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Terms of endearment

Posted 6/30/20

“How are you today, sweetie?”

“What can I get you, darling?”

“How would you like a seat by the window, young lady?”

My friends and I, mostly over the age …

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Around the County

Terms of endearment


“How are you today, sweetie?”

“What can I get you, darling?”

“How would you like a seat by the window, young lady?”

My friends and I, mostly over the age of 60, are treated to these interchangeable terms of endearment constantly. For the most part, the speakers, both male and female, think they’re being nice to an old lady, using terms of endearment. In fact, their use of such terms reflects our status in society. Their forms of address tell us we are less than the speaker in some way — that the speaker can take liberties with us that they never would even consider employing with someone younger or male.

I do my best to laugh, and never more so than when researching the topic to see just how prevalent it is.

Yes, use of terms of endearment is an area of study (isn’t everything?).

The authorities — sociologists, all — agree that use of such terms is disrespectful, rude, demeaning, condescending and (for the most part) hugely irritating to the person being addressed. They also say that the practice permeates the workplace, men using it to subordinate and control their female colleagues.

According to these experts, it’s all about infantilizing women workers by addressing them as one would a baby or the elderly — sweetie, honey, cutie, darling, etc.

Did you pick up on that? Even sociologists seem to think it’s OK to address the elderly as you would a baby.

What’s to laugh about there?

Well, here’s one that gave me a LOL moment.

This particular expert, a woman, advised taking the problem to the company’s HR person. She went on to suggest the HR person discuss the matter with the offending male in a monologue that was four paragraphs long. Condensed it went something like:

HR person addressing male worker: “This isn’t about your performance, but I wanted to talk to you about interactions with your co-workers. For instance, I always recommend that people use each other’s names. At one time, I found that I’d forget their names and would use terms of affection, instead. Thankfully, someone pointed that out to me, and the office environment improved considerably.”

The author continued, admitting the mealy-mouthed, over-sensitive nature of her advice but assuring the reader that anything else would offend the offender.


Her message to me was: It’s OK for a male to offend a female but not for anyone to offend the offender. What’s sauce for the goose, definitely is not sauce for the gander.

As I said, I laughed reading that mental pretzel.

Which reminded me of a time when I tried to turn the tables and use the same forms of address on the offender.

I did that once and never again. The man in question said something like, “We’ve got a meeting on Monday, honey. Will you be ready?”

He’d called me honey once too often, and I replied with, “Sure, darling. Whatever.”

What a mistake! His eyes lit up, and I’d swear I could smell his libido panting. He clearly thought I was coming on to him. Of course, I was younger then.

There are some users of endearments who are just taken for what they are: boors.

I worked with one man who called every person in skirts, “honey” and everything in pants, “fellow” or “chap” or just “you.” He did so, I suspect, because he couldn’t bother to remember names. No surprise, he was totally, emotionally tone deaf. We all (men included) treated him accordingly.

Another exception was my corner gas station owner back in Maryland — a high school drop-out who called me “darling.” But he pumped gas and cleaned my windshield and checked my oil and tire pressure, so I really didn’t care. That was particularly true after the Reagan-era gas shortage when most gas stations, including his, closed.

He gave me the heads-up before it happened, adding, “When you need to fill up, darling, come at night, turn off your headlights and your engine, and just roll in. I’ll be here for my regulars.”

He’d held back enough gas to get us through the crisis. Since I had a daily 80-mile commute, that was HUGE!

You’ll understand that, as far as I was concerned, he could call me anything he wanted.

Now? Now, I grin and bear it or reply by asking the offender if I can call them by their first name. That hint usually works.

Around the County