Terms of enDEARment

I was in the car just the other day, plugged back into Sirius XM radio after a hiatus of regular AM/FM offerings and (I’m so tired of them) the songs on my iTunes.  I was listening to 70’s on 7, when Babe, by Styx, came on.

It was the visual that made me stop, seeing the actual name on the screen in the car.  Without the visual, I probably would have sung along, blissfully ignorant of the language issue in front of me.

Back up six months to a conversation I had with my 22 year old daughter.  She and her boyfriend called each other “babe”, and she recommended I consider calling my husband “babe”.  Besides being mildly amused by the relationship advice, I told her that our preferred term of endearment was “honey” or the shortened “hon” when in a hurry.

To a 22 year old, “honey” apparently sounds entirely ridiculous.  She continued to press me to call my husband “babe”.  I had a hard time being polite, but quite frankly, to me, “babe” conjures images like this:



Thanks to Styx on 70s on 7, I started reflecting on how terms of endearment vary by generation, as well as evolve along with language.  “Babe” has spawned the infamous “BAE“, which I hope is just a fad, very short-lived in the English language.  Apparently “babe” in the 70s was popular enough for Styx to pen a song, but then cycled out of popularity for a time.  “Babe” is now back in vogue.

In the translation business, we often have a keen eye out for false friends, those terms that look like they should be synonymous from one language to another, but in fact have very different meanings.  Their confusion by novices causes rollicking laughter in our industry.  Further reflection on “babe” led me to realize that I also hide a false term of endearment in my vocabulary: “dear”.  If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself on the receiving end of my “dear”, it most definitely means I am supremely angry with you.  It’s a warning sign, a shot over the bow, a good indication to run for the hills.

For now, I will stick with “honey”, and my daughter will stick with “babe”, and we will probably grimace when we hear the other affectionately address a partner.  But I have now let the cat out of the bag regarding my “dears”.  It may be time to find a new false term of endearment.

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