Terms of Endearment

Nicola here. Back in 2013 – ten years ago! – I wrote a blog piece reflecting on the way in which people have expressed their affection for each other over the centuries, which a month or so ago Pat Wench rediscovered when she was searching for Regency terms of endearment. We all got chatting about this again and I thought it would be fun to dig out and update the old post as it’s such an interesting topic for discussion. Times change and terms of endearment change with them – so here’s a new take on our favourite sweet nothings.

One day in 2013, a reader queried if my use of the endearment “sweetheart” was authentic to the Regency period. I was pretty sure that the word originated long before the 19th century but I ran to check my dictionary anyway and found that sweetheart was first used in the late 13th century. Originally written as two words, “swete” and “heart” it meant someone who made your heart beat faster. Back in the days when Henry VIII actually liked Anne Boleyn, he called her sweetheart a lot. Variations on this are “sweeting” which dates from 1350 and “sweetikins” which – extraordinarily, was first used in about 1600!

“Darling” is even earlier usage, dating to before the 12th century. Evidently finding an affectionate term for a loved one is something people have been doing for a long, long time.

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What We Are Reading

Christina here with this month’s round-up of Wenchly book recommendations! The recent beautiful spring weather, and the fact that lockdown has been easing in many places, has meant that the Wenches have been able to go out and about a bit more, but we have still been doing quite a lot of reading. Below we have another eclectic selection for you – from fantasy to romcom to Shakespeare (well, sort of) and more – and we hope that you will join in as always with your own recommendations!

CharlaineHarrisAnne:  Two very different books have hit the spot for me this month. The first is An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris, the first in her "Gunny Rose" series. Set in an alternative "America" where a combination of the 'flu plague of the early 20th century, the assassination of the US president, the escape from Imperial Russia by the Tsar and all his court, fleeing The Red Army, and general "wild west" style lawlessness in some parts of the country have resulted in the break up of the former USA and the formation of "new" countries or territories.

Lizbeth Rose is a 19 year old "gunny" – a brilliant sharp-shooter whose job it is to guard people and shipments from outlaws, would-be-slavers and thieves, and there are plenty of them. Add in a paranormal thread, where some of the Russian refugees (now running a territory called the Holy Russian Empire – California to the Canadian border) can perform magic, and you have a cracking good yarn.

There's quite a lot of shooting and killing, but isn't the kind of graphic violence I shrink from. Only baddies are killed. And Gunny Rose is a very appealing character – loyal, principled, and she's never failed a client – yet. And of course there's a handsome Russian wizard on a secret mission who keeps getting in her way. The first book in the series is called An Easy Death, which is what people traditionally wish gunnies when they head off on a mission. I've since read the other two in the series and can't wait for #4.

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A Taste of Summer

800px-Illustration_Fragaria_vesca0Nicola here. It's all about fruit and nuts on the blog this week! On Wednesday Jo was blogging about coconuts and today I'm looking at the history of strawberries!

Nothing speaks of an English summer more than strawberries and cream. It’s an iconic dish that is closely associated with garden parties, stately homes and the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. It’s one of the nostalgic images of “old” England and in fact the dish is celebrating its 510th anniversary round about now.

The strawberry has, of course, been around for a lot longer than 500 years. The writings of the Ancient Greeks and Romans refer to the wild strawberry fruit and its medicinal properties but evidence from archaeological excavations suggests that our Stone Age ancestors were already eating wild strawberries. In about the 14th century these wild plants were taken from woodlands and introduced into gardens so that they could be grown for household fruit. Charles V, King of France in 1364, must have had a particular penchant for them as 1200 strawberry plants were grown in his royal gardens. From the early 15th century the plant also pops up in illuminated manuscripts and western art, demonstrating that it was familiar – and beautiful – to our ancestors.

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Guest Author Teresa Grant on Regency Spies, Secrets and Shakespeare

Cara/Andrea here,
TracyAuthorPhoto5.16.13Today I'm delighted to welcome back my good friend Teresa Grant, who writes the wonderfully intriguing Regency-set spy/mystery series starring Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch. In her latest book, which comes out next week, the action moves to London, and fittingly enough a major plot twist involves Shakespeare! Teresa studied British history at Stanford, and her meticulous research on the details of the era weave seamlessly into her stories. So, how does Shakepeare figure into the skullduggery still going on between the English and French in 1817? For that I shall turn the pen over to Teresa herself . . .

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Terms of Endearment

HeartNicola here, reflecting on the way in which people have
expressed their affection for each other over the centuries. I started thinking
about this last week when a reader asked me if my use of the endearment
“sweetheart” was authentic to the Regency period. I was pretty sure that the
word originated long before the 19th century but I ran to check my
dictionary anyway and found that sweetheart was first used in the 14th
century. (Back in the days when Henry VIII actually liked Anne Boleyn he called her sweetheart a lot.) "Darling" is even earlier usage, dating to before the 12th century. Evidently finding an affectionate term for a loved one is something people have been doing for a long, long time.

By coincidence, the BBC also published a list last week of the ten
most unusual endearments people choose to describe their beloved, so I
thought I would share some of those with you today and also talk a bit about
the historical background to terms of endearment.

 A Sweet Tooth

 Like sweetheart, the word honey has been used an endearment
since the fourteenth century. It derives
Honey from the Old English word “hunig” and
is also found as a term of endearment in many other languages. In the 16th
century a Scots poet romantically called his love a “honey sop” which is a
piece of bread soaked in honey. In the same verse he compared her to a “swete
posset” a drink made from hot milk curdled with ale, sugar and spice. That
might not sound very attractive to us but on a cold Scottish night it might be
just what you needed! 

Whilst honey in all its forms works as a complement in the
Germanic languages it doesn’t translate well into the French. If you call a French
person “miel” they may think you are suggesting that they are a bit of a sticky
mess. To endear yourself to the French, go for “chouchou” which literally means
“little cabbage.” This suggests something small and round and like a delicious
(chou) pastry.

PumpkinIn South American Portuguese the word “chuchu” means a
squash and the word “chuchuzinho,” little squash, is a term of affection in
Brazil. I suppose this is pretty close to pumpkin!

It was not only sweets and vegetables that were used to
express love in the past. In Chaucer’s day it was complimentary to compare
someone to some of the more attractive spices. In the Miller’s Tale he wrote: “My faire bryd, my swete
cynemome.” Spices were expensive and exotic in Chaucer's day – pretty special, in fact – so being a stick of cinnamon was a real compliment! 

In A Pig’s Eye

Hard as it is to believe, the word “pigsnie” deriving from
pig’s eye, was once a term of great
Pigsnie admiration. I first came across the word
pigsnie used affectionately when I read The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis.
Again, this dates back to the time of Chaucer who wrote admiringly: “She was a prymerole, (primrose) a
pigggesnye, for any lord to leggen in his bed.”

The Japanese also admire fine eyes and a particular
compliment in Japan is to call someone Tamago gata no kao, an egg with eyes, the classic
oval-shaped face being much admired in Japan.

Other Birds and animals

“Little dove” may be the earliest recorded term of
endearment there is, as it is mentioned in the Bible in the Song of Songs. “Oh
my dove… Let me see thy countenance.” Dove is still a term of affection in Russia
to this day. Interestingly the word “turtle” which was also used to mean
“lover” as early as the 16th century derives from turtle dove rather
than the turtle with the shell. This term was still popular in the 18th
century when Lady MW Montagu described a ball where there were “several couple of true turtles… saying
soft things to one another.”

ElephantMeanwhile it is the term chang noi, “little elephant,” that
is used affectionately in Thailand, elephants being the most prized of animals in Thai culture. 

When I was growing up in the North of England I was
frequently called “pet.” This northern term of endearment is very old and was
found only in Scotland and the North of England until the mid 18th
century when it started to spread south. Comparing your loved one to a favourite
tamed animal is very cute, furry and cuddly.

 Some terms of affection have sinister origins, however. The
word “poppet” originated in the 1300s as a small human figure used in sorcery.
Its usage had changed by the late 14th century to also mean a small and
dainty person.

Shakespeare’s Sweet Chuck

ChickShakespeare contributed a great many words and phrases to
the language and so it is only appropriate that he should have given us some
fine terms of endearment. In Romeo and Juliet the nurse calls Juliet a
ladybird. Then there is “sweet chuck,” an ancient variant on “chicken.” Chuck
is still used affectionately in the north of England, and chicken was another endearment I heard a lot when I was growing up.

 Less attractive to our modern taste, perhaps, is the comparison of a loved one to a bat or “flitter-mouse.”  Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, used this term of endearment in a play published in 1610. The heroine was so touched to be compared with a bat that she kissed the hero!

Jane Austen's Restraint

Jane Austen did not show intimate scenes between characters so it is not surprising that her characters
Mrs Elton are so seldom demonstrative in their use of language. The occasional use of the word "dear" and the reference to a spouse by their formal name is about as affectionate as they get. The only character who
appears to be addicted to terms of endearment is Isabella Thorpe in Northanger
Abbey who calls Catherine Morland “dearest, sweetest Catherine.” Isaballa's terms of endearment are empty of true affection. Jane also
pokes fun at Mrs Elton whose use of the term “caro sposo,” “dear husband” seems
pretentious and flowery given the restraint with which the other characters

Some endearments that sound modern to us actually have
origins much earlier than you might imagine. I had no idea that “baby” was
first recorded as a term of endearment back in 1839. Even bunny, with or without the snuggle, dates back to the 1680s in Scotland! 

Do you have a favourite term of endearment? Or one you can't stand? Has anyone ever called you "my little marmoset"? Are there unusual local terms of endearment used where you live? (Just out of interest, the word "Wench" originated as a wanton woman but by the 1580s had become a tem of endearment meaning sweetheart!)