Trying to parse that poly jargon? Communities often have a need for a vocabulary of their own. When you’re trying to argue for mainstream acceptance of something that not many people know about or approve of you need something to call it, after all; “that thing where you get to like all the people and nobody minds” would start to sound a bit long-winded after a while.
Have you ever noticed, though, quite how many of those new words are frankly a bit ridiculous? As a community, we seem to be excellent at coming up with things that sound so stupid I can’t quite bring myself to say them out loud without cringing.
Here, presented with the best will in the world and my tongue firmly in my cheek, are a few choice picks. I use many of these words myself, and am probably guilty of almost everything I send up over the course of this glossary. But what good are we if we cannot laugh at ourselves, hmm?
Compersion is the feeling of happiness derived from watching someone you love being adorable with someone else. Unfortunately, it also makes you sound like you work in a comedy-hour pastiche of a blue collar executive’s office. After all, you’ll never achieve your true compersive potential across the board unless you hammer out some actionable key performance indicators going forward. My least favourite thing about that sentence is that it is probably actually true.
At some point, someone decided that safer sex discourse needed a phrase meaning ‘to have PIV intercourse without a condom’ carefully designed to come across (no pun intended) as biologically squicky and disgusting as possible. It doesn’t sound so much like the product of a mature decision based on mutual trust and respect as it does something a particularly disgusting pair of small boys might do in a treehouse that no girls are allowed in. On the other hand, making frequent requests to ‘fluid bond’ with someone is probably a uniquely effective method of contraception and STI prevention.
Many years ago, a friend of mine was drunk at a party and lamenting how much he didn’t like the word ‘compersion’. “It’s so cold and clinical”, he said. “Why can’t we have a nice fluffy word to mean that, like...I dunno...’frubbly’, or something?” A mutual friend who I later went on to date for a few years was instantly inspired by this and declared that she’d have it in the OED inside a decade. Admittedly she didn’t quite manage that, but it does pop up in a variety of poly glossaries written by people we don’t know and it was in the Guardian that one time.
Some of the greatest pleasures in life are just too good to leave unchallenged, you know? Take, for example, that electrifying phase all good relationships seem to have for the first few months. There’s this bit where all you want to do is hang out with them and have sex with them and chat to them and think about them and talk about them...it soon mellows out into something more sustainable, but it’s fun while it lasts. This is precisely why we needed to find a cold, soulless acronym to use for it. After all, what good is emotion left unanalysed?
I don’t know who originally chose the word ‘polyamory’, but I sometimes wonder if they didn’t do it on purpose to wind up irredeemable pretentious twats like me who have spent enough time studying literature and language to never quite stop being annoyed by the fact that it is a hybrid word. Hybrid words, as we all know, are mish-mashes of multiple dead languages that work perfectly well till some sod at a dinner party suddenly comes out with “Polyamory is wrong! It is derived from the Greek ‘polys’ meaning ‘many’ and the Latin ‘amor’ meaning ‘love’; it’s a bastard word!” I have been That Person, and while it is indeed true that really the word should be either multiamory or polyphilia we should probably all shut up about it already.
Once there is more than one other person involved in your relationship life, it can get difficult to describe the connections without resorting to diagrams. Someone noticed at some point that those diagrams bear a striking resemblance to molecular structure, and if you extend the metaphor to include valency bonds and such it is actually quite an apt one. I have never been able to decide if this word is quite clever really or actively the most unbearable thing I have ever heard; I just know that it’s one of the two. Either way, I can’t bring myself to utter it aloud for fear of being branded One Of Those People: the ones so far vanished into their own subcultural arses that they no longer even realise how incomprehensibly stupid they sound to most people in the outside world.
A word meaning ‘I don’t have room in my life for any more relationships at the moment’, usually used by smug twats who want everyone to know just how much sex they’re having without ruling out the possibility of a one night stand with you, you lucky soul. “I’m feeling a bit polysaturated at the moment and I can’t commit to anything new right now - but hey, I’m still free every third Thursday evening...”
The notion that there are no boundaries, there is no structure, everything is chaos and nothing hurts. This has something to be said for it, actually, as a core idea; the theory goes that there is no fundamental difference between platonic and romantic relationships, and that all dynamics between people should be allowed to find their own levels free from unnecessary rules and preconceptions. The principle is sound but, as with so many things, the execution tends to be sullied by how massively convinced of their own superiority most relationship anarchists actually are. “Speaking of abstract Russian art”, you say, laughing, during a late-night conversation in the pub one weekend. “I asked my girlfriend about Kandinsky the other day and she said “Oh, I don’t have ‘girlfriends’”, interrupts the relationship anarchist. “I’m into Relationship Anarchy. We believe that relationships need no artificial terms or boundaries, and should all be allowed to find their own level.”
Every time, you guys. Every goddamn time.
Abi is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to genre fiction, social justice and M.A.C lipstick. Follow her on her website or @see_abi_write.
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