R/S: Didn’t you coin the word “polyamory”?
MG: “Non-monogamy” is a popular notion among Pagans. In the Sixties there were a lot of people working on utopian communities and engaging in active social experimentation. They weren’t necessarily Pagans; their focus was more on the sociological aspect rather than on religion and mysticism. But nobody had a word for polyamory; they were defining themselves by negatives!
I said to Oberon, “We need a better defining word for our multiple relationships.” Claude Steiner had coined “omnigamy,” which has to be the ugliest word I’ve ever heard in my life—sorry, Claude. What does it mean: “marrying everybody?” Another term being bandied about was “polyfidelity” [which sounds like high fidelity]. But the idea needed to be about loving, not marrying, and there was no one word that embraced it all. Finally I realized, “This is about love and having many lovers. This is really about people who have many lovers and many loving relationships.”
I’m a person who loves words, and in fact I’ve pursued linguistic studies. I grew up with a classical education and, besides taking four years of Latin, have studied a little Greek on my own. I’ve always been interested in paleontology, and have worked in the medical profession, so I understood a lot of medical terminology in Greek and Latin. I started playing with Greek and Latin roots and came up with “poly,” which was already being used in “polyfidelity.” But “fidelity,” the notion of being faithful, always smacked to me of moral preaching. Besides, I wanted a term that was more about love. So I took the Latin root for love, “amor” (“amour” is the French twist on that) and the Greek root “poly” (meaning many), put the two together, and created the word “polyamory.”
Here’s a word, an umbrella term, that describes what we’re doing, I said. The movement was already there, but finally it had a word it could rally around. It was no longer defining itself by what it wasn’t. Polyamory is now listed in dictionaries; there are books about it; and it’s listed on the Web. The word has spread all over the world. The reason is because it is difficult to do something you have no word for. Some people are doing things they have no word for, defining the ineffable, but by and large they will remain isolated in their own universe until they find a word that other people can congregate around. This process works like salt crystals that coalesce around a single seed-crystal. The word “polyamory” is the seed-crystal, and the movement is collecting around that. Because if you can think it and say it, then you can actually BE it. Adrienne Rich once said, “Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult to come by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language: this will become, not merely unspoken but unspeakable.” What I stand for is creating possibilities. We do that with words; the word gives a sound, and the sound launches the reality.
The goddess Saraswati created all that we see and recognize as the universe. She was hatched from a cosmic egg in the void. Initially she stood up and sang a single note, and her pure tone vibrated everything into being. The universe, out of chaos, began pulsing into its evolutionary order. Each of us, when we come up with a vision and name it, are Saraswati, recreating her act of creation. Each of us are gods and goddesses capable of creation by that act of naming a thing that has no name.