Jun 282010

DSC_0296 by gen cartalla.There’s a wonderful post over at Macmillan Dictionary where a small Chinese woman (Jamie Zhang) puzzles over her life in England and says:

When I wanted to buy some apples in the open market, the stall holder said, “How many, darling?” My cheeks turned pink. Were we about to become lovers or get married?”

I’m sure she’s not alone. I once had a big burly French student who did a lot of work up in the north of England. ‘But why did the male bus driver call me ‘Love’, Vicki?’, he asked. I was sure that no threat to his manlihood was intended. So I did my best to explain our regional terms of endearment and how I was ‘Hinny’ in Newcastle and ‘Duck’ in Bedfordshire etc.

He needed to get along with and strike up a rapport with folks from all over the UK, so together we hatched a plan – a plan that we thought might bring his European team together.

It led to some of the most enjoyable telephone role plays I’ve ever participated in class. He was very partial to ‘love’ so he’d call me up and greet me with’ ‘Hello love’ and I’d respond with something like ‘Hello chuck’, and then we’d carry on with the how-are-yous and then the sales projections or whatever was the meat of the call. We had this idea that we might be creating a new cool understanding of togetherness in Europe.

I wonder how his career progressed. I never heard from him again

So anyway, what are your terms of endearment? And when and why do you use them?

 Posted by at 12:46 pm

  23 Responses to “Terms of endearment”

  1. Here are some terms of endearment (+ translations) Germans use:

    Bärchen (little bear)
    Gummibärchen (jelly baby)
    Hasi (bunny)
    Kuschelbär (cuddle/huggy bear)
    Liebling (beloved, darling)
    Mausi (little mouse)
    Schatz (treasure)
    Schatzi/Schätzchen (little treasure)
    Schnuckelchen (little cutey)
    Schnuckiputzi (cutey-pie)
    Spatzi (little sparrow)
    Süße (sweetie)

    but you’d get some very odd looks if you used any of them with someone who wasn’t your partner/lover.

  2. Well, as you know, in the US this kind of thing is considered best avoided outside of the family, except by (and sometimes toward) the elderly and eccentric, toward children, toward pets, by people who mean to be patronizing, by people who are faking familiarity (certain kinds of hairdressers, bartenders, servers), and by chauvinistic men. It’s that last usage that has given the overall pattern such a bad feeling in the US, I think: those terms used to be in pretty wide usage by the average American man toward women, but very rarely used by the average American woman toward men, revealing an underlying sexist, patronizing, belittling meaning.

    Recently, I heard a male photographer at a science fiction convention address a costumed young woman as “honey” when he asked if he could take her photo. I guess he was trying to sound more friendly/familial, but I could tell from the expression on her face that she was put off. She let him take her photo anyway, but unless you’re Johnny Depp, addressing American women with terms of endearment when you’re not in an appropriate relationship with them is likely to work against you, not for you.

    (Of course, it varies by region–I think this kind of thing is much less acceptable on the west coast than in some other areas, but it’s better to err on the polite side and just skip such potentially belittling forms of address.)

    I don’t think I use those terms with anyone except my husband, friends’ babies, or pets. 🙂

  3. John, you Schätzchen, you! These are mouth-wateringly good ones. Ha! They sound much more endearing in German than they would in English.

    And thank you so much Clarissa. Oddly enough, I was called ‘Hun’ (short for honey) the other day at the doctor’s surgery when I was looking under the weather. I think it might be possible to elicit quite a few Honeys or Huns around me here in Philly actually if I go to the right places. You’ve cited some excellent contexts for hearing them. The waitress/server at the pizza joint on the corner would be a good place to start. Appearing vulnerable might help. Would tripping and falling over do it, as passerby’s help me to my feet, I wonder.
    Re the pcness of them, I think appropriacy is key. I never felt the nurse at the doctor’s surgery was being fake when she called me ‘hun’. I interpreted it as part of showing concern about me shivering in an overly air-conditioned room. But if the doctor had called me honey, I’d certainly have thought it very strange.

    Generally speaking I’ve found pcness more prevalent in the US and I wonder why. I think it may be harder to challenge someone in the UK. So if someone complains about a remark being disrespectful, they are more likely to be questioned for having too high an opinion of themselves, or being unable to take a joke or whatever. And respect is a tricky concept because it’s something that has to be awarded by others. We have to get it by earning it and if we start demanding it instead, it might make us less worthy of receiving it.

  4. I have just got back into this debate of terms of endearment after a return to my village of birth after a decade last year.
    “Flower, petal,chuck, luv” are all used in Derbyshire and only if with a certain tone seen as patronizing.

    I kinda like them, as indicators of showing friendliness. I restrict myself to luv, and only use chuck sarcastically.

    Also a Stewism is to use luv with friends even male as a verb different from the more intimate love.

    Some Americans find the use of the terms by Brits as quaint or nice, and I have had discussions on this. Only so far with European based Americans, so not sure what the Americans in the US think.
    Canadians who I also have contact with, and can be very pc, also think this is not a bad British trait.

    As for German there are some terms not mentioned by John, like “meine Gutsterer”. Should be used amongst friends but often by drinking friends, the guys in the locals (Eck Kneipe) and construction workers.

    Then the ones that crack me up here are “Alte Gürke” and “Schneckchen”.
    Alright it is a bit dated but some Brits may use old pickle, but tiny snail, eeek.

  5. Ah Stew, you have brought back fond memories of Newcastle where I was a ‘petal’ and ‘flower’ as well as a ‘hinny’. I was surprised to learn from John that ‘little mouse’ would be a term of endearment in German, but little snail – now there’s a thing.
    Thanks for pointing out they can be fun features of idiolects. They seem ripe for language play. Something I hadn’t thought of before, but is ‘Darling’ still a common term amongst theatricals? And speaking of Darling, I remember hearing somewhere that the writers of Black Adder Goes Forth never imagined they would get the laughs they did from Captain Darling’s name. But Stephen Fry only had to call out ‘Darling’ and there was a laugh every time.

  6. Hello to Clarissa there a couple posts up. That’s interesting that you associate terms of endearment with chauvinistic men, because I mostly associate them with older women. Maybe because I’m from the South? I’ve been called “Honey”, “Baby”, “Darling”, and “Sugar” many, many times.

  7. I’ve got a tricky term of endearment for you American-English speakers to think about – what do you understand by ‘awesome’?

    For me (a Brit) ‘awesome’ means really difficult, serious or I’m terribly worried or frightened about a situation….

    I’m not so sure I like being told I’m awesome when talking to a young American lady who’s just moved to Germany and has found my advice about living and treaching here useful.

    ‘Awesome’ is certainly not a positive adjective for me (yet).

    What does an an American say when they’ve just had a fantastic holiday – surely they don’t say, ‘I had an awesome holiday’ – or do they???

    Hope not – because I’d understand they had a really horrible holiday.

  8. As a matter of fact, John, we Americans do use ‘awesome’ as a synonym of ‘fantastic’ — though if we’d just gotten back from an especially great trip, we’d say that we had ‘an awesome vacation,’ rather than a fantastic holiday.

    ‘Awesome’ is unambiguously positive on this side of the Atlantic; I find it fascinating that it has retained its more Biblical connotation (inspiring awe, or fear) for you.

  9. Thanks, Dan, I rather doubt I’ll ever say I had an awesome vacation, unless I get bitten by a poisonous spider or fall into a cactus bush (which, as Vicki knows, can sometimes happen).

    I still associate ‘awesome’ with something unpleasant or terrible, but know that Americans use it to say something is really ‘cool’ or ‘great’.

    The meaning of ‘awe’ seems to have changed when it crossed the Atlantic, but interestingly ‘awful’ hasn’t.

    I’m not an etymologist, but both awesome and awful have the same roots. ‘Awe’ orginally meant profound fear, terror or dread… and/or respect, so I wonder why it now means ‘cool’ or ‘fantastic’ in the States.

  10. Yep, I’ve seen the photos and can confirm that both poisonous spiders and cacti attack John on his holidays – and on a regular basis.

    I checked out the Oxford Concise dictionary for the BrE definition.
    awesome: extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great adminration, apprehension, or fear:
    the awesome power of the atomic bomb
    informal: extremely good, excellent
    the band is truly awesome!

    Any thoughts from any etymologists?

  11. No thoughts on the ‘awesome’ question of ‘awesome’ except that my teenage nieces and nephews in the UK would use it exclusively with the AmE meaning.

    Terms of address in Spanish/Catalan include

    For women:

    cariño – darling
    reina – queen
    guapa/maja – pretty
    chata – snub nose

    For men:

    joven – young man
    jefe – boss
    chato – snub nose (again)

    All of the above would be relatively common in a context where the speakers do not know each other, but there are factors such as age (you are more likely to hear them from the older speaker) and gender (‘jefe’ is usually used by men to other men).

    Younger people who know each other often use, rather bizarrely tio/tia (uncle/aunt) and ‘tronco’ (tree trunk!!!) for men.

    In Scotland, I would of course be ‘hen’, which my students find hilarious, until I point out that they call complete strangers ‘snub nose’.

  12. I would be interested to know what American viewers think of Lightman (Tim Roth) and his “terms of endearment” in the series “Lie to me”?


    Do you find his usage of “luv” etc as patronising?
    Especially as it comes from a character who is quite arrogant anyway.

  13. Thanks to the LingoGuy for mentioning the difference between luv and love, it’s the kind of thing my emailing class find fascinating and will somehow fit it into Saturday’s class

    This is connected to one of my all time favourite classroom anecdotes:

    A 23 year old Advanced level Italian girl in London stopped a more or less related topic in class to ask me whether she should call the customers at the charity shop she volunteered at “Love” or “Darling”, because the women she worked with used different ones each. On checking, was very unsurprised that the London ladies she worked with were all over 70, and I strongly advised her to avoid both terms

    Was very shocked to be called “My lover” somewhere down in the SW of Britain, and I’m English myself

  14. Also had to advise male students in London against using “mate”, as a small change in intonation can make it sarcastic or even threatening

  15. Love those examples, Jessica. You snub nose you! Thank you! Yeah, my (British) kids use awesome like it’s wonderful too. John, we’re gonna have to update you!

    And thank you too, Alex. I’d forgotten the west country ‘my lover’. How intimate is that? And yes, intonation and context can change meaning so much.

  16. Kids in the UK may now use ‘awesome’ in the American sense of the word… and I probably need a serious ‘update’ but I still feel more at home with the ‘old’ meaning of the word – impressive, but serious or difficult so that you feel great respect, terror or worry.

    Seems as if ‘awesome’ has gone the same way as ‘terrible’ and ‘terrific’… but not to worry – English is a dynamic language and what means X now, could well end up meaning Y later.

    We now have three interesting words:

  17. And don’t forget that other one John, a sound I feel inclined to utter when I see you here – Awwwwwwwwwww!

  18. As long as it’s not ‘Aaaargh!’ 😉

  19. Although this may not be the true/only reason that awesome has come to mean really cool or great in America, it is a trend to use words that normally have a bad connotation to mean something good or positive. For example:

    -sick (That guitar solo was sick!!!)
    -ill (This party is ill man!)
    -bad (He has a bad sense of style.)
    -nasty (That jacket is nasty!)

    I don’t use these very often because I find it very difficult to reconcile their slang meanings with the words as I learned them, but sometimes my sisters or friends say them and I’m very confused. I do use awesome to describe just about anything I find exciting or pleasing though.

  20. It is so funny to hear the different connotations of the same words. I’ve done a lot of traveling all over the world but strangely enough, the vast regional differences in the US seem to stun me more often, haha! For example, I was born and raised in Texas. I love southern hospitality! For us, a bus driver calling you hunny/sweetheart/baby/doll/da’lin (southern drawl) would be nothing out of the ordinary. I say thank you ma’am/sir to clerks, and always ask them how their day has been going. My parents were born and raised in the north however, and it took them about 20 years to get used to the fact that if someone sees you driving quickly up behind them on a one lane road, they will pull over. Not because they think you’re a crazy driver, but because you probably have some place to get to in a hurry, and this allows you to pass them safely and zoom on your merry little way. To answer theLingoGuy, I am not surprised at all or offended in any way by Lie to Me haha! But on a funny note, when I was in Illinois last week with my boyfriend, we pulled up to a drive-thru place and he rolled down his window and started with, “Hello ma’am, how are you doing tonight?” I guess she thought he was being too personal or something and got kind of offended. She answered curtly, and didn’t say “how about you?” but he said “I am as well, it’s a beautiful night.”–to which she responded “Well good. for. you.” By this time I was laughing, and he was extremely confused/hurt, haha!

    I was so happy when I crossed the Illinois state line and drove into Missouri. The first gas station we stopped at the clerk said as my boyfriend and I were getting coffee “Well, aren’t you two just the sweetest thing ever.” I think it’s good for the soul. It’s nice to be reminded daily that no matter how many jerks there are, there is some nice old lady who will genuinely give strangers compliments/ask about your day (and actually care about the answer), or a well mannered young man who will open the door. God bless Texas, haha!

  21. So glad you enjoyed it and lovely to hear from you Abby. Thanks for these great stories.

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