With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, here’s another from the vault:
Right up until the moment it began to happen, I never thought I’d end up calling anyone “honey”—or, for that matter, being called “honey” by anyone. Although I secretly craved the affection such a nickname spoke of, I just never thought of myself as the “honey” type. The word smacked of quiet and complacency, of His and Hers towels and mild sitcom days and nights. It wasn’t me.
Nevertheless, here I am now, married just over a year, honeying and being honeyed at a rate that would leave even Rob and Laura Petrie of the old “Dick Van Dyke Show” struck dumb with wonder. Indeed, my immersion in the charms of “honey” has been so thorough that I’m today prepared to declare it a remarkable word, clearly the champion of all the terms of endearment.
First in its favor, “honey” is a pleasant and mellifluous word to mouth; with just a little practice it can be made to spring forward naturally on the tongue as a ready ally in the maintenance of domestic peace. (On the other hand, it can just as easily be withheld, its sudden and very noticeable absence having an effect more withering than a blow to the head with a rolling pin.) Also to its credit, “honey” is an elastic word, as fluid as the substance it names in nature. In conversation it can be used lovingly, imploringly, ironically and soothingly. When used sweetly, it is a word that can be exchanged by two people in a public place without arousing undue attention.
The other classic endearments are not so versatile, I think. “Dear” seems too curt and patronizing, with an enormous potential for sarcasm. “Darling” is theatrical, not suited for use ten times a day, except by Bette Davis or someone of comparable self-possession. “Sweetheart” is lovely but Victorian, redolent of romance on a bicycle built for two. “Sweetie” seems to me not very well suited to the throes of passion, let’s say.
Still, any of these classics is greatly preferable to many of the other reputedly popular pet names people apparently deploy. For instance, would anyone really wish to be called “duckywucky” is public, or even in private? Do people truly harbor a desire to be called “lamb’s lettuce”? Is there a love so deep and sure that it can survive repeated whisperings of “poopeedoodle” or “snugglepups”? Probably not, you’ll say, and yet all these endearments have earned a place in The American Thesaurus of Slang—along with cud, fiddledeflumps, izzum-wizzum, nozzle-nozzle, oodlum, ooky and scores of improbable others.
It seems that lovers have always been willing to call one another virtually anything in the name of love. The names arise from a broad range of sources, of course, but for some reason many are evocative of the larder. Lambchop, dumpling, muffin and pumpkin lead this grocery list, but there’s plenty for dessert, too, with cupcake, sugar, puddin’ and various kinds of pie on the menu, not to mention all the possible combinations (sugar dumplin’, cutie pie, etc.).
In addition to these standard offerings, most of us probably know of people who’ve dizzily struck their own course in the realm of intimacies. I know a husband and wife who called each other “honey bunny” (she) and “funny bunny” (he). I’ve also heard tell of a “cookie face,” a “stud mobile” and a “jerk face” (this last entry opening up a whole new world of offensive endearment.
As I recollect, it was my wife who dropped the first casual “honey” into an otherwise unremarkable sentence, but it was I who took the new name in stride and ran with it. There was a sweetness and a naturalness to it, and when the first opportunity presented itself, there was no hesitation on my part.
So now it’s honey-this and honey-that all day long. If marriage can occasionally dissolve into periods of errands and logistics and favors, the “honey” reminds each partner of the deeper resonances afoot. In its way, “honey” is the Pavlovain pleasure bar of marriage. We tap it repeatedly and we are rewarded beyond measure.