Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What the bloody hell does that mean?

Please welcome Matthew Lang for his final day on the Island!

So apparently, I just put a bad word into the title. When Tourism Australia was looking for a new way to advertise Australia in 2006, they came up with the Where The Bloody Hell Are You campaign. We Aussies speculate it got through because the catchphrase ‘Bloody Hell’ is very Aussie. It’s encapsulates the slightly anti-authoritarian and larrikin spirit Australia is known for. Culturally it’s used as an expression of surprise, or shock, and is used as frequently for positive surprise as negative surprise. It is, in short, fairly inoffensive.

At least, it’s fairly inoffensive in Australia. Apparently the word ‘bloody’ gets up the nose of the British, and the word ‘Hell’ goes down very badly in middle America. Writing a novel set in Australia with a cast of Australian and British characters for an American publisher (and written in American English) was also an experience trying to work out what would translate and what wouldn’t. There’s a phrase in British/Australian English which is ‘whinging and whining’, which doesn’t appear in American English, for example, and confused all the editors and proofers who looked at it. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but confusing the American reader is another matter altogether.

The reason I bring this up was to ask a few questions. The big one is: When do you know that you’ve gone from ‘boyfriends’ to ‘partners’. I was at a wedding recently, and partner came with me, and he only knew one other person there besides me. Which meant I was introducing him to a lot of people—especially as there were people there who I hadn’t seen in ages, or expected to see there. And I invariably introduced him as ‘my partner’. Language wise we’ve moved in that direction from around January I think. We were in a professional environment and got asked ‘Are you partners’ and his immediate response was ‘yes’. It was immediate, confident, unthinking and without the glance at me to assuage any insecurities. Part of me was very touched, and part of me was wondering if that was just for the benefit of the interviewer.

Yes I can be just as insecure as the next person.

My partner and I are approaching our one year anniversary, which is in about a week, and I do consider him my partner, which I would define as someone who is more than just a special friend who is a boy. I was with my ex for thirteen months, and we hit issues about six, seven months in. The funny thing is, I don’t think I ever once thought of him as my partner. I don’t think I ever once referred to him as my partner. And looking back, that’s a bit upsetting, because he is and remains a wonderful guy. But I never asked myself the questions I’ve just posed to you. And here I am now, less than a year in, and having spent less time with my partner than I have with my ex, and I’m more or less comfortable referring to him as that.

One of the reasons I raise this if to raise the point that love and relationships move at different paces. I also raise it because of a conversation I had recently with a Sydney friend who at one point could have been more than a friend (but realistically probably wouldn’t have worked out long term). He was in a long term relationship for eight years, which went very badly, and he now wonders if that’s damaged his ability to connect to other people. He also uses the terms ‘partner’ and ‘boyfriend’ in the opposite way to me. The man he was married to for eight years was his boyfriend and the guys he slept with (open relationship), he considered partners. Possibly along the lines of sexual partner. He’s also one of the guys who can’t have casual sex. Sex for him always has to be with someone he has an emotional connection to, which can muddy up the waters even further. The long suffering and very evasive point of this ramble is that he uses the terms ‘boyfriend’ and ‘partner’ in almost the exact opposite way to me. I’m not sure I even want to ask about when you go from ‘dating’ to ‘boyfriends’ (although according to my definition a few weeks). Also, when do you measure you anniversary from? From when you met, from when you started dating or from when you decided you were more than dating?

What do you all think? Really, I want to know, because I’m still massively confused.

Oh, I’m about to take my bamboo raft across to that island over there to see if I can track down Bear Grylls. If you miss me, pop your message in a bottle and float it over to me! Oh, and if I don’t find Bear, expect me back soon. There’s a number of books here I haven’t read yet...


Tam said...

Bloody hell. I particularly like that phrase and have been known to use it, in writing and in real-life. But I'm Canadian of English background. There you go. LOL I figure it's less offensive than fucking shit. A more American phrase to be sure. :-)

Partner when you move in? I would think that boyfriend is someone you date, deciding if this is the person you want something long term. Once you've decide this is it for the long-haul, then they become your partner. A partner shares a home, finances, taxes, dog poop duty, etc. So can a boyfriend I suppose. Hmmm.

I remember a few years ago, POSSLQ was popular, the US census apparently invented it, "Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters," But you could change it to PoSSSLQ for same sex. Although it sounds rather snake-like. There's even a poem.

There's nothing that I wouldn't do
If you would be my POSSLQ
You live with me and I with you,
And you will be my POSSLQ.
I'll be your friend and so much more;
That's what a POSSLQ is for.

Of y'all could just approve gay marriage and be forced to call them your husband/wife like us Canadians. :-) Fiance is also nice.

Matthew Lang said...

It would certainly be nice if gay marriage was approved. Or if all marriage was replaced with civil unions and 'marriage' rendered into antiquity as a religious observance.

That doesn't seem too likely down here in Australia at the moment though.

Dr J said...

Well, Matthew, that is one wonderful column. I very much appreciate the push/pull of language and find the various meanings of the same word in different cultures to be fascinating. I think gay marriage/significant others/partnerships to be confusing for lots of folks--in large part because of the confusing legalities and the changing climate in many places, especially here in the U. S. I have honestly always felt that boyfriend was a little light-weight even for hetero couples. If a couple are dating that may be appropriate, but when a relationship becomes more serious and has the makings of a long-term kind of involvement, then "partner" strikes me as being more honest. As for the sexual partner business, I think people just have to be more clear about it. But in the final analysis, I think all these terms will continue to be used interchangeably and depending on one's own understanding and circumstances.

As for the "bloody hell" business, I have to relate that we were very close friends with a Brit whose background was a career in the Scots Guards. "Bloody Hell" was a frequent expression that passed his lips on a number of occasions and directed at an interesting variety of situations or people. We always thought it was hilarious as having traveled extensively in the UK both hubby and I understood that "bloody" was commonly used. Honestly, I find myself exploding with it once in a while. Seems to have sufficient expressive explosion power to fit the bill. Thanks for sharing . . .

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