The following paragraph of Maureen Dowd’s article on former CIA chief, David Petraeus’ scandal titled “Reputation, Reputation, Reputation” appearing in November 13 New York Times seems to require sufficient knowledge about the background of American pop culture and politics.

Though it may look a bit lengthy, I’d like to show you “a mind-boggling mélange” of symbolic names and titles for your interest.

“His fall started as Sophocles and turned sophomoric, a mind-boggling mélange of “From Here to Eternity,” “You’ve Got Mail,” “The Real Housewives of Centcom,” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” It features toned arms, slinky outfits, a cat fight, titillating e-mails, a military more consumed with sex than violence, a plot with more inconceivable twists than “Homeland,” an “embedded” mistress named Broadwell, a biography called “All In,” an other-other woman of Middle East ancestry who was a “social liaison” to the military, a pair of generals helping the socialite’s twin sister with a custody case, and lawyers and crisis-management experts linked to Monica Lewinsky, John Edwards and the ABC show “Scandal.””

Now I was interested in the word, “an other-other woman.” I don’t think I’ve ever met this word. I can’t find “other-other” in dictionaries at hand. My PC spell-checker keeps demanding correction of “an other-other” as an error.

Google Ngram viewer doesn’t register either “an other-other” or “other-other”.

Is “an other-other somebody / something” a popular expression, or Dowd’s custom coinage? Why can’t she say simply “another”? How different is it from “another,” “the other,” “a separate /different person / thing”?

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    As a side note, let me just say that the passage is replete with overblown, stylistically awful prose. Maureen Dowd's incessant references to movies and items of pop culture work the audience for nudges of recognition with all the subtlety and restraint of a carnival barker. She is dumping her journalistic purse out on the table in the hope that something in there will resonate with each of us. – Robusto Nov 14 '12 at 12:57
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    It's not a set phrase. But it's not an unknown pattern. There are theater's on Broadway in NYC which are the best theaters ever. Many good productions occur in theaters not on Broadway; these are called off-Broadway. The theater market is so full there that it is good enough to be -in- NYC but in neither of these places to be recognized as good. These are off of off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway. – Mitch Nov 14 '12 at 13:45

When a married man has an affair with a single woman, that woman is sometimes referred to as "the Other Woman." Perhaps that phrase could be regarded as slang, but it's well established in literature, even in relationship counseling. (For example, see this book, this book, or a host of others.)

Jealousy rages in exposed extramarital affairs; the wife may be angry at (and jealous of) the Other Woman, yet the Other Woman might feel jealousy toward the wife, too (because the wife is able to show her affection in public, for example). The term Other Woman often functions as a "pronoun" of sorts when describing such emotions in the general case.

I haven't been following the lurid details of the Petraeus case, but, from what bits I've seen, I think he was intimate with two other women. Dowd's way of commenting on this juicy scandal, then, is to refer to the other other woman, in other words, the woman whom Petraeus had an affair with, after Petraeus was already having an affair.

At some point in time, the Other Woman may have become aware of Petraeus’ indiscretions with the Other Other Woman (or vice-versa) – at least that's what I'd assume from Dowd's account, since the expression Other Woman is often used when sorting out the emotional aftermath of an exposed affair. But I could be wrong about that, and Ms. Dowd may just be piling on with dramatic words, as she is often wont to do.

To answer your last question, no, the expression other other woman isn't all that common – partly because Ms. Dowd probably injected that over-the-top phrase in her colorful paragraph to evoke titillated chuckles and scandalous gasps (along with "toned arms, slinky outfits, a cat fight", etc.), and partly because similarly-structured relationships between four people seldom get so much press.

Your question has made me curious, though: perhaps ELU has tainted me somewhat. Instead of being tempted to go learn more about the sultry Petraeus affairs, I'm left wondering if Ms. Dowd correctly hyphenated other-other woman.

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    It's complicated: Petraeus' Other Woman sent threatening emails to another woman who turned out to be Another General's Other Woman. Properly (or under the circumstances improperly) the latter could be characterized as either "another Other Woman" or "another's Other Woman"; so perhaps we should allow other-other or even other/other to pass. – StoneyB Nov 14 '12 at 12:39
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    We now know who Petraeus' other other women is It is now officially a real expression :) – mplungjan Nov 14 '12 at 13:03
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    Love the question of hyphenation. – user14070 Nov 14 '12 at 13:48
  • I think you're right - it should be "other other-woman" – Charles Nov 14 '12 at 16:04

A married man's mistress is often referred to as the other woman. Since the Petraeus scandal involves a second mistress, she is — for added effect — being referred to as the other-other woman.

I agree with @J.R. that the phrase is incorrectly hyphenated. If it needed to be hyphenated at all, it should have been the other other-woman instead.

Seeing as to how other woman has warranted a dictionary entry of its own, it's a recognised phrase. Authors also like exercising a little licence and introducing wordplay into their writing; this is what Dowd has done with other-other woman. Using alternatives (such as another or separate) that did not plainly involve this phrase would not have meant the same thing.


Seems recognisable enough, I for sure did not have to think about it when I read it. Here are examples

We now know who Petraeus' other other woman is

nGram for other other woman

nGram for other other woman

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