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Concerning pedantry

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I've been wondering about terminology.

There was a conversation yesterday where one half of a couple mentioned that they couldn't make a particular date for a class because they were going to see her parents. The guy made a joke about maybe he ought to be going to class. A comment was made about him wanting to get out of seeing the mother-in-law.

The two of them aren't married. They show no signs of ever getting married. Therefore the term mother-in-law is incorrect, because there's no law involved.

But they've been together for over ten years. I'm not sure how long they've been living together, but they share a house and a mortgage. They are essentially married in all senses apart from the legal one. So does the term mother-in-law apply? Given the increased number of couples who are cohabiting but never getting married, is it just natural evolution of language that terms which once applied only to married couples now apply to couples living together?

There's no point to this post. I'm just pondering.
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On March 11th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC), eeveeichooseyou commented:
That's actually exactly how language evolves :D Terms get broader or narrower meanings, or new ones get created, or old ones die out etc.

I predict '(relation)-in-law' will probably stick around cos it fills a gap, and no one really thinks about what the term itself literally means when they use it, it just embodies the relationship between two people.
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On March 12th, 2010 01:32 pm (UTC), rhube replied:
I'm interested in teh ways that language evolves, and agree that it can and does evolve in similar ways. However, I feel that there is a significant difference, here. 'mother-in-law' is a word that I really do find the literal meaning called attention to every time it is used. What I suspect we *may* see more of, is people just talking about the relations of their partners by name, and the word itself dorpping out of usage, only really coming in when people want to be specific about the relationship. For me there is a very significant difference in describing the relationship between a partner's mother, and a mother-in-law. Because of how I feel about marriage, I never, ever want to have the relationship of daughter-in-law to a mother-in-law, but I firmly hope I will one day have a very good relationship with a partner's mother, whom I will probably call 'Jackie' or 'Marge' in the vast majority of all discussions concerning her, only callign her my 'partner's mother' when needing to define the relationship for someone unfamilliar with her.
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On March 11th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC), minervasolo commented:
I think it's 7 years cohabitating to be considered common law married. It does actually give you some legal rights, but not the same as officially married. My mum and Harry are common law married have been together for 15 years, but they're getting properly married to make things like inheritance tax go away and be eligible widow/er's support.
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On March 12th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC), rhube replied:
It can be considered common law married (I thought it was 3 years, but I could be wrong), but I believe the couple have to consent to seeing the relationship that way - it's not a default, but it is something they *can* appeal to if they want to.

I once had a discussion with a couple about this who were adammant that they would actively object to being considered common law married, even though they were eligible and understood the legal benefits. I don't know if they *did* have the right to refuse to be considered common law married - no legal expert here - but I sort of hope they do.
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On March 12th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC), minervasolo replied:
Most of my knowledge of Common Law Marriage mainly comes from footnotes in Dickens novels! I think most of the legal aspects are to do with one half of the couple leaving the other in the lurch, like if they'd had kids.
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On March 12th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC), rhube commented:
It sounds to me as though it was being used ironically, and therefore it's use was nto inappropriate, although the only reason it was not innappropriate is precisely because it is, strictly speaking, incorrect. If you see what I mean.

I've known a number of people who would be pretty offended if the language that applied to married couples started applying to them by default. Usually they're not married for a reason, and the 'law' part is a big part of that reason, and they would think of themselves as not essentially married precisely because of the legal sense, which, for them, is a pretty big exception. If I ever find a long term partner, I hope my friends will not start applying the language of marriage to my relationship with him, because there will be significant reasons for our not being married. One will be the not-wanting-love-to-be-bound-by-law, thing, but another will be that I don't want to be anyone's wife, and another will be that I don't think it would be honest or just or fair for me to promise I'll be with someone when I or he may be completely different people in a few years. Which is not to get into the whole marriage debate thing - I respect that otehr people want to do that - it's merely to draw out that there are significant reasons for not being married that people may specifically not want to have papered over, and the language of marriage is a significant aspect of that. For these reasons, although I'm all for the evolution of language, I don't think it is natural in this case, precisely because it is not something many of the people it applies to feel casual about. Some do, of course, but many don't. And yet the fact that they don't doesn't preclude the use of irony, as in the example you cite (or at least, the way I read it, as you mention it was in a jokey context), not least because such irony relies on teh presumption that the partner's mother is not, in fact, a mother-in-law.

Hope this comment doesn't come over overly serious in tone - I know you were just pondering. This is my perspective on it, I guess my strong emotions on it, which I can't quite stop myself from expressing, are submitted as evidence for consideration in your pondering.
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