Dearest, 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