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Go flirtberrying and become a LAT:
love and neologisms in
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New words for Valentine's Day
by Kerry Maxwell

Go flirtberrying and become a LAT:
love and neologisms in the noughties

February 14th is Valentine's Day – think hearts, kisses, red roses These are the enduring symbols of love and romance which have been around for decades, popping up in card shops and flower stalls every February. But although the symbols of love and romance stay the same year by year, our perspectives on love and relationships are radically different to those of previous generations. And so it is that we're continually finding new ways of describing changing attitudes, conventions and practices. In this month's article we take a look at some of the new words and expressions we might stumble across in the search for that special relationship during the noughties.

Arranging a date

Of course the Internet has revolutionised many aspects of everyday life, not least of which is the search for romance. Dedicated dating sites, chat rooms and instant messaging provide a whole range of avenues for those who are looking for love or just online companionship. Mobile phones have also proved to be an ideal mechanism for propagating romance, a quick means of sharing intimate thoughts in almost any location without attracting the attention of those around you!

Research in 2003 indicated that text messages had begun to overtake handwritten cards as the medium by which romantic communications were exchanged on Valentine's Day. And with each new device, the possibilities widen. It is in this context that in 2005 the noun flirtberrying was born. Flirtberrying is a combination of the words flirt ('to behave towards someone in a way that shows sexual or romantic interest') and BlackBerry, not the autumn fruit, but a handheld electronic device which, as well as functioning as a mobile phone, includes text messaging, e-mail and wireless Internet facilities. For those who can afford it, the BlackBerry therefore represents the ultimate gadget for expressing romantic interest whilst on the move - enter the concept of flirtberrying, sending flirty e-mails with a BlackBerry. On the same theme is the new noun toothing, which in no way relates to babies with sore gums! The term toothing emerged in 2004 as a media hoax claiming that Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones were being used to arrange sexual encounters. Like flirtberrying, toothing brought together the concepts of wireless communication and expression of sexual desire, and so quickly moved from hoax to reality. Those who engage in the activity, known as toothers, beam phone numbers or simply the message 'toothing?' between handsets in places such as bars, restaurants and train stations. From here, they use conventional text messaging to organise their meeting place and what they want from the encounter. A very novel way to arrange a date without any of that awkward 'breaking-the-ice' stuff!

Going-out together

Though modern technology has made it much easier to make romantic propositions or nurture intimate relationships despite geographical separation, there's just no substitute for meeting someone face-to-face. Hence in 2003 a new buzzword in the domain of romance was speed-dating. Though mainly promoted through Internet sites, speed-daters attend organised events in person, with just a series of three minute encounters to decide whether or not they have in fact met the person of their dreams. Others follow up their online romantic introductions with hyperdating, dating lots of people over a short period of time to decide who, if any, is the right one for them. For those who find all these high-speed or quickly-abandoned romantic encounters rather daunting, there's the recently coined option of stroll-dating. A more genteel alternative to speed-dating, stroll-dating involves a weekend ramble through the countryside with a group of like-minded folk who are all hoping to meet the perfect partner. Stroll-daters usually pay a fee of around £20 ($35) to take a two-hour walk and a pub lunch, hoping that anyone who is prepared to get up on a Sunday morning for a walk will be the type of person they would like to meet!

However some of the new coinages emerging in the past couple of years suggest that not all of us who go out on a date are necessarily interested in sex or emotional commitment. The recently coined expression man date for example, covers the alleged lexical gap in English for a meeting between two men who are simply friends, rather than sexual partners, and whose socializing does not hinge on classically male activities like business or sport. Typical man dates are taking a walk in the park, going to the cinema or having a meal in a restaurant, activities that two women could happily engage in without so much as raising an eyebrow. The related term bromance is another recent coinage, a blend of brother and romance used to describe an intense but non-sexual relationship between two men.

For those who do want to enjoy physical contact but without sexual or emotional commitment, there's always the option of going to a cuddle party. This is a fee-paying party where participants touch and cuddle one another in a non-sexual way to create feelings of well-being. The event is supervised by a person designated to monitor behaviour, otherwise known as a cuddle caddy, and the group of cuddling participants are sometimes referred to as a puppy pile.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the canine analogy continues in the expression dogging. Dogging is a British euphemism coined to describe the activity of engaging in sexual acts in partially secluded outdoor locations such as car parks, wooded areas etc., or watching others do so. It frequently involves more than two participants. Opinions vary as to the origins of this recently coined word. Some believe that it relates to a non-sexual sense of dogging meaning 'following or watching' (which can in fact be traced back as far as the 1851 novel Moby Dick). Others think it has more to do with the sexual practices of dogs themselves. Surprisingly perhaps, use of the term in British English does not have particularly negative connotations, and has even spawned a tongue-in-cheek variant poodling, which describes the same activity in a luxury vehicle!

Tying the knot

It seems that in the noughties, one relationship is just not enough. A new sexual-emotional orientation has recently come out of the closet: polyamory, the state of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time. Unlike what has previously been called swinging or being in an open marriage/relationship, polyamory is not just tantamount to casual sex with a range of partners, but describes a serious emotional bond between one person and two or more others, sometimes referred to as polyfidelity. Polyamory can result in complicated sexual and emotional patterns. For instance, some polyamorous relationships form a 'triangle', where each person in a threesome has a relationship with the other two. Others form what is referred to as a V (or Vee) relationship, where one person, known as the hinge or pivot, has a close relationship with two others, but these two others have no particular emotional bond.

Polyamorists, or polys, as they are often simply called, who are serious about tying the knot with their loved ones can in the 21st century take advantage of a civil union. Civil union is a legal union between two adults (or three polys!) which grants some of the rights associated with marriage, but does not have exactly the same legal status. Though the term civil union is yet to enter the dictionary, the concept has now been legally recognised in most parts of the English speaking world, including the United Kingdom, where it is sometimes referred to as civil partnership. Although civil union was originally conceived as a legal mechanism for giving homosexual couples the same social and financial rights as married couples, it has more recently been viewed as a marriage alternative for some heterosexual couples, with the idea that it provides all the benefits of marriage with none of the restrictions. Adopting an analogy based on the comparison between Coca Cola and its low-calorie version Coca Cola lite, the expression marriage lite is now sometimes used as an informal reference to civil union, the idea being that it does not contain all the ingredients of a standard marriage, but 'feels' similar.

If you'd like to be married or in a serious relationship, but draw the line at sharing a tube of toothpaste, maybe you should consider the newly identified demographic of living apart together. Living apart togethers, sometimes referred to as LATs, are couples who maintain an intimate relationship but live in separate homes. This can be for a variety of practical reasons. Some LATS are divorcees with children who would rather avoid moving their whole family in with a new partner. Others may be professionals who have jobs in different cities or countries. Older couples may decide to stay apart to ensure that their children and grandchildren inherit their property. A study published in December 2005 by the British Office for National Statistics suggested that, in the UK, over 10 per cent of under 60 year-olds who were in a relationship were LATs. Though some LATs are married, the majority are just two people with a serious emotional commitment who prefer to live apart – now didn't that use to be called having a boyfriend/girlfriend?!

For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.