• contubernal •
kên-tu-bêr-nêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. Sharing the same tent. 2. Living together with someone or sharing a companionship or, as a noun, a member of such a companionship.
Notes: The first thing to note about today's Good Word is that it is both adjective and noun. As a noun it can also refer to a person sharing the same tent or close relationship with someone else. The second thing to remember is that it has been lost by all the US dictionaries; we must resurrect it from the dead. I hope the examples below will convince you that this word deserves the effort.
In Play: I don't see how campers survive linguistically without this word, especially when used as a noun: "If you plan to be my contubernal on this camping trip, you have to leave those baked beans at home." What a much more delicious word today's word is than partner or (ugh!) significant other: "If you wish to continue our contubernal relationship, you can't pandiculate across my face like that every morning." This could apply to any couple living together outside the snug comfort of marriage.
Word History: Today's Good Word is a relative of another word long fallen from use, contubernium "tent companionship, marriage of slaves". The Romans distinguished the marriage of free men, conubium, whence English connubial, and contubernium, the marriage of slaves. The slippage of the meaning of its adjective, contubernalis, to a close extramarital relationship was the result. The English word is an adaptation of the Latin adjective. The Latin derivations comprise com "(together) with" + taberna "tent". The origin of this word is obscure. It went on to become English tavern but also shows up in tabernacle, the holy tent in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept. (Now let us thank our lexical contubernal Colin Burt, who nourishes his vocabulary along with us under the lexical tent of alphaDictionary.)
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