Vocab Lessons: Obsolete (But Sweet!) Terms of Endearmentby Chiara Atik on February 14, 2020
Oxford Dictionary’s blog has compiled a nerdy and adorable list of old-fashioned terms of endearment. (When did Valentine’s Day get so wordy, eh?)
Some of our favorites:
From honey to sugar, our sweet tooth often finds expression in terms of endearment. But there was once room for spice as well as sweetness in our amorous vocabulary, if we are to judge from Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale: “My faire bryd, my swete cynamome.”
Yet another unlikely animal repurposed as a sweet nothing is the bat. Bats are commonly regarded as nothing more than winged vermin, but in Ben Jonson’sAlchemist (1610), Subtle addresses Dol Common as “My fine Flitter-mouse, My Bird o’ the night,” and receives a kiss rather than a rebuff. Perhaps a Continental flavor accounts for the appeal: flitter-mouse is modelled on the German Fledermaus.
How tastes change. We might call someone honey bun or sugar pie today, but somehow, comparison to a piece of bread soaked in honey is less romantic. If that weren’t bad enough, the same 1513 poem by Scottish poet William Dunbar in which this endearment is attested also refers to the object of affection as his powsowdie, or posset, a drink made from hot milk curdled with ale, wine, or other liquor, with sugar and spices: “My hwny soppis, my sweit possodie.” It’s hard to say which is less appealing.