Are Partners People Who Part?

“Okay, we’ve got party figured out.” Pat drained the dregs from the plastic glass. What do part and parcel and partial have to do with partner?”

“Yeah,” Chris said. “We vowed to stay together ‘until death we do part.’”

Pat elbowed Chris in the ribs. “That’s ‘till death do us part.’”

“Huh? What does that mean?”

640px-Lesbian_Couple_from_back_holding_hands

Author=[http://www.flickr.com/photos/queereaster/ rt69 on flickr.com] Wikimedia Commons

“It’s the subjunctive mood, referring to a hypothetical future time. It means ‘until death parts us.’”

“Only death can part us now!” Aeron and Lee sang in close harmony.

Duet crop Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 3.12.58 PM

Author =Duet GoldStar. Wikimedia Commons

“Whoa!” Chris shook dangling fingers.

“You didn’t know we could sing,” Aeron said.

“I didn’t know I married a grammarian!”

“What about Chris’s question?” Pat asked. “What does parting, as in ‘death do us part,’ ‘parting the sea,’ ‘parting your hair,’ in other words, separating, have to do with becoming partners, which is all about joining?”

“Well,” I said, “Since about 1300, partners were people who shared ownership or use of something; they each had a part. By the early 1600s, partner also referred to a dancing companion or a pair of players forming a team, in a card game, tennis and so on. In Paradise Lost (1667), Milton has Adam refer to Eve as ‘My other self, the partner of my life.’ It’s interesting that the OED lumps together this meaning, ‘a member of a couple who live together or are habitual companions; a lover,’ with ‘a person who is linked by marriage to another, a spouse.’”

“Here’s to partners not parting,” declared Chris.

“Partners who share without parceling,” Pat added.

We clinked mainly empty glasses.

“Well, podners, we must depart,” Lee said, getting up. The others rose, exchanged farewell jabs. A cold blast and a few brown leaves swirled in as they left.

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