightly grey, stormy, blue-green sea.