Are we too familiar?

Hello pet, love, dearie, bro, duck, Xingan (darling in Mandarin), Habibi/Habibiti (‘my love’ in Arabic), draga (‘my dear’ in Romanian), Khriso mou (‘my treasure’ in greek)….apologies if I’ve just mangled the terms of endearment in your language but do I need to apologise for being over-familiar? Nurses in the UK are being advised not to call elderly patients “love” or “dearie” because it could be offensive or patronising to them but what do you think is acceptable? Do you prefer a more formal approach with strangers? Do you like how people greet each other in your country?

32 Responses to “Are we too familiar?”

  1. 1 Monica in DC
    November 26, 2008 at 15:34

    I used to work in a nursing home and lots of the staff would call the elderly residents “sweetheart” or “dear”. I thought it was disrespectful because these people were old, not children (even if some of them had regressed to minds of children).

    I’m one to say “Ma’am” or “Sir” to people I either don’t know or who I see as… deserving of such respect.

  2. November 26, 2008 at 15:41

    When I first moved to the southern US one expression that was frequently used was “darlin'” (no “g”). Not used to hearing it dangle off the end of many sentences, especially when addressing me, I loathed it for a lot of reasons. After 22 years of living here I have grown used to hearing that word attached to a lot of sentences. I don’t find it too familiar, nor loathsome, it’s a term that conjures up a feeling commrodary. Terms of endearment put into sentences is fine, it really depends on your frame of mind when receiving it.

  3. 3 Syed Hasan Turab
    November 26, 2008 at 15:46

    Old age it self sound like a desease, specially when we seprate them from common society, culture & civilisation. More themn physical seniors appears to me emotional problem, if there loved one take care of them & let them live with them & grand kids this will never expose as an issue in our society.

  4. 4 Roy, Washington DC
    November 26, 2008 at 15:49

    There’s nothing wrong with an informal greeting (unless you’re in a business setting where strict formality is expected). Just because someone calls you “sweetie”, “dear”, etc. doesn’t mean they’re trying to come on to you.

  5. November 26, 2008 at 16:07

    Sigh. More needless PC. When I first moved to the UK back in the 1970s it took a short while to get used to being called “luv” by women in shops….and “mate” by many men…but it never offended me.

    In fact, I’ve picked up the bad habit of calling people “mate” myself.

  6. 6 steve
    November 26, 2008 at 16:33

    How about instead of calling someone “sweetie” or “dear” because it offends them, why don’t we call them “jellyfish” or “in need of a backbone”?

    Once again people, show you are more evolved than the invertibrates.

  7. 7 John D. Augustine - WI USA
    November 26, 2008 at 16:54

    Oh… Not @ you, Bob.

    Directed at the question in general.

  8. 8 selena in Canada
    November 26, 2008 at 17:14

    Call me what you wish as long as you don’t call me late for dinner… 🙂

  9. 9 John D. Augustine - WI USA
    November 26, 2008 at 17:18

    @ Monica:

    Good point, proving only that there are exceptions to every rule. One must be mindful that ones “position” in society is not an inherrent status, but is dependent on ones relation to others. Position is meaningless without relation and should be flexible enough to change accordingly.

    The only people who tend to call me “hon” are waitresses. In this situation, the waitress, in terms of social and economic status, is in a subservient position. By using such a familiar form of address, the waitress relieves me of the discomfort I might otherwise feel about being a part of this inequitable social construct.

    Of course, this same relation could be drawn between a care giver and a paying elder patient. I guess the moral of the story is that knowing the rules is not as important as knowing the reasons they were written, as it were.

  10. 10 John D. Augustine - WI USA
    November 26, 2008 at 17:26


    The comment which was not directed at Bob was:

    So what, mate?

    I can only assume that it was removed because it was preceded by its Spanish equivalent. OK, so the rule is no dirty words getting past the censors. But then it would have also been logical to remove the follow up comment. My suggestion is you remove both that and this together.

  11. 11 jens
    November 26, 2008 at 17:30

    Bob my mate,
    funny this stuff never really bothered me too much, I don’t like it though when one calls me JEN, because a jennifer I am not 😉


  12. 12 Joel Salomon
    November 26, 2008 at 17:38

     Is this really something people get upset about? If the endearment is coming from a superior in the workplace it might be construed as harassment—but in casual conversation? C’mon!

  13. 13 Ogola Benard
    November 26, 2008 at 17:56

    How would you refer to your lover infront of the elderly “pa and ma”? I think it naive to say darling… sweatheart! A friend once answered me on phone as “Dear”. I was abit disturbed because i was not her dear one but continued!
    Look at a situation where women a refered to as “mum” even by their elders? Its quiet unreasonable to call another woman who is not your mother “mum”. how does it look to adress a girl or lady below your age “mum”

  14. 14 jens
    November 26, 2008 at 18:01

    deer, would be fitting for a former VP candidate or was that moose

  15. November 26, 2008 at 19:24

    For those in your immediate circle, yes, terms of endearment are fine, however I find it horrifically patronizing when a stranger; waitress, customer service, etc… addresses me as sweeting or hon… It’s infuriating.

  16. 16 Robert
    November 26, 2008 at 19:53

    We’ve just got better at communication and have figured out there are times and places to use different levels of familiarity. Sometimes we are very formal, others polite, sometimes use a darlin’ or luv tone, others we’ll insult each other in a joking manner. Applying the right tone in the right place improves communication, applying it wrongly can cause bad feeling. We are not getting more familiar, just smarter at communication as we now deal with more people more frequently than ever before.

  17. 17 ecotopian
    November 26, 2008 at 20:43

    Are we too familiar? I think so. There is nothing wrong with using sir/ma’am. People want to be treated with respect. I don’t have a problem with that.

    There was an article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/07/us/07aging.html ) which explains that these terms can an adverse effect on an older person’s health.

  18. November 26, 2008 at 21:44

    Hi WHYSers!

    I don’t mind the terms of endearment so much, except they can be quite ingratiating at the best of times. It seems to me that these things are negotiated. Where an offense has been committed then steps should be taken to apologise immediately. Neutral language though is always preferable. Sensitivity training, anyone? Alright, so that might be pushing it, a little! But, there is a legitimate basis on which to feel, sometimes, that these “terms of endearment”, are not always so dear! Focussing on some of these expressions can, in fact, appear patronising, which is not always the intent of their use. Why not use neutral, respectful language, then?…Just curious.

  19. November 27, 2008 at 00:18

    Helo people. It’s realy nice 2 share on this topic. I live in Lagos Nigeria and here it is different things call others. But one I av developed which I am also pleased with is “My sister” for all females who does not seem to have a son as my age, For all Men Who comands my Respect, I say “Sir” and especialy the females welcome this easily

  20. 20 Zainab from Iraq
    November 27, 2008 at 08:17

    Hello all how are you
    this is a really interesting topic. i like it..
    Well here in Iraq people like to be called with their names, and for the elder persons they prefer to be called (well how can I say it?) ok with their elder sons’ names.. Like Abu Ahmed (father of Ahmed) and Umm Ahmed (mother of Ahmed) if their elder son is called Ahmed.. for instence.
    And they also like to be called Hajji (for male and Hajjia for female) (if he/she did his/her pilgrimage to Mecca)
    Anyway for those we don’t know.. we used to call them khala (aunt in arabic), or a’amo (uncle in arabic)..
    And of course we use words like siit (ma’am. in arabic) , and Ustathe (for Sir)..
    As for words like Habibi/Habibiti (’my love’ in Arabic), we don’t use them in formal speaking..(unless with children) but we use them alot in our informal talks..

  21. November 27, 2008 at 11:31


    Get a life!

    This is as Bob says just another example of the PC brigade interfering at a ridiculous level.

    People have been referring to one another and addressing each other in a different manner for centuries, for God’s sake! Endearing or otherwise, move on and stop bothering with this nonsense!

    This is a spectacular waste of time and pointless topic for debate that has been put forward! Surely there are many much more important issues that warrant debate and discussion.
    I don’t imagine that there will be many further comments to follow from this.

    What has happened in Mumbai most recently must surely supersede any other subject for the blog at the moment.
    Why isn’t it already up for comment I ask the World Service & WHYS? You appear to quite behind the events as they’re unfolding via global visual and aural news media.

  22. November 27, 2008 at 14:52

    in defence this is an area which was open for comment before mumbai really happend, i believe the events there will take over the news agenda for today.

  23. November 27, 2008 at 16:32

    @ Hannah,

    Agreed! Though, I have been posting on the other blogs as well! LOL!

    Seriously, I do think that this is as good a topic as any for discussion. Surely, Mumbai takes precedence now but why not this or another topic? I disagree with your Matthew.

  24. 24 viola
    November 27, 2008 at 20:36

    Can’t get excited about this one. Perhaps the way we are addressed influences how we respond? So a term of endearment if not sarcastic should give us a warm feeling.

  25. 25 roebert
    November 28, 2008 at 08:47

    The right to act and speak familiarly is something that is earned and should be withdrawn again if the familiarity becomes vulgar. I don’t like ‘infernal familiarity’ from people I hardly know, and I think that there is a natural grace to respectful formality. It’s a subtle thing, but we shouldn’t assume the right to address everyone in familiar fashion. But then, you just know when someone is being overly familiar, don’t you? And that never pleases, does it?

  26. 26 Jennifer
    December 2, 2008 at 01:03

    This is a very good topic!

    Re: “Do you prefer a more formal approach with strangers? Do you like how people greet each other in your country?”

    I don’t have a preference as to how strangers address me. Their intentions matter more. As for how people greet each other here; that depends on how close you are to that person and your personality. Some people here are much more respectful than others also.

  27. 27 Jered
    December 3, 2008 at 23:54

    I don’t allow familiarity from strangers. It cheapens terms of endearment from loved ones. I politely tell people who use familiar terms to please not call me that. I’m not offended unless they continue to call me “sweetie” or “hon” after I’ve told them not to. Then they are deliberately being offensive which is a whole different ball game.

  28. 28 DENNIS
    December 4, 2008 at 06:22

    I don’t have any cares about someone calls me; except ‘i am not making dinner’…

  29. 29 Ricardo
    February 4, 2009 at 14:40

    In my opinion we should be more familiar with each other. The point is those who do harm can do so because they do not see the affected person as being familair with them. They don´t care behind the veil of anonymity. That especially holds true for those who later say, we extremely sorry that mother and children or innocent people have unfortunately been killed. Imagine them explaining that I am sorry that Dearie xyz, etc got killed….

  30. 30 William
    February 5, 2009 at 00:13

    Frankly I believe when in Rome! You cannot proscribe on this issue. There are many people who just love familiar comfortable terms of endearment, just as there are those who don’t. For example some elderly (persumably) man may be a retired professional executive and unaccustomed to being called “Duckie” my some 20 year old newly qualified carer. In those cases, get to know your patients, then you won’t run the risk of offending them!

  31. 31 Pirabee
    February 17, 2009 at 13:18

    You people are a howl!!!

    Where does all these stop? Recently,the wolf-whistle to women was prohibited.It was – to all intents and purposes – an expression of appreciation as well as a cultural thing.Now its been banned.Today we hear that to call someone “luv” or “dearie” will also face the same fate.Crickey,maybe to exclaim out loud “Blimey!” will also get the ban.But before it does,goodness gracious, I’d best say it here to all these tomfoolery with culture:”Blimey,guys!!!”

  32. 32 Pirabee
    February 20, 2009 at 13:31

    Its just cold and heartless Britain rearing its ugly head again.To live next door and never know how your neighbour looks.To sit in the train and act as if the man whose knee is rubbing against yours were invisible.

    Over here in Africa we live with visible warmth towards everyone and hug to say “hi” and we wont let cold and heartless Britain rob us of that one,no thankee!

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