Lexical Investigations: Soul mate

soul mate, soulmate, Buster Keaton, true loveThough the phrase soul mate gained steam toward the end of the twentieth century, the idea goes all the way back to Plato’s Symposium, written in 385–380 BCE. In Symposium, when the two dialogists discuss love, Aristophanes tells Socrates that human beings used to have four arms, four legs, and two faces, and they were happy and complete. But Zeus was jealous and split them in two with his thunderbolt, and now humans spend their lives searching for their other half. This idea of an “other half” has been with us ever since.

But the phrase soul mate itself was first recorded in 1822, when the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in a letter, “To be happy in Married Life . . . you must have a Soul-mate.” Inexplicably, the term has skyrocketed in use since the 1980s, according to Google’s nGram viewer. What do you think precipitated the spike in usage?

Popular References:

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, musical, song “Origin of Love” tells the story from Symposium. Song and lyrics by Stephen Trask, musical 1998, movie adaptation 2001.

Relevant Quotations:

“To be happy in Married Life . . . you must have a Soul-mate.”

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Letter to a Young Lady,” (1822)

“Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with.”

–Carrie Bradshaw (character played by Sarah Jessica Parker), Sex and the City, Episode “The Agony and the ‘Ex’-tacy.” Season 4, June 3, 2001. Directed by Michael Patrick King. Writing credits: Darren Star (creator), Candace Bushnell (book), Michael Patrick King (teleplay)

Read our previous post about the word fiat and its connection to the origin of the universe.