By Betty Kirkpatrick
I was reading an article about the rights of cohabitees the other day and could not help thinking what a clumsy, clinical and unattractive word cohabitee is. Not so the Scots word bidie-in which means much the same as cohabitee.
What is a cohabitee or a bidie-in? They both refer to someone who is living with someone in a sexual relationship but who is not married to that person.
Bidie-in comes from the north-east of Scotland and was more or less restricted to that area for a long time, but things changed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Bidie-in unexpectedly gained a degree of prominence not only in Scotland, but also in the rest of Britain.
At that time more and more people were choosing to live together, rather than get married. Some language experts became obsessed with finding a word to describe the person with whom someone was living in an unmarried state.
Lover was considered to be too racy and partner was originally set aside because of its associations with business. Some strange alternatives were put forward. One of these was significant other which went on to mean a person of importance or influence in someone’s life. The strangest was POSSLQ, short for persons of the opposite sex sharing living quarters. I kid you not, this was seriously considered. Fortunately it did not last.
Bidie-in popped up in the media coverage as a possible contender. It failed to win universal support, perhaps because it sounds too homely and cosy for sophisticated society. The word comes from the verb bide meaning either to stay somewhere temporarily or to live permanently in a place, to reside. It is closely related to the word abide, both having their roots in Old English
What happened to bidie-in? After its brief spell of fame it returned to relative obscurity. More Scots from a wider area used it than before, but it faded from the UK scene. It, like the other suggested words, lost out to partner. Apparently its business connections did not matter after all. No surprise there, then.
Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.