I just saw this t-shirt.
Though a snappy example of circa-2018 relationship slang, the phrase does little more than repeat the age-old wisdom that a woman should not give her heart to a cad. Still, I find one bit of that slang particularly intriguing, the word “wifey”.
In this context, “wifey” functions as an adjective. Morphologically the -y suffix also makes it sound like an adjective. (“She’s acting all prickly.” “His shirt is sparkly.”) However, being a noun is what distinguishes this new slang sense. A woman who you hold in high esteem, who you have feelings for and aren’t merely using for sex is a wifey.1 Clearly the trick here lies in the defamiliarization of “wife”. The extra morpheme at the end adds an extra kick to a word that is otherwise so commonplace we barely notice it. But how exactly does it accomplish this? What is -y’s semantic payload? Is it merely an affectionate diminutive like in “puppy” or “kitty”, or does the ending actually create an adjectival form of “wife” which is then insouciantly employed as a noun? Etymologically I bet it’s the former (though I couldn’t tell you why), but the latter reading also feels plausible, so I entertain it as well whenever I hear “wifey”. Which is what makes the above usage so delightful: a noun transformed into an ostensive adjective, thereby flaunting its nouniness, dropped into a situation in which it must function without hesitation as an adjective. It’s like a grammatical version of Victor, Victoria. I love it.
1Not so much a literal wife though. Which makes you think that the current rules of heterosexual engagement (in which a woman is supposed to aspire to be a wifey and ultimately a wife, while a man is supposed to keep negotiating for sex for as long as he can) are more concerned with enhancing matrimony’s exchange value by way of endless deferral than they are with actually getting people laid or hitched.2
2 I also misunderstood the term “fuck boy” when I first heard it. Obviously, it is intended to be dismissive, but I initially believed that a fuck boy was a boy a woman merely used for sex. Like a boy toy, except more disposable. But, no, I came to learn that “fuck boy” basically just means cad too. This is a letdown, because the notion of cadishness requires an implicit sense of female victimization. I want there to be language to describe women who pursue sex in a manner that is maybe slightly selfish, but still powerful and exuberant. I’d use those words. I’d sleep with those women.