Who the hell is this “shimu” everyone is talking about? Well, not everyone — just our department’s always helpful and infinitely polite administrative assistant. After noticing my blank stare, she explained that shimu 師母 was another word for my wife.
More precisely, it is a way to refer to the wife of a teacher. Not surprisingly there is no equivalent term that means the husband of a female teacher. Following the analogy of hen and rooster (muji 母雞 and gongji 公雞), the matching phrase should be shigong 師公, but that means “grandmaster” or “sorcerer,” not the husband of a female teacher. Shimu is certainly a long way from the sexual-orientation-neutral “partner” now favored in U.S. academic circles.
Anyway, shimu arrives in Taiwan on Saturday … hopefully once people learn her Chinese name, Xia Xueli 夏雪莉, they’ll be no need for this formal shimu stuff.
UPDATE: Jon B. explains that language doesn’t always work by analogy. There is a term for the teacher’s husband and it is shizhang 師丈. And as both he and Joe correctly point out, it would be horribly rude to call her by her name, so she’ll be stuck with a title of some kind. (I should also add that it was a Taiwanese graduate student who incorrectly told me there was no equivalent term … I do try to check with native informants before I publish! I guess I’ll have to pick my informants better next time.)