Only in Alabama

Well, maybe in Mississippi, too. The Washington Post reports an unusual agreement between a college in Alabama and its new president:

Gwendolyn Boyd, the new president of Alabama State University, signed a contract with the school’s trustees that forbids her from allowing a lover to “cohabitate” with her in the presidential home being provided to her by the historically black university in Montgomery.

The contract, signed Jan. 2, 2014, was obtained by The Birmingham News and posted here. It provides Boyd with an annual salary of $300,000, starting Feb. 1, 2014, plus a number of standard fringe benefits such as insurance. It says that Boyd, an engineer, must provide her own car but will receive a car allowance of $1,000 a month. And it requires that Boyd live in the school-provided presidential house located on campus and equipped with things such as a toll-free phone line, cable television, computer equipment and more.

It also says:

“For so long as Dr. Boyd is President and a single person, she shall not be allowed to cohabitate in the President’s residence with any person with whom she has a romantic relation.”

 Inside Higher Ed quoted lawyer Raymond Cotton, an expert on contracts,  said he has never seen such a proviso written into a contract for a university president.

I’m dumbfounded (but not terribly surprised) by this prudishness, but also by the word “cohabitate”, which as far as I know isn’t a real word. (Yes, yes, I’m sure some reader will find it used somewhere.) At any rate, Boyd will have to be married before her partner can inhabitate her house.

h/t: Matthew Cobb


  1. Don Strong
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Etymology: < late Latin cohabitāt- participial stem of cohabitāre.
    Obs. rare.
    Thesaurus »
    Categories »

    = cohabit v. 1.

    1624 T. Adams Temple 62 Shall the graces of God cohabitate with the vices of Satan?

    • James Walker
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink


      • alphazulu99
        Posted January 12, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        But Jeezus died for our sins!!!

        “Admire me, adore me, love me. But for the love of Baal, stop with dying for sins bullshit. It’s fucking outrageous and makes us all look like a bunch of goddamn lunatics!!!”

        —Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Sanity

  2. E.A. Blair
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    I agree on “cohabitate”, and double down with my equal contempt for people who use “commentate” and “orientate”.

    • Don
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      “Orientate” is a standard verb, common in the UK. It’s a back-formation long in use, dating to the 1840s.

    • Don
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      “Commentate” is also a perfectly valid, standard verb, as any good unabridged dictionary will confirm. It’s another back-formation dating to the late 1700s.

      • E.A. Blair
        Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        It’s a good thing you were never in one of my writing classes – also that I don’t have to hear you say such vile locutions.

        • Don
          Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          If you had ever been in one of MY writing classes, E.A., I’m sure I could have helped relax your hidebound notions about the varieties of good expression. 😉

        • Filippo
          Posted January 12, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          What do you think of the current locutionary (?) 😉 pandemic sweeping the grammatical plain, where “person who” is being replaced with “person that”?

          (If not “locutionary” then “locutory,” as in “interlocutory” used in judicial orders/decrees? I note that my spellcheck accepts “interlocutory” but not “locutory.” What a difference a prefix makes.)

      • Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:19 am | Permalink

        But doesn’t “commentate(r)” have a distinct meaning from “comment(er)”? The latter is what we are doing (are); the former is what TV sports pundits do (are).

        Otherwise, I do object to “administrate” instead of “administer”.


        • Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

          * The contract (§1.8) gets this right!

        • Don
          Posted January 12, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          Object if you must, but “administrate,” from the Latin administratus, past participle of administrare, is another back-formation long in standard use, dating back to the 1630s.

          • Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:07 am | Permalink

            Well, I guess this should be on the “peeves” thread, then!


            • Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink



              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted January 12, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink


              • Diane G.
                Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:25 pm | Permalink


              • HaggisForBrains
                Posted January 13, 2014 at 4:37 am | Permalink

                Another opportunity for the Grammar Nazis.

                Sorry for double post, but by the time I got this one into the “Peeve” thread it was up to 500+

              • Posted January 13, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

                ‘Sokay. I didn’t even bother subscribing to that one — the response count was so high I knew I’d never be able to keep up. Good one!


    • Dale
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      If you hate orientate, I wouldn’t listen to a British audio book if I were you. They are not orientated they way you like.

      • Nick
        Posted January 12, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

        All of these are examples of rather silly, or at least redundant, forms of perfectly good available verbs. What good does it do to add “ate” to words like cohabit, comment, orient, admininister, and permute? Answer that and I will accept the previous arguments.

  3. Occam
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Not only is ’cohabitate’ a real word, as any reader can and will google ( or, more aptly, go ogle); it is a nicely fraught one, too.

    When I took my human biology classes (3rd quarter 20th century), cohabitation was the prof’s euphemism for sexual intercourse.

    More interestingly, in France under Mitterrand and Chirac, when midterm elections resulted in parliamentary majorities and hence prime ministers and governments adverse to the serving president, the ensuing governments were known as gouvernement de cohabitation. This prompted a former prime minister, the very distinguished Monsieur Barre (an opponent of the scheme), to ask: « As in every cohabitation, the question is, who will be on top? »

    An interesting logical consequence of the proviso wording is that Dr. Boyd appears implicitly to be allowed unromantic one-night stands and escort services. (Now that’s an euphemism for call-boys or -girls, whatever her inclination; I’m not sure the gender-neutral call-person has yet gained wide public acceptance.)

    • bric
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      ‘Tart’ works for both, at least in my demi-monde.

      • Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

        In some parts of the UK, “tart” is sill a term of affection (from “sweetheart”).


        • aqc
          Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

          [citation needed]

          • Posted January 12, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

            For the etymology and historic usage, see here.


            • aqc
              Posted January 12, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

              As I thought, ‘is still a term of affection’ was a massive overreach. I’ve only lived in England 13 years but I also read fairly widely. I’ve never heard tart applied to a woman as anything but a pejorative.

              • Posted January 12, 2014 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                It’s not, but I couldn’t find the source within a reasonable time. It was a comment in a thread by someone who’d been caught out using it when courting someone form another town (or some situation along those lines).


              • Posted January 12, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                * Possibly reported in a newsletter following the one the linked article was first published in, but Quinion’s newsletter archive doesn’t go back that far.

        • Filippo
          Posted January 12, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          Also the name of the heart-shaped, gelatin-infused, red-dyed cupcakes an elementary school chum’s mother would bring our class on Valentine’s Day.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      Interesting. I was wondering why they would use a word like “cohabitate” when “live together” would work just fine & thought they thought that they were fancy….but it’s much more pernicious!

  4. Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    But one-night-stands are totally cool.

  5. Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    When I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the mid-1950s, the university still had an anti-nepotism rule that prohibited a faculty member’s spouse from being employed by the university. This was fairly common among universities at that time, and of course worked mostly to discriminate against women.

    I knew a young couple who were married. He was recently hired as a faculty member in the humanities, and she had just started as a postdoctoral fellow in mathematical biology. The university found out that they were living in the same apartment. A university official came to them and said “We do hope you’re not married”.

    Having little choice they lied. They assured the university official that they were not married, and the official was very relieved and went away. So this was the opposite of the Alabama State University policy.

    • Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      Sorry, typo, “in the mid-1960s”.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 13, 2014 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      Love it! 🙂

  6. Don Strong
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Y’all get serious. We are talkin; ’bout the vices of Satan here. No discursive talk about “when I was an undergraduate…”

  7. Walt Jones
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I’ve heard “cohabitate” since the ’70s, when the idea of living together without being married hit the mainstream (by which I mean became known to at least one kid in central Minnesota). Apple’s spellcheck doesn’t like it, however, so Professor Ceiling Cat must be right.

    • Don
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Right, me, too. The verb gained currency in the early 70s, I think, for just that reason–there was an increasing popular need for it. Even though “cohabit” is the more common usage, the back-formation took precedence. Nonetheless, “cohabitate,” from Late Latin cohabitatus, past participle of cohabitare, is another old verb, in use since the 1630s.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      I also first remember it from that era. Thought it was pretty widely used at the time.

  8. Stephen P
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    I was under the impression that cohabitate was a standard legal term; I haven’t come across it in any other context. I see that the Opera spelling-checker flags it as an unknown word, FWIW.

    • Jeff D
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      “Cohabitate” has long been a fairly common legal term; it is often found in prenuptial agreements, in some provisions of divorce / dissolution decrees, and (more recently) in elaborate “cohabitation agreements” that are signed by couples who either (a) are prohibited from getting married under state law or (b) don’t want to marry, but still want to be able to divide their property, etc. with a minimum of fuss and conflict if either party decides to unwind the relationship at a later date.

      Why did lawyers start using “cohabitate” rather than “live together”? Perhaps was is the legal profession’s habit of borrowing or cobbling together words and phrases from Latin whenever the need arose to coin a new term.

      • Filippo
        Posted January 12, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        ‘Why did lawyers start using “cohabitate” rather than “live together”?’

        I’ve had the same sort of question about the nouns “use” and “utilization.” I gather the latter is used because in-part it sounds more “hoity-toity.”

  9. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Alabama State University

    Just to be absolutely clear, this is a state-owned and operated school.

    It seems they have some other things they should be worrying about (Wikipedia again):

    “The university experienced some tension with the state government in 2013. In December 2012, university president Joseph Silver resigned after only six months in the job. In October 2013, the state governor asked the university to halt its ongoing presidential search to address an audit that alleged that “ASU attempted to thwart and hamper the audit,” several trustees received improper benefits, and significant financial mismanagement. The audit was ordered to investigate Silver’s claims that he was forced to resign because he questioned “suspicious contracts” at the university.”

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 13, 2014 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      A state-owned and operated school which confirms everything we always thought about Alabama… 😉

  10. Hempenstein
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    “Inhabitate” – snort!

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I’m curious about whether such a proviso has been written into the contracts of the male university presidents and really how are they going to determine if she is in breach of said contract, stake out they place? Look for items that only males use, lurking in her bathroom?

    It would be a handy clause for a commitment phobe though – “sorry babe, you can’t stay at my place because of my contract”.

    • Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Ah, but if she takes a female lover … ?

      Apparently, an incestuous relationship would be OK (§5.5).


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        Yes and she’d be able to hide both because they’d never suspect it! I hope she does take a female lover just to mess with them!

      • Posted January 12, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        It’s all relative – just like incest !

    • Chris Slaby
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Yeah, that was my partner’s first reaction. This sounds very gender specific. Either way, it’s almost silly, except for the fact that it actually happened.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      I knew I could count on you to save me the trouble of having to ask that question. 😉

  12. Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    No problem, she should just refer to any residential partnership agreement as a “religious union.”

  13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    “… she shall not be allowed to cohabitate in the President’s residence with any person with whom she has a romantic relation.”’

    What!? Wouldn’t they have more problem if the President lives with one or more persons who she has only sexual relations with?

    And if such a case would be taken to court, WWJD? [What Would a Jury Do?]

  14. docbill1351
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    “Cohabitate” is what the fancy people used to say. You know them fancy people with their fancy Earl Grey tea and pinkies sticking out and their fancy education.

    For the rest of us it was “shackin’ up!”

    “You gettin’ married, Joe?”

    “Naw, me and the old lady are just shackin’ up.”

    My genteel Mother preferred the term “living in sin.”

    The phrases could be used in conjunction, as in co-joining for a more coital effect:

    “They’re just shackin’ up, living in sin!”

    Best said over a backyard fence or sharing a bottle of sherry mid-afternoon.

    I get a kick out of people wanting to build a time machine. If you want to go back to the 1950’s just vacation in Alabama.

  15. Jim Thomerson
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    At the University of Texas, mid 1950s there was a nepotism rule, with the result that I knew graduate assistants who lived in sin, but married soon after graduation.

  16. Posted January 12, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Oh-so-many responses come to mind, with the first and most obvious being to simply ignore it. If anybody challenges her, simply tell them that her personal life is her own personal business, but that she’ll be happy to share all of it with the courts and the press if that’s really the kind of scandal the trustees want associated with their fine institution.

    Then, of course, she could have a never-ending series of one-night stands with the same person, or she could invite somebody to perform a long-term anthropological study of her, or she could simply deny any romantic involvement in the person and insist it’s just about the sex.

    Regardless, I really, really, really hope she finds a way to rub the trustees’s noses in this one.



    • Diane G.
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      Because it’s always such a good idea to rankle the trustees who employ you…

      • Posted January 13, 2014 at 6:39 am | Permalink

        You know…now that you mention it, that might help explain why I don’t have a job like that….


  17. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    If I accepted an employment contract like that I couldn’t live with myself.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 13, 2014 at 1:10 am | Permalink

      You certainly couldn’t live with anyone else 😉

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted January 13, 2014 at 4:50 am | Permalink

      Presumably you’re referring to Woody Allen’s “sex with someone I love” quote.

  18. Nancy
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Forget about definitions here. I’m stunned that Alabama is used as proof of evolution.

    • Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      It’s important to remember that due to the new changes in the Alabama Family Code this year, if you get a divorce, you can still be brother and sister.

  19. ploubere
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    It would make for an entertaining court case. The University lawyers would have to provide a legal definition of a “romantic relationship” as opposed to any other, then provide evidence of it. Buying her roses? Giving her foot massages?

    • Don Strong
      Posted January 12, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      The nice salary prevents such a court case.

  20. Posted January 12, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know about Alabama State University, but I have some familiarity with the living arrangements for University Presidents in another state (Maryland – which is still partly near the Mason-Dixon line but not deep south by any means), and the ‘official’ residency in some cases is mainly used by the President for fund-raising events, receptions, and the like. The real ‘living’ space for a University President can in fact be a small apartment very near the campus (as was the case with the President I knew of a mid-sized University in Maryland). She may have agreed to the contract and it’s rather puritanical conditions because it was pretty much irrelevant anyway.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 13, 2014 at 1:09 am | Permalink

      But the stupid fascist contract insists that she live in the official house.

  21. Posted January 12, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Cohabiate: A word with which I have long been familiar.

    Admittedly, being as fluent in French as in English, the verb “cohabiter” has also been familiar for a great many years.

  22. Don Strong
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    “Living in sin” was what my grandmother called it. “Shacking up” is what my mother called it. “Sambor” is what the Swedes call it now; legal, very common, and the children have the full plate of goodies enjoyed by married couples. I have Swedish colleagues who have been sambor for 50 years.

  23. Willard Bolinger
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Would they draw up a contract for a male like this?

  24. Marella
    Posted January 12, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Since it specifies that she cannot cohabitate (sic) with anyone she has a romantic relationship with, so all she has to do is insist the relationship is platonic and she can cohabitate (sic) all she likes.Or she could just point out that there is no such word as “cohabitate” so she can do as she pleases!

    • Posted January 12, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      Except that there indeed is such a word.

  25. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 13, 2014 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    As noted, it appears there are two meanings of ‘cohabitate’ – one is ‘inhabiting the same premises’, the other is a euphemism for having sex.

    So depending which interpretation she chooses to use, she can either (a) have a gf/bf living with her so long as they go out to have sex; or (b) have as many one-night-stands as she likes so long as they’re just casual acquaintances.

    Either way it’s a ludicrous condition.

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