Click any word in a definition or example to find the entry for that word
unfair attitudes or behaviour towards people who are not married or part of a couple
'We need to counteract singlism by embracing being single as a completely valid choice and by valuing all our relationships.'Rachel's Musings (blog) 21st September 2008
'I have indisputably been the target of many singlists. My own grandmother once said to me, after she asked the annoying question of if I was single or not, "Oh, one day, hopefully, you will find a nice guy."'The Sheaf 11th September 2009
'His first remark was so outrageous and obviously – if accidentally – sexist and singlist that everyone jumped on him. But ironically, one of the very people chastising English for his blunder actually committed arguably worse singlism …'news.change.org 15th August 2010
It's safe to assume that most people would prefer not to be described as guilty of racism, sexism, or any other kind of discriminatory behaviour. There is however a new 'ism' on the block which, as someone who has been happily married for 24 years, I have to hold my hands up and confess that I've succumbed to on more than one occasion. In the company of a person who is single, if I haven't openly said 'shame you've not got a partner', I've often thought it, my mind quick to wander down the reflective path of: 'I wonder if they will ever meet the right person', or 'A bit sad – looks like they're going to end up spending the rest of their life on their own …'. It seems then that, with such a wave of gratuitous sympathy, I've unwittingly been guilty of an act of singlism.
what makes singlism particularly unique is that it is the only kind of discriminatory behaviour that society seems to officially sanction
Singlism is a new word which has recently emerged to describe unfair treatment of adults who are single. This can mean negative stereotyping of single people – the dominant attitude in society that 'partnered is good, single is bad' – or discrimination against singles in a variety of social and professional contexts. What makes singlism particularly unique is that it is the only kind of discriminatory behaviour that society seems to officially sanction – in other words, there are many scenarios in which accepted norms unwittingly reinforce it. Take the workplace for example, where single people often make up a significant proportion of the workforce. Despite this, in their eagerness to be more 'family-friendly', employers often improve the lot of married staff at the expense of singles, pressurizing them into longer working days, travelling more frequently and widely, or working more weekends and school holidays. And there are many other comparable situations in which single people seem to draw the short straw – consider gyms and sports clubs where family membership is more competitively priced, family tickets to the theatre, cinema or other leisure activities which work out cheaper than for individual adults, single 'supplements' in hotel rooms, and tax incentives which benefit married couples only. It seems then that there are many aspects of everyday life which are inherently singlist – not to mention the prevailing assumption that single people are unfulfilled, unfortunate types who have somehow been diverted from life's natural course.
The word singlism was coined in 2005 by US social psychologist Bella DePaolo, notably forming the subject matter of her recent book Singlism – What it is, Why it Matters and How To Stop It (DoubleDoor Books, 2011).
Singlism is of course based on analogous terms such as racism and sexism. DePaolo herself points out however that, if the word were totally comparable, then it would more accurately refer to 'the condition of being married/having a partner'. This is problematic because there's no neat way of expressing this as an '-ism', something like 'marital-statusism' defies all the rules of neologizing in that it's clumsy and difficult to pronounce. She therefore chooses to focus on the target of the discrimination instead, hence single > singlism. Those who are guilty of this stereotyping are correspondingly dubbed singlists, and following the derivational pattern of racist, sexist etc, singlist can also be used as an adjective to describe these kinds of attitudes.
De Paolo argues that singlism merits a place in the dictionary because its appearance in a range of sources over several years satisfies the criteria publishers often use. Despite this and plenty of evidence of contemporary use, it seems that singlism is yet to make it into a mainstream English dictionary.
Read last week's BuzzWord. Common Era (BCE or CE).
This article was first published on 21st November 2011.