Thursday, March 08, 2007


The Hireling Shepherd,
William Holman Hunt, 1851.

Was surprised the other day when an invitation from my statscounter company called me by name. Also called me honey.

I almost blushed.

It's one of those endearments that flutter my eyelashes.

On the other hand, if you should call me Babe, I immediately measure the distance between my foot and your crotch.

A past and passing acquaintance of mine continually referred to her lover as Baby. I lost tooth enamel everytime I heard it.

And I entirely sympathize with Anita Blake when she snarls at Jean-Claude, "Don't call me ma petite!" Her reaction adds a minor but necessary realism, insight and reinforcement.

Some people use pet names in a passive-aggressive fashion, as a condescension. Shweetheart.

With others it's a signal of special intimacy and can tell a lot about a character, their background and their emotional involvement, and I get the feeling these terms should change as characters develope their situation - or retreat from it.

They provide a signal to the reader when the terms progress from female/woman/dame/broad to first name to sweet talk. I always enjoy it when a writer manages to insert a unique endearment or when a common one is used in an effective way.
Pillow talk is another category entirely, so I won't go there. Today.


Anonymous said...

Terms I use with my wife, probably wouldn't be used in one of my stories. Not because they are vulgar, just to boring for a reader.

December Quinn said...

You know, I was thinking about this just yesterday and planning to blog about it, but you got there first so I'll just comment instead! :-)

(And I want Jean-Claude to stop calling Anita ma petite, too, but that's because it makes me want to smack him when he says it a million times in a row.)

Anyway. The hubs and I say "baby" a ot, but I've noticed recently that when a hero calls the heroine "baby" it usually precedes/follows some squicky sex act or waaay too personal question. So I'm starting to feel wiedr about how my vampire hero calls my heroine "baby", which he means in a sweet way, not a "I dominate you, little girl" way.

Did "baby" become stupid when I wasn't paying attention, or has it always been and I just didn't notice?

Carla said...

I agree, I do like seeing the use of forms of address and/or endearments shift in parallel with shifts in relationships between characters. Not just endearments signifying a romantic relationship, either, you can sometimes see the same thing developing as people become friends or professional colleagues, or changing in the context of different situations. It's one of the little details that helps make it come alive.

Bernita said...

What ones do you choose to use in your stories, Steve?

Always considered my dislike for "baby" was purely personal, December. Though some writers do use it to show domination - or emphasize that the character has issues, or certain limits.
Jean-Claude uses it, I think, partly because he knows it irritates the hell out of her.Which, of course, says something about him.

Definitely, Carla, and it need not be romantic - the choice of a nickname for example, reflecting a shared incident, an inside joke.

Jaye Wells said...

I live in the South. Endearments involve several layers of context and meaning, bless your heart. My favorite is "Sugar Booger."

writtenwyrdd said...

Use of endearments was especially grating to me when working in law enforcement. I am old enough to be this young punk's mother and he calls me (take your pick) honey/ sweetie/ cookie/ baby/ sugar. It's not because I still have the good looks and charm of my youth; it is a power play. Make me into less than I am with the endearments. And they claim that they are "just being friendly."

Here is where I measure the distance between the steel toe of my boot and their crotches. (I love that description, Bernita.)

Handshakes also do this power play b.s..

Sam said...

I'm always giving nicknames to my kids, dogs, hubby, and friends. It hides the fact I forget their names...No, just kidding. I just love nicknames. They change, are flexible, can be adapted to circumstance. :-)
The one I hated was in Temeraire - loved the book, thought it I saw the words 'My dear' once more I'd lose it. I honestly can't bear to buy the rest of the sequel because of that.

anna said...

ahh, I love Babe. My old man always calls me Babe; I grate teeth over Baby however and when young things in the supermarket call me dear, I'd like to dear them! I can understand Sam not wanting to buy any follow up books by the 'my dear author'. James Lee Burke's main character's wife is called Bootsie and I can barely read his stuff although he is a fantastic writer.
hmm funny

writtenwyrdd said...

You just reminded me that my ex used to call me "baby doll" which made me lose teeth enamel. He never did listen (just like Jean Claude) when I insisted he cut it out. Yet another reason we aren't married, lol.

Bernita said...

Sugar... booger Jaye?
There's sucking tonsils, of course, but I never thought...
That makes "my darling" sound... pallid.

Definitely a positioning, Written."Punk" is the word. That gets eyes of death from me, or smile of contempt in return.

Hee, Sam. I don't mind "my dear"( been known to use it often and sincerely) though that can also be uttered in a lofty manner - as in "my dear idiot." But "dearie" makes me grit my teeth.
Often implies, not a friendliness, but a distance.

Carla said...

Sam - I noticed all the "my dear" in Temeraire, too. I didn't find it as annoying as you, though, I just accepted it as a mannerism and tuned it out.

Bernita said...

Ha, Anna! "Bootsie" is kind of cute.Depending on context.

You've reminded me of a cop I knew, Written, who always called me "Precious." I always mangled his hand when we shook after that.

writtenwyrdd said...

Heh, Bernita, it is just as annoying the other way 'round, isn't it? Yet I get some blue haired ladies who have yelled at me for calling them ma'am (legacy of the military) which is being formal and polite on my part.

You cannot win.

What really bugs me is when you request someone stop calling you an endearment and they have to insist that it's okay and explain why. I don't like it, so just effing stop it. I even explained by asking, "Would you call the trooper pulling you over 'dear' or 'honey'?" and was met with uncomprehending dumb looks. It's just not the same in their minds.

pundy said...

That's an interesting and thought-provoking post. You are indeed one cool chick.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL...I got the same email...when somebody calls me honey, I look over my glasses at them and reply, "Honey is bee shit, how else do you choose to insult me!"

ROFLOL...did I say that?

ORION said...

How apt.
I just talked to my husband about this yesterday. I stopped by his office earlier in the week nicely dressed and one of the other principals of the firm called me a "hot mama." I was offended but what could I say? This is a guy who has already been to "sensitivity training" probably ten or fifteen times and still doesn't get it.
But it's going into my next novel. I hope to have my character reveal the discomfort and sucked up anger these comments trigger...oh me...THEN she's going to react in a way I am unable to.
And after that?
When the book is published he's getting an autographed copy with that passage highlighted.

Bernita said...

Written, I think "ma'am" is most respectful. One can address the Queen that way.
Yes, that bugs me to no end, they just cannot see.

Glad you liked it, Bill. Thank you.

Gettin your "blocks off" for sure, eh Bonnie?

Obviously a dolt, Pat.
Though much depends on the intent and attitude of the person using such expressions.
Delightful that you have your revenge planned.

raine said...

I noticed long ago that my muse INSISTS on some kind of nickname, or shortened proper name, for either the hero or heroine. Usually playful, sometimes symbolic, occasionally patronizing (which usually results in some kind of payback, lol).

Interesting how they can evoke certain reactions. I was thinking of movies. In "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir", for example (a wonderfully romantic film!), I want to melt when he calls her "M'dear".
But then there's "Double Indemnity", with that fabulous ankle bracelet, and Fred MacMurray calling her "Baby". Problem is he says it in, like, every other SENTENCE, so after a short while I was desperately hoping she'd kill him.

Good post, toots.

Bernita said...

Your Muse insists, because people do, probably most cultures do, alter their terms of endearment and forms of address, Raine.

Now there, from you I like it. I'm flattered.It's friendly.
Aonther person, especially if male, and I would have the urge to deck 'em.

Robyn said...

Unless it comes from an uppercrust Bostonian or Brit, "My darling" puts my teeth on edge. Probably because I suddenly hear it from characters who used almost no endearments at all, but now that they're in luuurve they're gushing My Darling. Presumably with blushes and eye flutters. Grr.

And Bonnie- bee shit! HA!

writtenwyrdd said...

Pat, you should wear your tee shirt that says "Careful or you'll end up in my next novel" when you see that guy next. LOL.

Bernita said...

Tends to come across almost as anachronistic, Robyn, from the time people reputedly referred to each other as Miss or Mister until they were engaged.
One of the things that commends a son-in-law to me is his habit of greeting my daughter with " Hello,Beautiful."

There's the danger that he's so impervious he might take it as a compliment, Written!

Robyn said...

Tends to come across almost as anachronistic, Robyn, from the time people reputedly referred to each other as Miss or Mister until they were engaged.

Precisely. I love the usage in historicals- it makes sense there. But in contemporary stories it sounds stilted.

spyscribbler said...

Oh, man, don't get me started! I hate it when strangers call me honey. Lately, I've begun calling them pumpkin back. It feels better than grinding my teeth.

There are some people who can call me dear or sweetie or honey and it doesn't bother me. Otherwise, I get irrationally upset. I think the line has something to do with sincerity.

Besides, DH doesn't call me by name. Usually it's nothing, and then sometimes it's sweetie and such. While it may be generic, sweetie is his special name for me, and I don't want that little flutter to go away because my nickname has been worn out by use.

Gabriele C. said...

I hate endearments and nicknames. No Gaby and stuff for me, and no 'darling' or 'sweetie', either.

As reader, 'baby' is so bad that it makes me stop reading a book when the hero calls the heroine that. Other names I can stand, though I still think it's a pity to turn beautiful names like Robert and Richard into Bob and Dick.

Bernita said...

Ah, Natasha, I think sincerity is the key.
When my mother was peeved with me I was called "Little Miss."

I'll have to be careful then, not to call you a Dear Girl.
Think it's an abomination to abort a pretty, melodious name like Gabriele to "Gaby."
Never quite understood how Richard became "Dick."

Donnetta Lee said...

Hi, Bernita: In Oklahoma, you hear "hon" a lot. "Here ya go, hon." Like that. I guess I do it myself because I'm used to it. My mom always said she hated to hear a man call a woman, "baby." She thought it sounded sleazy. But she always called my brother and me, "babe." Still does. I call the kids at school, "sweetie" sometimes--the little ones,I mean. Hubby and I call or dog Percy, "Boo." I don't know where that came from. I think everyone is right, that sincerity is the key. Well, darlin', the phone is ringing. Better run. Donnetta

pundy said...

"Never quite understood how Richard became 'Dick.'"

Because he is one. As in Cheney.

Bernita said...

That's a recognized regionalism, Donnetta.
Like "luv" or "mate."
Shouldn't be offensive, because it's impersonal and genial.

No politics, please, Bill.

!an said...

my baby calls me snookums. i am a grown adult but I LOVE IT.

Bernita said...

Um, that's very nice, !an!

If I read that in certain novels, however, I might need new windows.

spyscribbler said...

LOLOL ... but see, I don't in the least mind if you call me dear girl. I suppose if I like and respect a person, they can endearment me all they want. :-)

Except for honey.