Monday, 21 March 2011
In almost all the cultures of the world, a man would seriously or half jokingly refer to his wife or spouse as his “better half”, la mia dolce metà (Italian), mijn betere helft (Dutch), ma meilleure moitié (French) or meine bessere Hälfte (German). Even utterly self confident and arrogant male chauvinists have been heard to use this expression. Sometimes the male uses the expression to indicate irony or humour, but more often not.
Dictionary definition of “better half”: (noun) spouse, partner, married person, mate, a person’s partner in marriage.
The emphasis is always on “better” and never on “larger”, “taller” or “richer”. Quality rather than quantity is the criteria of evaluation.
What is the origin of this expression?
Ancient Middle Eastern Origin of the Expression “Better Half”
One theory suggests that the origin of this is in an ancient Middle Eastern legend. When a Bedouin man had been sentenced to death, his wife pleaded with the tribal leader that because they were married, she and her husband had become one, and that to punish one-half of the union would also punish the half who was innocent. The court agreed and the man’s life was saved by his “better half.”
Better Half Also Means Close Friend
The better half doesn’t necessarily need be married to the other person.
This term wasn't originally restricted to referring only to one's spouse as we use it now, but to one’s dearest friend. The Roman poet Horace (65 BC-8 BC) and later Statius (45-96 AD) used it in this meaning. In this case the reference is to a friend so dear that he/she was more than half of a person's being and the person believed that life without the better half would be meaningless or extremely difficult and lonely.
The first use of this phrase in English literature is in the 16th century. Sir Philip Sidney used this phrase to mean spouse, in The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, 1580:
"My deare, my better halfe (sayd hee) I find I must now leaue thee." Source: "The Dictionary of Clichés" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).
Concept of Better Half in Other Cultures
In Hinduism, especially in northern India, a wife is known as Patni. This signifies that she shares everything with her husband, including identity, as does he. A wife is also known as ardhangini or half of the anga or body. In Tamil, a wife is called Manaivee, which means head of the household.
The concept of ardhangini probably comes from Ardhanarishvara. This is the androgynous form of the Hindu deity Shiva with his consort Shakti fused in one body. This symbolises that the male principle Purusha and female principle prakriti cannot exist without each other.
Do Close People Begin Resembling Each Other Over Time?
Many people observe that couples that are very close and have been together for a lifetime actually start resembling each other physically. Psychologists have put this observation to scientific scrutiny.
Increases in facial similarity results mainly from long periods of shared emotions, according to Robert Zajonc, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, who researched the topic.
The research results reveal that empathy is the key factor. When partners empathise, the partners tend to copy the facial expressions. This creates similar facial patterns of wrinkles and furrows on their faces and creates the eerie resemblance to each other.
Can this similarity in physical appearance also be evidenced in close friends who have been close friends for long years without having a conjugal relationship?