Word of the Day: Paramour

By Maeve Maddox

Paramour (păr’ə-mʊr’) is sometimes used as simply a synonym for “lover,” but it usually carries the connotation of an illicit lover, “one taking the place without the legal rights of a husband or wife.”

The locale [of The Kiss Before the Mirror] is Vienna, and in an opening scene Lucie, wife of Dr. Walter Bernsdorf, is perceived stealing through a garden on her way to her paramour’s abode. (New York Times)

Tila Tequila blames the media and her paramour’s interest in self-promotion for her breakup, and says she was much more guarded during her second “Shot at Love” on MTV. (Associated Press)

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5 Responses to “Word of the Day: Paramour”

  • Ray Ward

    Down south, we often confuse “paramour” with its homonym, “power mower.” Then again, it’s great when you can get your paramour to cut your grass.

  • Brad K.

    I think of ‘para’ as ‘almost’. A paramedic might be an ‘almost doctor’ – someone that fills a significant role, but not the central role in medical care.

    A paramour would be, for me, an ‘almost love’, flawed and incomplete.

    Paramour is not so much ‘illicit’ as ‘destructive, an indulgence of betrayal for momentary or temporary pleasure’. Perhaps the word paramour implies an affluent or aristocratic setting. The formality of referring to an adulterer as a ‘paramour’, as in, ‘affair of the heart (l’ amour)’ – a seedy and scarcely hidden refuge of those that marry for family or monetary advantage, rather than respect and affection for a mate.

  • Deborah

    Let me offer another sense of par or “para.” Paraclete refers to the Holy Spirit, who”comes along side” and stays. Paratroopers drop in “along side” of the infantry. A paramedic works along side of, and in aid to the doctor.

    So paramour certainly carries the idea of “along side,” but I don’t get the sense of it meaning less than or supplanter. I think the original meaning of paramour was a love-connection between two equals.

  • Maeve

    The word was originally a phrase: par amour, meaning “with love.” Early in the 14th century it was used in prayer as a term of endearment for Christ or the Virgin Mary. By the end of the 14th century it had acquired the meanings “mistress, concubine, clandestine lover.” See What’s a Male Mistress?

  • D.F. Rucci

    Thanks for the explanation. I rarely use Paramour in my writing but now I know the full definition I think I will.

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