Words of endearment in English and Spanish

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    A foreign language is much more than just rules of grammar. Much more than learning words by rote or aping its sounds. I will deal here with one facet of language that may prove my point: words of endearment, pet names, palabras de cariño, words or expressions with which we address those we feel love or affection for.

    When I hear someone say “I want to learn English or Spanish” I get goose pimples and my neurons shudder and think: “you do not know what you are getting into, buddy!” Of course I do not voice this; instead I congratulate the would-be linguist and wish her well in her endeavors. What else could I do?

    Language is not an independent bubble floating in the air. It is the product of, and belongs to, a people, a history, a religion, a society, a geography… A mirror that reflects the avatar of a way of life, of a tradition, a stand, a character.

    I will compare English and Spanish, the two languages that belong to our cultural baggage. The way that we address loved ones change.

    Let me provoke and challenge:

    English is more earthly and practical, and uses terminology associated with food, especially of sweet taste.

    Spanish is more ethereal and romantic, and does not associate love or affection with sweet taste or good food.

    In English you may hear:

    “Honey, go wash the car” shouts the wife to her husband.
    “Sweetie, what’s for supper?” inquires the man upon entering, back from work.
    “Sugar, you are wrong!” quips the woman staring at her beau.

    And more:

    Apple pie, Baby cakes, Buttercup, Cake, Cheescake, Cutesy pie, Dish, Hon, Honey, Honey bunch, Honey bunny, Honey pie, Honey pot, Peach, Peaches, Pumpkin, Sugar, Sugar bun, Sugar Dumpling, Sweet, Sweet pea, Sweetheart, Sweetie, Sweetie pie, Sweetheart… And variations.

    Notice that all these words have to do with edibles.

    Words of endearment

    Words of endearment do not always translate literally / Photo: Shutterstock

    True, we also have “dear” which brings me bad memories, with variations like dearie.
    Darling is also there, but dated. My love, and love, are heard too but going out of style, I think.

    And let us not forget that an attractive woman is,  or used to be, a “swell dish,” or simply “a dish.”

    Pet names do not properly gauge the affection or love between people because constant use erodes the original connotations as they fall into routine and habit. We all know about that. No use going into it.

    In Spanish you will hear:

    -Cielo, ¿dónde está el dinero?

    -Friega los platos, cariño.

    -¿Me quieres, corazón?

    -Vuelve pronto, vida mía.

    And terms like:

    Cielo, Cielito, Cielito lindo, Cariño, Cariñito, Corazón, Amor, Amorcito, Amor mío, Vida, Vida mía, Alma mía, Luz de mis ojos, Alma de mi alma, Princesa… And many variations.

    We must tread carefully with querido (querida) due to its many meaning, its polysemy (lover and mistress). Dear is heard in supermarkets all the time. If a man shouts dear! more than half the women doing the grocery shopping will turn their heads. That I call lack of imagination. Couldn’t the man just yell Barbara?

    Time and overuse set things right and deplete words of their original meaning. This is especially true of words of endearment, pet names, that at first, in the beginning of love, made a shudder, a tingle, run up and down our spines. Later on, when reality sets in, we may clench our jaw when we hear our spouse utter; dear or honey.

    The French say, rolling their eyes, C’est l’amour. I say this is a part of the idiosyncrasy of any language. In our case English is pragmatic, and Spanish more idealistic and romantic, and neither one is superior to the other.

    Could you do me the favor of adding some more to the list, in both languages?

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