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mistress
Posted: 29 August 2012 09:09 PM   [ Ignore ]
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On my morning Wikiwalk I wandered into the the succession to the House of Romanov. One phrase came up several times: “married his mistress”. In each case the lady in question was the fellow’s first wife.

This didn’t make sense to me, since I would take “mistress” in this context to mean a woman in a sexual relationship with a man who is married to someone else. I put it down to the possibility that the person who has done most of the work on WP’s articles on the late Russian Grand Dukes is not a native English speaker.

I looked it up. Collins ED does give “an archaic or dialect word for sweetheart” as one of the meanings for mistress.

Have any of you encountered this meaning in the wild?

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Posted: 30 August 2012 01:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Personally, not in anything written since the 19th century, and not often as late as that. I think (excluding dialect) you’d have to go back as far as Andrew Marvell and his Coy Mistris for the word to be unambiguous.

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Posted: 30 August 2012 03:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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OED has a host of senses for the word mistress, the earliest being a woman who has control or authority, eg a woman who has charge of a child, a governess. The sweetheart sense is marked as obsolete:

5 a. A woman loved and courted by a man; a female sweetheart. Obs.By the late 19th cent. this usage was generally avoided as liable to be mistaken for sense A. 7.

NB A. 7 above is “A woman other than his wife with whom a man has a long-lasting sexual relationship. In early use: †a woman notorious for some act (obs.).”

[ Edited: 30 August 2012 05:17 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 30 August 2012 04:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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NB A. 7 above is “A woman other than his wife with whom a man has a long-lasting sexual relationship. ”

Can I get a ruling on that: would you take this to imply that the man has a wife, or would this definition include the case of a woman who has a sexual relationship with a wifeless man?

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Posted: 30 August 2012 04:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It would help if you supplied a link to the Wikipedia article that uses mistress in this fashion, so we can see exactly how it’s used. The article on the Romanov’s that I found that uses the word, uses it in the familiar sense:

Despite contrasting natures and size, the pair got on famously, was the first time a Tsar didn’t have a mistress, and produced six children.

It’s not grammatical, but the meaning is clear.

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Posted: 30 August 2012 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Couple of examples

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Duke_Vladimir_Alexandrovich_of_Russia

Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich of Russia (1879 – 1956). He married his mistress Matilda Kchessinska.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Duke_Boris_Vladimirovich_of_Russia

In exile, he married his mistress and settled in Paris.

In each case, the man only married once: there is no adultery at play here, just a man marrying a woman.

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Posted: 30 August 2012 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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In the sense of “a woman other than his wife with whom a man has a long-lasting sexual relationship”, the OED cites “1910 Encycl. Brit. I. 381/1 She was separated from her husband, and became the mistress of Franz Liszt. By Liszt she had three children.” This surely refers to Countess Marie d’Agoult, although I haven’t tried to chase down the EB article.  The key point is that Liszt never married, so this is a clear example of the use of “mistress” to mean the lover of an unmarried man.  I would take the passages above to mean that those Russians eventually married women with whom they had had longstanding romantic/sexual relationships.

[ Edited: 30 August 2012 06:55 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 30 August 2012 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I agree (not for the first time) with the Good Doctor.

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Posted: 30 August 2012 09:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I agree, but it seems a bit out of date, now. It has a negative ring to it, a sense of impropriety.
But perhaps that is appropriate for historical pieces about times and places in which premarital sex was considered improper.
I’m still tempted to edit, though, to remove ambiguity.

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Posted: 30 August 2012 10:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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It may be a result of there not being a good, contemporary term for an adult’s primary heterosexual partner outside of marriage. Boyfriend and girlfriend sound immature. Significant other and partner carry an inclusiveness of gay relationships that may not be intended, and partner can be confusing with other types of partners. Terms like paramour are distinctly old fashioned. Lover may be too explicit for the taste and decorum of some. Mistress seems like a decent compromise term, although it does suggest a previous marriage.

Looking at the revision history for these two articles, the term mistress has been in there since the first drafts. Both were written by the same person, Miguelemejia. So they may also represent an idiosyncratic usage on the writer’s part.

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Posted: 30 August 2012 05:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Of all those, I would be happiest with lover.

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Posted: 31 August 2012 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Lover also puts all the focus on the sexual aspect of the relationship. Presumably, there was more to being a mistress of these men.

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Posted: 31 August 2012 07:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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In addition, lover, to me, does not carry the same implication of a fairly long-standing relationship that mistress does.  I also don’t feel that mistress carries a strong implication that the man is already married; I cited the Liszt case to provide evidence in support of what was already my opinion.

There’s probably no perfect English word here, but I think mistress is the best available choice and would advise against changing it.

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Posted: 31 August 2012 07:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Can I get a ruling on that: would you take this to imply that the man has a wife?

I, for one, wouldn’t take it to imply anything of the kind.

I would take it to mean that they were in an established sexual relationship, not acknowledged in public but quite possibly known about unofficially by his peers, in which marriage simply wasn’t offered or expected. I’d think it very likely that the lady in the case was either not high-ranking enough or not unspotted enough in reputation for the man in the case to contemplate marriage, even if he were single; I’d also think the odds very good that he was supporting her financially. (In 19th-century London, whole streets of attractive villas were built in St John’s Wood for well-off men to install their mistresses in.)

All the women who lived in sin with the various bachelor sons of George III - the actress Dorothea Jordan with the Duke of Clarence, Mme de St-Laurent with the Duke of Kent, Mary Anne Clarke with the Duke of York - are accurately described as ‘royal mistresses’ in this sense, and there really isn’t another word that conveys this relationship.

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Posted: 31 August 2012 09:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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What is the male equivalent of mistress? ie, a relationship where the female is married or has a higher status than the male? Boyfriend seems a bit flippant.

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Posted: 31 August 2012 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I don’t know if there is a specific term for the kept man of a woman of higher status. When talking of Empress Catherine’s stable of men, for instance, I think one would simply say they were her lovers.

Edited because the term keeper, as I belatedly realized, wasn’t relevant to Eliza’s question

[ Edited: 31 August 2012 11:49 AM by aldiboronti ]
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