Significant Other---Origin?

Does anyone know how they first heard this term? I see it used often on this board. I truly have an interest because, as I recall, I made up this term when I was 15, twenty years ago.

As I recall it, I didn’t like the common “boyfriend-girlfriend- husband wife” designations,so, was trying to think of something else more appropriate. The words “significant other” came to me on a long walk on the beach. I remember thinking “That’s it!” and used it from that day on. There’s nothing to concretely document this, but I used it all the time, and I’ve travelled alot and have babbled alot to plenty peoples since then, so perhaps??? I don’t have any memory of seeing it written anywhere at the time, and those who know me have said it sounds just like my mind…

I’m not looking to glory in any “credit”. But now that it seems to be part of the current lingo, I truly wonder. The twenty-year gap makes me think it might be possible. If it came from somewhere else, I’d like to know. Any help on this?

For the record, I don’t use it much anymore; it sounds kind of “cold”— but very much like my 15-year old sci-fi loving analytical self.

Just bringing this to the top for ya. Y’know, you might want to repost this in GQ - maybe you’ll get more of a response there. Just a suggestion.

Post it in GQ? Why? It fits here. I’ve heard it, used it since around the seventies. It’s just a nice way of saying: that person you feel so strongly about you are willing to give up space to them in your own home.

Am I wrong here, folks?

I just thought that, usually, word origin questions were GQ material, right?

I always kind of thought it was a legalistic term - you’d fill out a form and on it would be family members, roommates, and others. But then somebody probably thought, hey, people have tons of “others” in their lives, we need to limit it to the significant ones.

That’s just a wild guess though.

Nothing I write about any person or group should be applied to a larger group.

  • Boris Badenov

In the late 1970’s I filled out forms listing psychological profiles of people which included characterizations of their relationships with “emotionally significant objects” and “emotionally significant others” in a jargon so entrenched that it referred to those things as “ESO’s” with the implication that most readers would follow the meaning.
<p align=“cener”>Tris</p>

So what’s wrong with husband and wife, or boyfriend and girlfriend?

I think it came down in the '70s… I can understand an adult’s problem with saying, “She’s my girlfriend.” It’s like, “Are you going steady?” Kinda a silly term, really.

A person in their mid 30’s - and in the '70s is when divorce rates rose, we had a lot more unmarried older folks - could be seen trying ANYTHING to avoid this phrase.

Yer pal,

Note>> Information from this post is gathered from the Naval Correspondence Manual (Rev. 1983), the Military Protocol Handbook (Rev. XVI, 1991) and a discussion with the former Protocol Officer for Adm. Jeremy Boorda, former Chief of Naval Operations.

In the military there are many, many different kinds of ceremonies; some private, some public. But there is a protocol for invitations for every type of ceremony; who is to be invited, and who the invitee may bring.

In the 60s (which is as far back as I’ll go I promise) old traditions were clung to with an ardent ferver as the Vietnam War raged overseas. Commanding Officer’s calls were manditory as were drinks at the “O” Club Friday evenings. Military wives were even required to attend “dependent” functions.

For example, once a month a base or post CO would host a CO’s call in his post home. All officers and their wives were required to attend for cocktails. Wives would dress appropriately (cocktail dress, white gloves) and would leave calling cards (pre-printed “business” cards with their spouse’s rank, name and address. Invitation were sent, for example to: “Lt. Col. and Mrs. James Brown”. Girlfriends and fiancees were, of course, verboten. They hadn’t “joined” the service yet! (The Long Gray Line an account of the West Point class of '64 has an excellent narrative of such a function.)

Other ceremonies, such as Christmas parties, would call for wives and children to be invited: “Lt. Col. James Brown and dependents”.

For more personal ceremonies, such as when Lt. Col. Brown made full bird, he’d be allowed to invite his wife and “significant others” which included, but wasn’t limited to the kids, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa and the housekeeper, Alice.

Time steadfastly marched on, and women joined our intrepid bands in the defense forces. Things got sticky. Suddenly Col. Brown could be a Jamie and have a husband. What was proper protocol now? “Mr. and Mrs. Bob Brown”? “Mr. Bob and Col. Jamie Brown”? “Col. and Mr. Jamie (Bob?) Brown”?
The services took the wimpy way out, addressing invitations to the military member with the phrase “spouses welcome” at the bottom. For events that included children that phrase was replaced with “dependents welcome”!

We move on to the 80s and the shit really hit the fan! No longer is it correct to refer to “family members” as “dependents”. Fiancees are welcome to events, as is the girl you’ve been dating for two weeks! No more cocktail dresses, jeans are more the norm. Military members wearing civvies instead of their uniforms. Hawaiian shirt reenlistment ceremonies held at Hooters! Cats living with dogs! The rapture is at hand!

“Significant others” covers a lot of territory and doesn’t offend any specific sex, race, creed, religion or age group (at least it didn’t as of Monday) so it is now the preferable phrase when sending invitations to the command via e-mail. The printers were always so slow and expensive!

Note>> No cite for this assertion.
Since it is all-encompassing “significant others” was swiftly adopted by the civilian world, most notably the gay community in search of a term when “life mate” just wouldn’t do.

The 1978 Protocol Manual is the earliest cite I can find for the phrase “significant other”.

I leave you now to your own devices.

Inadvertantly a line was omitted from the end of para. 8 in my post above. Please insert:

“Significant others welcome” became the military phrase to cover all these instances and relationships.

I thought the phrase “significant other” was coined decades ago by some psychologist, like Erikson.

Actually, it wasn’t Erikson. It was Harry Stack Sullivan (died in 1949), though he seems to have used the term in a broader sense than we do today. Hey, that’s the first time I’ve answered a question here! Do I get a prize or something?

Thanks for the answers, especially to ChiefScott, for such a detailed post when you’re sick. When this term occured to me, it was 1976. Erickson & Harry Stack; hadn’t heard of them at that age…but was pretty well read, so perhaps absorbed it from somewhere else w/o realizing it. Or, maybe that old “hundredth monkey” theory applies linguistically as well. Thanks for giving me places to start in order to clarify this. More answers, please!

Gay folklore says it was invented by us as an extension of the “pronoun game” - in other words, to avoid having to reveal the sex of one’s lover.

mattmcl: I’m not understanding you…the “gay folklore” interests me, but do you have examples? When I adopted this, it was with an awareness that a term was needed for everyone, regardless of sexual preference or legal status. And “S.O.” fit the bill. I had friends in high school who were gay and just realizing who they were, and, well,“boyfriend”,just didn’t seem to work at that time in the South. That was one of the reasons,to me, for searching for a better term.

Is everyone sick to death of this phrase? Or does it really fit a need?