Sweetie pie. Honey. Babydoll. Pumpkin. What could be more normal, more unremarkable than the common endearments English-speaking Americans use to address their romantic counterparts?
That is, they seem relatively normal, since we're so used to them. But shift the lens a bit, and suddenly they're positively bizarre. What is a sweetie pie? Why would you address your beloved as a bulbous orange squash? (And that's not even getting into the idiosyncratic pet names that many people bestow upon their partners: A -- um -- friend of mine sometimes calls her fiancé "sweatpants boy.")
It's not typical, in American English, to refer to your bae as "fatty," or "crumb of gold," but in Spanish and Finnish, respectively, it wouldn't be out of the normal to do just that. These romantic idioms from other languages can sound ridiculous when translated literally, but that's part of the fun -- just like "sweet cheeks" or "love muffin," their actual meaning has little to do with the exact denotations of the words.
Why do we so often call our loves "my cabbage" (French) or "little fish" (Russian) instead of simply their given names, or even the more literal honorifics like "wife," "boyfriend," or "beloved"?
Last year, several sex and relationships experts spoke to Bustle about the pet-name phenomenon, which tends to spring up in the context of a whole universe of "relationship speak" -- shorthands and phrases reminiscent of baby talk exclusively used between a couple. Using silly names for each other, experts theorize, signals that a couple feels safe and cared for in each other's company, able to become vulnerable and show their inner childlike side. Even less ridiculous pet names, like the more established "sweetie" or "babe," connote a special level of intimacy; everyone else uses a person's given name, but only their partner would be allowed to refer to them as "babe."
These warm and snuggly forces may be at work reinforcing relationships, too; one often-cited study from 1993 found that married couples who used pet names more reported higher satisfaction with their marriages. Carol J. Bruess, who led the original study, told Scientific American last year that she believed these silly names and other relationship speak allowed couples to keep the dynamic in their marriages sweet and fun, potentially alleviating tense situations when they crop up.
Most couples, including those that don't last, have their own idiosyncratic pet names that no one else would understand, so trying to catalog all the ways humans have come up with to say "my darling" would be a futile task. Looking at the more common ways people express their affection in different languages from around the world, however, is a beautiful reminder of the joyfully playful nature of romance, even for the most grown-up adults out there.
We asked our editorial staff from around the world to share their favorite terms of endearment, and we were buried beneath a wave of devastatingly cute pet names. Here's a selected list to inspire you this Valentine's Day, because your sweetheart deserves to hear what a duckling/sparrow/cauliflower they are, V-Day and every day:
Translation: Fatty; a term of endearment for people of all shapes
"Te quiero como la trucha al trucho."
Translation: "I love you like the girl trout loves the boy trout."
Translation: My heaven, sky
Translation: Friend with benefits
Translation: Sweetheart (usually for a young woman)
نور عيني Noor einy
Translation: Light of my eyes
حياة قلبي Hayat alby
Translation: My heart’s life
روح قلبي Rouh qalbi
Translation: Soul of my heart
Translation: My eyes
نوّارة عينيّا Nawaret aynaya
Translation: Flower of my eyes
خنفوستي - خنفوسي Khanfoussti / Khanfoussi
Translation: My little bug
فلّوستي - فلّوسي Falloussti / Falloussi
Translation: My little chicken
Translation: My flea/louse
Translation: My cabbage
Mon petit chou fleur
Translation: My little cauliflower
Translation: My sweetheart/my lover
Translation: Soul, used the same way as "honey"
Translation: Atonement, used in the same way as "babe"
亲爱的 Qin Ai De
Translation: In Ghana, this means "my love"
Translation: My love
Ti voglio tanto bene
Translation: "I want you a lot and well"; basically, “I love you very much.”
(It's often used as an acronym, TVTB, at the end of a letter, or a text, between friends.)
Translation: Meatball, usually for men.
Translation: Little bear
Translation: My kitten
Translation: Little chicken
Translation: My love
(Bonus: It's used in a lyric in "The Hills" by The Weeknd, who's also Ethiopian.)
Translation: My beauty/my sweetheart (used for women)
Translation: Crumb of gold; basically means darling or sweetie
Translation: Used after a person's name, to mean "dear;" used between friends and significant others
Translation: Sugar (specifically, jaggery)
Translation: Liver, because it is seen as more connected to love than the heart
(Fun fact: There's a cute song about it!)
Translation: Literally means “eye” but is used like “dear”
Translation: Jaan means “my life”; “jaanu” is basically the equivalent of "honey"
Translation: Gold/golden in both Hindi and Bengali
Translation: "Little master" in Hindi; modified from "baba," an affectionate term for children.
Μαναρακι (manaraki )
Translation: Small lamb that is being fed and prepared for slaughter
Φεγγάρι μου (feggari mou)
Translation: My moon
Translation: Little fox
Translation: Little fish
Translation: My soul, or love of my soul. Reserved for very close relationships.
Translation: "Let me take away your pain"; an exclamation of care toward another person that is often just thrown into conversation
Translation: "I will eat your liver"