YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Getting the Word Out : The Time Is Right for 'Posslq'

November 17, 1985|JACK SMITH

I have been asked by a reader to explain the meaning of the word posslq and to give him the correct spelling.

Alas, I am sorry that he has to ask. I have been among the several champions of that word, and had hoped that by now it would be well established in the American vernacular.

Although it turns up now and then in conversation, and even in newspaper stories, without explanation, it does not seem to have caught on.

"I am writing you because my wife and I are planning a party for my employees," explains George A. Keplinger of Laguna Beach. "When I verbally extended the invitation, I was asked if spouses were included. I responded in the affirmative and added that Posselques were invited also. Not one person knew what I meant."

Keplinger added that when he and his wife were in San Francisco they heard friends talking of acquaintances of the same sex who were sharing living quarters and referred to them as Posselques.

He said he could not find the word in the dictionary and had an idea that I had created it.

First, let's define it. Posslq means "persons of opposite sex sharing living quarters."

Since the sexual revolution dawned on us in the late 1960s, this has become an increasingly popular, open and commonplace relationship. Yet, despite the ingenuity of our tongue for creating new words for new products, new weapons and new social phenomena of all kinds, no other catchy word has come up to express it.

As for Keplinger's experience in San Francisco, it has been pointed out that if you add an s and let the o stand for of , possslq could mean "persons of the same sex sharing living quarters," which is quite a different thing.

But there is no such thing as three s 's in a row in the English language. I know that there is also no word in English ending in a q , without ue after it. But let's not distort a good word in an effort to give it another meaning. Persons of the same sex sharing living quarters will have to coin their own word.

Second, the word is pronounced poss'l-cue or perhaps pozz'l-cue .

And I have never suggested that it was my invention. Posslq is actually an acronym (POSSLQ) for Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters, a phrase found in the 1980 U.S. Census form.

As far as I know, it was discovered by William Rukeyser of Money magazine and given a great boost by Charles Osgood in one of his charming CBS radio essays.

"The very word we've been looking for!" Osgood exclaimed. "You can say, without so much as a blush: 'This is Deedee, my posslq .' Or, 'Say hello to Franklin. We're posslqs .' "

Of course the main fault with posslq , aside from its anomalous spelling, is that persons of opposite sex sharing living quarters can also be a married couple.

However, that was not the intent of the Census Bureau form, and I see no reason to discard a good word over such a trivial quibble. There are, after all, perfectly good and traditional words for the parties to a relationship that has been blessed by clergy.

One simply says: "This is my son's wife, Frieda," or "This is my daughter's hubby, Fred."

One needn't face that embarrassing silence that ends in "This is my daughter's um, ah . . . ."

Obviously, when persons of opposite sex are actually living together, the word friend won't do. What is the distraught parent to say?

What is the party to such a relationship to say herself, or himself? A person who is living with another who is not his or her spouse can hardly introduce that other person as his or her wife or husband without disguising the true nature of the relationship and seeming to bow to moral convention, which they have chosen to subvert. On the other hand, as we see, friend hardly conveys the intensity of the affair.

Posslq is a lovely answer.

As for Keplinger, my advice to him is to invite people to bring a spouse, posslq or friend.

But, of course, I'm not Miss Manners.

Los Angeles Times Articles