On Thursday Max Vasilalatos and I fell into a discussion of how we manage to sleep sitting up when health considerations require it. I have a wedge I can use in my bed, and for many months I slept sitting up in a reclining chair. Max volunteered that she had a husband for this purpose, but it wasn’t entirely satisfactory. I was puzzled until she described the object — not a human being — that she used for this purpose. The Wikipedia account (in the pillow entry):

A husband pillow (also known as a boyfriend pillow) is a large, high-backed pillow with two “arms”. It is used to prop the user upright while in bed or on the floor, as for reading or watching television.

A picture:

Presumably it’s called a husband (or boyfriend) pillow because it puts its arms around you, like a husband or boyfriend would. That is, husband pillow is a N1 + N2 compound of the N2 LIKE N1 ‘a N2 resembing a N1’ (in some contextually relevant way).

The compound husband pillow is then truncated to husband. (See “Conversion by tuncation”, with greenhouse ‘greenhouse gases’. My files have several more cases, including sneak for sneak preview, privates for private parts, dress for dress rehearsal, and lame duck for lame duck Congress/session.) Husband in this sense hasn’t made it into the OED, and in fact husband pillow isn’t there yet, either.

In Columbus OH I had a husband (in this sense), a light blue corduroy one, in addition to a husband-equivalent man. I used the pillow for working on the living room floor. But I got rid of it when I had to drastically reduce the contents of that house for the move to California in 1998.


One Response to “husband”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Comments on Facebook:

    Betsy Herrington: I used to call it a lean-upon until I went to college (mid 70s) where I heard it called a husband. Very useful inanimate critters, they are.

    Nancy Kowalski: Never heard it called a husband; I always called it a pillow-chair.

    Wilson Gray: Although I own one, I don’t have a name for it. In catalogs directed at adults, I’ve seen it called a “husband-pillow.” In catalogs directed toward teens, I’ve seen it referred to as a “boyfriend-pillow.”

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