English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Then there was the Mad Russian, who made her laugh and behaved impossibly badly and proposed to her daily. Some other shorter-lived liaisons, now forgotten. Then Henry.
— William Nicholson, Secret Intensity Of Everyday Life

In the context, the narrator says the word liaison without rendering any moral viewpoint. Though many dictionaries contain moral defects in the word, Longman Advanced American Dictionary says liaison means “a sexual relationship between two people who are not married” without any further moral angles, and Merriam-Webster says it means “a close bond or connection”.

Can we use the word liaison casually, like in the example?

share|improve this question
Please cite your source--this seems to be from a book, and without the source it's not attributed correctly – simchona Jan 1 '13 at 3:15
While this usage of liaisons seems to have no moral connotations (although it's difficult to say that without more of a context), it's definitely a sexual reference. Those liaisons were with lovers. The narrator seems to be allowing the readers to make their own moral judgment, however. – user21497 Jan 1 '13 at 3:27
The moral viewpoint is (to me) clear – amoral. Those “liaisons” were casual, indeed forgotten - amoral. I guess I don’t understand your question. Are you implying the author’s/character’s casual view of sexual relationships is immoral? If you are asking if the use of the word is correct, it is. If you are asking if humans should dare have such opinions of sexual interaction, you’ll have to talk to your spiritual guidance councilor. Mine says it’s A-OK. – ipso Jan 1 '13 at 3:35
@ispo Amoral or immoral? – tchrist Jan 1 '13 at 3:37
The word has various meanings, nearly all of them explained in dictionaries. Shows insufficient background effort. – Kris Jan 1 '13 at 13:38
up vote 1 down vote accepted

The OED provides in its sense 2 both an older, generic subsense and a newer, specific subsense.

The generic one is:

a. gen. An intimate relation or connexion.

while the specific one is:

b. spec. An illicit intimacy between a man and a woman.

(Although today, one should probably write that as an illicit intimacy regardless of the sex of the two parties: man and man, man and woman, woman and man, woman and woman.)

However, both debuted in the early 19th century, so it is probably not right to claim the one the elder use. There is a 17th century sense related to cooking, and also two more 19th century senses: one related to phonetics and the other a military term. The military liaison sense in particular is attractive, because there is no sexual overtone there at all.

I think you can sometimes get away with it. It just depends on context.

share|improve this answer

The sexual connotation of the word liaison is not its prime meaning. We speak all the time of liaisons between governments and their bureaus and departments, and it is unlikely that these are meant in a sexual sense.

1. communication and contact between groups or units
2. (modifier) of or relating to liaison between groups or units a liaison officer
3. a secretive or adulterous sexual relationship
4. (Military) the relationship between military units necessary to ensure unity of purpose
5. (Linguistics / Phonetics & Phonology) (in the phonology of several languages, esp French) the pronunciation of a normally silent consonant at the end of a word immediately before another word commencing with a vowel, in such a way that the consonant is taken over as the initial sound of the following word. Liaison is seen between French ils (il) and ont (ɔ̃), to give ils ont (il zɔ̃)
6. (Cookery) any thickening for soups, sauces, etc., such as egg yolks or cream


share|improve this answer
I really wish Collins would do those “in order”. Oh wel, it is pretty good anyway. – tchrist Jan 1 '13 at 3:20

Yes, you can use it casually without worrying about the sexual connotations unless the context forces them front and center. The military and diplomatic services of many countries have liaison officers, and their jobs have nothing to do with illicit sexual relationships. Even the famous film Les Liaisons Dangereuses kept the novel's title word dangerous to indicate the sexual nature of the liaisons depicted in the work.

share|improve this answer
As opposed to the Kyrious Liaisons, the ungodly rewrite. – tchrist Jan 1 '13 at 3:25
@tchrist: Got a link for that? I couldn't find it. – user21497 Jan 1 '13 at 3:30
I was actually thinking of Cruel Intentions, which is definitely a curious liaison. I just threw the Greek in because Kyrie eleison (older, eleëson) for Κύριε ἑλέησον from the opening movement of the Mass always seems perversely punny for “curious liaisons” and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and that modern remake was an especially perverse one. Blame it on the party favors. – tchrist Jan 1 '13 at 3:35
@tchrist: I see. I don't know the mass, but I've heard the name. – user21497 Jan 1 '13 at 3:46
If I may add...several of my job titles included "liaison" as I communicated between the business unit and technology department. There's the liaison (noun), and the liaison (wink, wink!) verb. – Kristina Lopez Jan 1 '13 at 3:48

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.