I was talking to my neighbour a while back about terms of endearment and how their meaning and intentions have shifted generationally. He was confused as to how some words that he grew up knowing as terms of endearment or compliments, are now used to belittle women.
The discussion came after the ladies involved in the discussion all collectively agreed that regardless of a woman is married or not, calling her Miss instead of Ma’am, is a surefire way for her to like you more.
The main argument against this is that calling a woman Ma’am is a sign of respect and it feels wrong to call her miss if she is clearly married etc. However, what is the main thing that the majority of women have in common regardless of age, generational values, and marital status? We love to feel young. Especially as we age.
I can’t count all the times a middle-aged woman in my life has come to me excited when she gets called Miss instead of Ma’am at the grocery store, or is carded at a liquor store or restaurant.
This conversation got the ball rolling on other terms that are thrown around day to day and if their meaning has shifted, especially for women as many shift away from the conventional norms of a woman’s role in society. It has become more and more normal for women to become independent and have their value in society not tied to being married, having children, or being a home maker—not that there is any thing wrong with those things, it just isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
As these things change, so do the meaning of certain terms, which once were used as terms of endearment are now correlated to demeaning women and meant impose a sense of inferiority upon them (and lets face, subconsciously through the roots of a patriarchal society, likely had those undertones anyhow).
Take sweetheart or hun (short for honey), or worst of all— sweetie for example. To many seniors, this term of endearment is sweet they think they are complimenting someone on their pleasant manner. However, the interpretation of that term has greatly changed.
While these terms are fine when you have a close relationship with someone, if you a. aren’t close, or b. are strangers, using these terms, for women in particular, is demeaning at best and creepy at worst.
Times have changed where cuss words such as ‘bi*&$’ is now used as a term of good humour and endearment, especially in female friendships, where as if a woman calls another woman sweetheart and hun, she is using those terms to insult her by insinuating that she is younger than, less intelligent than, and in generally less mature than herself.
When men use these terms it has the same inflection, but in some instances it comes off as creepy and flirty as those are now only considered terms appropriate for significant others and your own grandparents to use.
Not to mention the patriarchal sense of men using these terms, especially in the business world, to establish hierarchy above women by reducing their role in their mind as younger, less experienced, and an object of flirtation not an equal in the work place.
There are so many terms that change and it is fascinating to me to have conversations with others who grew up using them in different ways, an eye opening experience on both ends.
If you have a term that you feel has changed its meaning over time, please write in a letter to the editor at email@example.com to continue the discussion.