Consort

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Consort is an ambiguous word. There are two nouns and a verb written so. They have (slightly) different pronunciations, as well as different meanings. As commonly, the verb 'to consort' has the stress on the second syllable ('con-SORT', IPA: /kɒn ˈsɔːrt/ while both nouns have the stress on the first (/ˈkɒn sɔːrt/).

  • The basic meaning of the verb is 'to keep company with', 'to associate with'. This is often used pejoratively, as in such indications of bad character as "consorting with common criminals". This verb is connected to the first noun:
  • 'a consort' (pronounced 'CON-sort', IPA: /ˈkɒn sɔːrt/, in which the syllables are nearly equally stressed) is an official companion, usually a husband or wife. At sea, it is used of one ship sailing 'in company' with another. In official language, it is the title of a person married to a reigning monarch who does not in fact reign as well, as His Royal Highness Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh is the consort of the current (2010) monarch, Queen Elizabeth. The terms Empress-Consort, Prince-Consort, Queen-Consort and King-Consort have been used, but not often in England. Philip of Spain, husband to Mary I, was known as King Philip, but kept away from the government of the country under the terms of the marriage treaty: he was in fact the only King-Consort in English history, if not in name.
Most Queens in British history have been consorts to the reigning Kings. (AWE has lists of royal consorts, an alphabetical one at British royal consorts by name and a chronological one at British Royal Consorts by date.) Six English queens have been Queens Regnant (reigning, with as much power as a King) in the last 500 years: Mary I, Elizabeth I, Mary II, Queen Anne, Queen Victoria and Elizabeth II; of these the last four have also reigned in Scotland, along with Mary Queen of Scots.
  • The second meaning of the noun consort is similar to the first. It is an older, obsolescent way of saying what is now expressed by consortium: an association or partnership, usually nowadays a number of business companies grouping together for a specific purpose.
Readers of AWE are advised not to use consort for consortium.
    • From 1586, another error has existed, which is to confuse consort with concert in the musical sense. (In this sense, it is pronounced like concert: 'CON-sert'). A group of musicians might correctly be labelled a consort - in the same way as a consort of bankers, or armies of different countries; it is an error (and has been since the sixteenth century) to take it that this means a public performance of music. Some groups who play early music, however, like to preserve the archaism in their titles, like the Early Music Consort of London, formed 1967, disbanded 1976. Such musicians give pleasure by playing in an archaic manner, so we should allow them their pleasure in an archaic spelling. We should notice, however, that their performances are concerts, not consorts.