Where did the term signifigant other come from?

I was under the impression that it was propagated as an ungendered replacement for girl/boyfriend but with a wider audience than spouse.

However, a friend of mine is arguing that it was a much wider umbrella term for any guest outside of spouse including friends and family.

Any one have any ideas based on anything more concrete that impressions?

I remember a long time back the IRS came up with POSSLQ: person of opposite sex sharing living quarters.

Just a quick reply. I’ll try to find more later if I remember.

My M-W tenth Collegiate says 1953. “A person who is important to one’s well-being; esp: a spouse or one in a similar relationship.”

This is a tough one to search, but I do seem to be dredging up Margaret Mead in a lot of hits. Nothing confirmative tying her to the term, though.

I’m fairly sure it was the Census Bureau that came up with posslq.

I would guess that it originated in psychotherapy, or maybe as you say, as a Sociology term.

My favorite is “parental units”, from The Coneheads on old SNL

In their entry for “domestic partner”, the American Heritage dictionary notes that, "Two other terms, significant other and domestic partner, however, have seen widespread use since at least 1985 as all-purpose words for describing a spouse or a lover. Over 75 percent of Usage Panelists feel these terms can be applied to members of either heterosexual or homosexual couples. Perhaps because the noun use of other in reference to people is not very common, significant other has not been as widely favored as domestic partner. The latter is used by an increasing number of companies and organizations in drafting benefits plans that include all members of such nontraditional families. " I’m not saying I necessarily agree with that. The link follows: http://www.bartleby.com/61/26/D0332600.html Emphasis added.

The term was originally coined by psychiatrist/psychotherapist Harry Stack Sullivan, who died in the late 1940s, and was used to denote someone who serves as a social reference point in a person’s development. This could include parents, teachers, etc., if I recall correctly. No idea how it got corrupted into its present-day meaning.

Just a follow up on Mikan’s note

significant other