Endearments – Yea or Nay?

imagesDearest, darling readers: I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day with your loved ones.  My day began quite unexceptionally, at school with those sweet children in my class, and all I planned to do when I got home was start Gaelen Foley’s One Night of Sin.  But guess what, cupcakes?  Before long I was sighing and shaking my head.  There was one thing, O Best Beloveds, that was driving me to near insanity – much as I am probably doing to you currently, my poor angels.  And that was the proliferation of endearments.

I have a hard time dealing with them, especially the flowery ones, and especially when they’re used often.  One Night of Sin has them in abundance and I find them nauseating.  But are they nauseating because it’s actually overkill, or is it just because I’m not used to them?

I’m inclined to attribute my reaction to my own personality.  My own upbringing was completely devoid of English endearments, which is probably why they sound so foreign to me.  (English was actually my second language, but to all intents and purposes it is now my mother tongue.)  My parents probably weren’t comfortable enough in English to use English endearments, and their personalities don’t really lend themselves to endearments anyway, except for certain Cantonese ones.  One in particular that I heard a lot during my childhood translates literally as “daft pig.”  But see, context told me that the term was affectionate, and that my parents weren’t actually calling me an ignorant swine.  (I hope.)

Ultimately, I think endearments are personal choices, and if there’s one thing all languages have in common it’s some term of endearment.  Those terms are often quite foolish (for isn’t love foolish sometimes?) – I’m thinking of French right now, which features mon chou (“my cauliflower”) and ma mie (“my bread crumb”) as particular gems of ridiculousness.  And within cultures, their usage can be interpreted in many ways.  Look at “baby”, or “babycakes.”  Belittling, chauvinistic, and derogatory?  Or simple expressions of affection?  Context and intonation is key to using endearments; I’ve been called “dear” with love and also with complete condescension.  (Pissed me off that time, too.)

So, yeah, it’s personal, and it’s also a part of cultural semiotics and language.  Learning how to use an endearment is just as relative and important as learning how to use, say, “mate” in New Zealand or “y’all” in the South.  I now use the word “mate” occasionally, in some circumstances, but that’s only because:

  • I heard it a lot in New Zealand.
  • I gained an understanding of how it worked.
  • When I tried it out gingerly, no one punched me in the face.

“Mate”, I’m okay with now.  Maybe if I spend a lot of time in a community that uses “darling” in proliferation, or if my partner was partial to endearments, then perhaps I’d get used to them.  And maybe even build them into my daily vocabulary.  But right now, hearing them, and hearing them often, still makes me uncomfortable.

What endearments are you used to, or do you use?  What did you grow up with?  What’s your take on them?

- Jean AAR

32 thoughts on “Endearments – Yea or Nay?

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  2. I grew up hearing my parents call each other “honey” and “dear” so often, it was years before I realized they were English words that were being used as endearments. I heard them as being other names they had for each other. It was an “Aha!” moment, in a good way, because I realized that the tone of voice was never sarcastic or matter-of-fact.
    On the other hand, the steamiest they got around us (6) kids was hot and heavy kissing . . . well, that is how it seemed to us. When we were little, we would all gather round and hold on to a skirt or pants legs. It seemed like those kisses went on forever!

  3. I normally dislike too many endearments, either in my life or my books. Especially when said by men and especially in a false voice. However, I have been reading – or rather listening to – Anne Stuart’s Rohan series and recently finished Breathless. In it the author uses an incredible number of endearments, but most are used sarcastically, so they are not so cloyingly annoying. And the narrator, Susan Erickson does a good job with the “hero’s” voice, so even when he is not being sarcastic, his common endearment of “my child” sounds plausible and realistic for the character.

    Upon thinking about it, I wonder if excessive endearments are easier on the reader, if heard rather than read. However, JFTEE-Auburn mentioned the use of Sassenach as an endearment in the Outlander series and felt it was used well. I listened to the Outlander series and like many critics consider Davina Porter’s narration of the series to be the most perfect marriage of audiobook and narrator ever. But I got really tired of her saying Sassenach. She did an excellent job capturing the voice of Jamie Frasier both as a young and a middle-aged man. However, she always sounded “off” whenever she said this word. It just didn’t ring true and it was jarring enough it pulled me out of my delighted concentration. Maybe if I read the word it would have been easier to take.

  4. I use many and varied endearments but will never call someone I care about “pet”. A newly married couple used this term for each other and it was cringeworthy every time.

  5. I use ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’ most often, and only for my husband & kids. My youngest sister is ‘sweetie darling’ from our days watching Ab Fab, and I further humiliate my children by calling them ‘pomme’ or ‘sweet tato’, muhahahaha. (The first means ‘apple’ in French — can no longer remember where I picked it up.)

  6. When our kids where growing up my husband and I would call each other Mommy and Daddy. when the kids became teenagers they asked us to please not call each other Mommy and Daddy when their friends came over. We said ok sure. But of course when the friends came over we would say “Oh Daddy Daddy I love you so and he would say oh Mommy Mommy I love you too” I know, we were terrible parents.

  7. I don’t mind endearments in person or in writing unless they’re overused. I get tired of every author assuming Texan men say “darlin’” all the time, or southern women call everyone “sugar.”

    We use endearments in my home. I call the kids and my husband “sweetie,” or “honey” frequently. When the kids were younger they were often pumpkin or goose or sweet pea. Occasionally an endearment such as sweetie slips out when I’m conversing with students (high school) but the kids seems to think it’s funny and laugh when I do it.

    I do *not* like terms such as “little one” or “baby girl.”

  8. My mother always called me pumpkin and I do use some rather silly endearments with my own kids. Other than that, I tend not to use them much and don’t really notice it in books as long as it fits with the characters.

  9. Re the use of “Sassenach” as an endearment…as a Scot, that’s a strong insult! Mind you, I loathed Outlander with the burning of a hundred suns. All that faux Scots dialogue and Braveheartesque history really grated on me and I simply couldn’t read beyond the first book.

  10. This all puts me in mind of the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry had a girlfriend who liked the particular endearment “Shmoopie”. Jerry and his girlfriend have bits where they went back and forth with “No, you’re Shmoopie!” while the other characters rolled they eyes and gagged.

    My husband and still make fun with that one once in a while. It was a great way to make fun of over-endearments.

  11. The endearment of choice in my husband’s family is “darling” and I have adopted that (English not being my mother tongue). Other endearments abound, though, both in his family and mine, so I rarely blink at them in books. Travelling around the British Isles when I was in my twenties was the first time I experienced non-family using them. Strangers – from train conductors to shopkeepers – would often throw in a “luv” or “dear”, or sometimes a “sunshine”, and I grew to like that as it always came with a smile and a cheerful, helpful attitude.

    By the way, “ma mie” is a mediaeval form of “mon amie”, meaning not “my bread crumb” but “my (beloved) friend”.

    • Danielle: By the way, “ma mie” is a mediaeval form of “mon amie”, meaning not “my bread crumb” but “my (beloved) friend”.

      Ha, I never knew that! Thanks Danielle. I always thought it was just a particularity.

  12. My hubby and I have zillions of endearments we use for each other… but then, we’ve been together 19 years and many of them are inside jokes. It is like we have our own language.

    I also remember when we first got married, he’d call me the wife and I would call him the husband ’cause we got such a thrill out of being married.

    In books, I love it when the endearment means something personal to the couple. Like when a lover calls a woman who thinks of herself as plain “Beautiful” because in HIS eyes, she IS beautiful.

  13. The “sweetie” and “honey” from someone you don’t know is just like water off of a duck’s back. It doesn’t really mean anything special; irksome as it might be. Endearments for small children are sweet and given out of love and probably a memorable, shared event. I use the term “kjareste” (dearest) for my Norwegian husband. I never thought about why, but thinking about it now, I think it is because it isn’t a normal (English) endearment that I am familiar with, as honey, sweetheart, etc., so I don’t have any baggage attached to it. It is foreign and thus more romantic in my head and not commonplace. I think there is a point of ownership to the term; something that only I could say to him.

    Again, thanks for the question. A simple query, on the face of it, but upon reflection maybe not quite so simple.

    One of the most touching endearments is Jamie Frazer’s use of Sassenach to Claire in the Outlander series. Now there is an endearment for, and from, the heart.

  14. Sweeheart…Honey…Dear. My parent who raised me used all kinds of endearments and I have found them to be…well…endearing and comforting and therefore I use them with abundance and joy!

  15. I didn’t grow up with endearments. Not many anyway. Maybe a ‘sweetheart’ here and there, but other than that…no. Although, my mother always told us she loved us, my Dad did too. Now my husband…he grew up with them all over the place. He has a nickname for everyone…everyone. I do use them with my 4yr. old grandson. It’s usually a sweetie-pie, or a cutie. He likes them. And my dogs…yes…I use them with my dogs. I grew up with my mother speaking a bit of French and German (she was brilliant with languages) so my dogs understand endearments in those languages. Or at least I tell myself they do. :)
    Oh…and before I forget. I hate when a clerk at a store or a wait person calls me Honey. Hate it. Usually, they are much younger than I am, which is wierd and if a man is closer to my age…creepy. I just don’t like it.

  16. I am an endearment and nickname using fool. I must confess, though, sometimes it’s because I can’t remember your name :-( But mostly I use ‘em with the people I love most. I have two nieces who were dubbed Redbeans and Rice by my husband, and I still occasionally call them that (those names are how they are listed in my phone contact list). I called my husband “chief”, He was that rank for the last part of his career, and it just kinda stuck with him into retirement.

    In my endearment lexicon, men are “handsome” and women are “hon”. Mostly I just use shortened forms of the persons’ name; Justin becomes Just, Lauren becomes Laur etc.

    My sisters grandchildren call her Mimi, and they call their other grandfather Poppy. Oddly enough Poppy is a minister, and is affectionately know as Reverend Poppy on occasion.

    Dabney, I love your Mom’s saying, and in my family we are big on “I love you” also. Isn’t that a great thing to say to someone and really feel and mean it?!!

  17. I still use endearments with my adult children and my husband. My husband is a man of few words so I love to hear him call me “dear.” I sometimes even use an endearment when saying “bye” to a friend – and they return a similar phrase. It may be the part of the country I live in. We Okies are fond of endearments.

    But that doesn’t mean I want to read an abundance in romance. Often they sound insincere or are meant to establish an intimacy that has yet to be proven to me as the reader.

  18. My parents always used “honey” when speaking to each other, and my dad called me “sissy” when I was young, probably because he grew up in Texas and that’s a common endearment there. My brother and SIL call each other “buddy,” but I have no idea how that started. The only endearment I use, and that’s usually with one longtime friend in emails, is “Sweetpea.”

  19. Never noticed, actually. I use endearments only when appropriate…I think. I don’t think anyone would doubt my intention were I to use them otherwise, though. Probably any word can have a different meaning depending on intonation. Just think of the many ways one can use “Oh, really.”

  20. I don’t mind endearments unless they start going overboard. I’ve never seen it go crazy in person, but I have on sitcoms and I would kill someone if they did that around me. Or at the very least, get up and leave the room. However, I hate endearments that sound derogatory. I don’t mean things like baby. I mean calling someone doll or little one. Ugh. It sounds like you’re talking to a 4 year old. I don’t care how sweet you’re being when you say it. Call her baby, darling, sweetheart. ANYTHING but doll or little one :)

  21. I use terms of endearment for my kids but I don’t use them for my husband. I think that comes as a relic from when they were babies – I felt perfectly comfortable cooing at my babies that they were “sweeties” and “peaches” and that continues to this day. In fact, I call my son “tuki” for no good reason except that I once read somewhere that it meant something sweet and liked the way it sounded so have been calling him that since birth.

    But to use an endearment with an adult makes me squirmy. I may call my husband “hon” but that’s about as far as I’ll go unless we are in a joking endearment contest, in which case I like “pumpkin head”.

  22. This is an interesting point – I just realized while reading this that my characters don’t tend to use these terms often with each other. Hmmm.

    With my very close family, I do use these terms, but somewhat sparingly.

    When a person I don’t know (a waitress, online friend, etc) calls me “Honey” or “Sweetie” I want to strangle them.

    I guess I like to reserve these sorts of terms for people I really feel affection for in my personal life. Apparently, my characters do, too.

    • Heather Avalon: When a person I don’t know (a waitress, online friend, etc) calls me “Honey” or “Sweetie” I want to strangle them.

      Yeah, one of my aunts is like this. Drives her nuts.

  23. Personality and place are both important when it comes to endearments, imo. I have pet names for some people and use them and often use hun – short for honey – for my husband. On the other hand, it has been more traditional in the South to use endearments a lot, with strangers and with friends/family. I’m used to that usage of words like “sugar” and have no problem with it. Like you, tone of voice and inflection are critical to the implicit meaning of the term and when those terms are used in a negative way, it’s obvious.

    The only place I find I am having issues with terms of endearment is that I am a longtime reader of Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series and I have seriously started to get annoyed with the constant use of “little one”.

    • Mo: The only place I find I am having issues with terms of endearment is that I am a longtime reader of Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series and I have seriously started to get annoyed with the constant use of “little one”.

      Oh geez. “Little one” can have a serious ick factor for me – it’s very borderline between what’s appropriate and what’s not, what’s completely chauvinistic and not. And the Carpathians are definitely not the only one.

  24. I use “honey” and “sweetie” all the time for the students at the elementary school where I work. I called my 16 year old son “pookie” last night and then I realized 16 year old boys probably don’t want to be called pookie. He has a sense of humor about it and I didn’t do it in front of any of his friends.

  25. My husband and I always call each other “honey”. Endearments in stories don’t really bother me, unless they are too goofy like “cupcake”.

  26. Mostly I use nicknames as endearments. For example, my daughter I call “goose”, which came from calling her a “silly goose”, but just got shortened. Now it is more a nickname than anything, but since I am the only one who uses it, it is an endearment.

  27. Yeah, I’m not really an endearment person either. To kids, I’ll use sweetie and stuff like that, especially now with my granddaughter. But to people (and husband), that’s not my style. But then it’s not his either. I call my husband by his name and that’s it. (Boy, that sounds cold.) To my grown daughters, I also say a few sweet words, but definitely not overkill. It’s got to be the personality. Those people who gush make me uncomfortable; but if I know them well enough, I realize it’s their style and let it go.

    When I look back on my reading, it goes hand in hand with the same preferences. I like almost straight- and to-the-point writing. A Judith Ivory kind of style turns me off (JMO, guys, and I only used her as an example). LOL

  28. I call my husband and, often my kids, “Honey.” I’m not sure why–I didn’t grow up with endearments either.

    The one thing I do say a lot is “I love you.” My mom has this thing where every time our family is together, she says “I love my family.” and now we all say it as though it’s grace or something.

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