Terms of Endearment

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Sugar and sweet are both enlisted as terms of endearment, but they are not alone. The equation of the loved one and the toothsome treat—one who is “good enough to eat”—is venerable. “Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue,” declares the Song of Solomon around 200 b.c.e., and the pattern has continued. “Honey,” with its combinations “honeychild,” “honey-chops,” “honey-dip,” “honey-baby,” “honey-pot,” and “honey-bun,” arrived in the early twentieth century, as did “crumpet.” The equation seems unquenchable, and endearments include “honey-bunch,” “honeybunny,” “honeybugs,” “honey-cunt,” and “honeypie.” As with sugar, there are less appetizing senses, notably the ironic: a “honey of a mess” is problematical. “Honey” can denote various bodily fluids, whether sexual or excretory—the best known of the latter is “honey cart,” used in various forms of public transport to describe a container for what an earlier world, equally euphemistic, termed “gold.” The rival images combine in the eighteenth century’s “all honey or all turd with them,” said of those whose relationship fluctuates violently between amity and enmity.