• consort •
Pronunciation: kahn-sort • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A husband or wife, a spouse; used in conjunction with some titles, such as Queen Consort "the wife of a king", King Consort "the husband of a queen". Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, was known as the Prince Consort. 2. A company of musicians specializing in the performance of music from an earlier era, as a baroque music consort. 3. A ship sailing in company with another.
Notes: The verb from today's word, consort "keep company with, to associate with", in some US circles has been limited to shady associations, especially in the phrase, "to consort with known criminals". This has led those who do not read Dr. Goodword regularly to wrongly sense that the noun carries a pejorative connotation. It doesn't. If you have a spouse, you have a consort, regardless of the way he or she treats you or others.
In Play: The wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005 revealed slightly different attitudes toward today's Good Word in the UK and US. Should Charles become king, he will be the titular head of the Church of England, which looks askance at divorce, something both of the couple have experienced. So, after the wedding, Ms. Bowles agreed to abide by the modest title, HRH (Her Royal Highness) Duchess of Cornwall. Should Prince Charles become king, she is not to be promoted to the Queen Consort, as is traditional, but will rise only to the position of the Princess Consort—but without any implication of improper behavior. Of course, today divorce is bruited about in the UK.
Word History: Today's good word meant "colleague" in Middle English and the Old French from which it was cleverly snitched. It is based on the Latin preposition con "(together) with" + sors, sortis "fate", implying that a consort is someone you share your fate with, an interesting notion, indeed. The original PIE root is ser-/sor- "to line up". The e-variant is found in English sermon and series. How the meaning shifted from "line up" to "fate" is still up in the air, but the phonological match is pretty convincing. (We would like to thank Jeanne Barkley for not fearing to consort with us and sharing her curiosity about this word with our jolly band of lexophiles.)