tally, n.
ONE OF life's mysteries is that Reader's Digest sells millions but none of us knows anybody who reads it, let alone subscribes. None the less, one is often glad to chance upon its books secondhand. Invariably cheap, they are often good (setting aside its condensed novels); especially John Kahn's hefty Reverse Dictionary (1989): an outlay of pounds 2 soon yielded "living tally".

From the Latin talea, stick, and French tallie, this medieval device was notched wood on which creditor and debtor each recorded the transaction; by the 19th century, especially up north, it was an agreement to live in "unmarried impropriety" (John Hotten). It petered out this century, but could be a nimble way round clumsy talk of partners and common-law wives.