Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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slang —mocking, sneering, casting a jaundiced eye on the world’s proprieties—is by its nature sour. It finds approval hard, congratulation challenging, and affection almost impossible. Yet even if slang’s oldest meaning of “sugar” is money, and the second oldest a euphemism for the most common term for defecation, slang, for all its skepticism, cannot resist the tempting possibilities of “sweet.” It has no word for “love,” but someone can “be sweet on” someone else, and the trope “good enough to eat” characterizes a wide range of human love-objects. But slang has its limits. The presence of sweetness—whether the term itself; semantic equivalents such as “honey” or “sugar”; specifics such as “cake,” “toffee,” “candy,” or “lollipop”; or a variety of brand names such as M&M’s (drugs in pill form)—is regularly turned on its head in a wide range of negative definitions. In slang’s upside-down, inside-out, tweaked, and twisted world, even sweet can turn sour.