We use many terms of endearment – words and phrases to say “I love you” to our loved ones. ‘Darling’, ‘honey’, ‘sweetheart’ and ‘dear’ are some of the most commonly used words, not only for lovers but also for kids. At times, an entirely unrelated word or phrase may be used.
The Importance of Using Terms of Endearment
There are anthropological origins to pet names used in different types of relationships. Relationships are small cultures in themselves and rituals like nicknames and similar private languages reinforce them. Although they play a healthy role in ordinary times, terms of endearment are useful whenever conflicts arise. They allow a natural recourse to playfulness and humor whenever things become rough in relationships.
British Terms of Affection
‘Dear’ is one of the more common words used by couples in the UK. ‘Love’ and ‘darling’ can also find place once in a while. It is amusing that British couples gradually lose their interest in using creative words and phrases with age. Interestingly, they are more likely to make up for this by using words of affection of their children.
You shouldn’t be surprised if parents call their kids ‘pumpkin’, ‘lamb’, ‘sweet pea’ or ‘pikaninny’ in British English. In Scotland, children are often called as ‘bairnie’ and in Ireland as ‘mhuirnin’. Teens usually use the words ‘lover’, ‘baby’, and ‘babes’ to express their affection.
Brief History of Popular Words of Affection
‘Honey’ has been found to be used as word of affection since at least the 1500s. ‘Sugar’ and ‘baby’ are more recent words. Let’s look at the brief history of some of the most commonly used terms of endearment.
- Sweetheart – The first time the word ‘sweetheart’ was used to express love, it was written as two words – ‘sweet’ and ‘heart’ during the 17th century. It has been used traditionally for expression love and affection both generally and for a specific person with whom one is in love.
But starting the 19th century, ‘sweetheart’ has been seen to be used as part of disdainful slang language in many cases. One example is that of Frank Parrish’s book, Fire in the Barley, where he uses it in the following way – “Try harder, sweetheart, or I’ll plug you in the guts.”
- Darling – It is one of those rare few words of endearment that crosses different boundaries. It has been used traditionally by everyone ranging from the taxi cab driver – “where are you going darling?” to the upper classes. Interestingly, is a rephrasing of the word ‘dear’, coming from the old English word of ‘deorling’, taking the shape of ‘deyrling’ over the 16th century and then becoming ‘darling’ eventually.
- Sugar – ‘Sugar’ has been in use since the 13th century. It has been used in the proverbial and figurative sense since then. But the current way of using the word originated only during the 1930s. It has taken many other forms like sugar-pie and sugar-babe, and many others. A more recent song goes – “Tippy tap toe, my little sugar plum” (Woody Guthrie).
- Baby & Babe – These are a couple of the most commonly used words of affection almost all over the world. The reason is probably simple – both babies and loved ones evoke almost similar kind of emotions. We want to love, care for and protect them. ‘Baby’ can be more commonly seen as a normal word used between lovers in the US.
‘Babe’ is nothing more than a shortened form of the word ‘baby’ and is mostly seen used in Britain. The word ‘baby’ can seem to be arrogant and not welcome unless it is used in a playful or comical form. These two words are different from the above-mentioned terms of endearment in that they are used only between couples. They are seen as offensive if used by strangers.
Oh, and great love quotes work well in notes.
Use of Words of Affection and Terms of Endearment in Love Letters
There are two splendid examples of how people have used terms of endearment in ways that are at the opposite ends of the intensity of love.
Vladimir Nabokov’s Love Letters
Vladimir Nabokov’s love letters for his lady love Vera are considered as one of the best examples of the use of creative words of affection. His initial love letters opened with terms of endearment like “my dear life”, “my love and joy”, and “my happiness”. Gradually, his used of words turned to interesting nicknames and a loving series of bestiary. It is worth mentioning both the lovers shared a love of animals between them. So his later letters could be seen starting with my “Mousie”, “Sparrowling”, “Roosterkin”, and “Mymousch” (stands for monkey in Russian). With words like ‘Fire-Beastie’ and ‘Pupuss’ (a mix between a puppy and kitten), he took things to the extreme.
The Romans Use of Terms of Endearment
The Romans can be seen to be standing at the other end of the spectrum compared to the level of intensity used in the words of affection by Nabokov. Some of the most commonly used words in love letters during Roman times include ‘dearest’, ‘sweetest’, and ‘well-deserving’. Some can seem to be touching on the borders of official words.
The words for ‘dearest’ were ‘carissimus’ and ‘carissima’. ‘Dulcis’ is ‘sweetest’ and ‘bene merens’ is ‘well deserving’ in Roman. In other words, the traditional words of endearment used in Roman love letters were more restrained in terms of their declaration of love.
So, when you’re writing to your loved one for Valentine’s Day this year, use a term of endearment that you know and love.