OED’s “Obsolete Endearments”!

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Whether you’re in like, love, lust, or maybe even loss, there’s no denying that today isLiebe bücher! wrought a sort of saccharine silliness. Even the Oxford English Dictionary‘s had a go! They’ve compiled a list of  “Six obsolete endearments for old-fashioned romantics,” or, as they like to say, ” surprising synonyms for sweetheart.”

I’m not sure that these will make a come back, but here are a few with their OED descriptions:

  1. cinnamon – from honey to sugar, our sweet tooth often finds expression in terms of endearment. But there was once room for spice as well as sweetness in our amorous vocabulary, if we are to judge from Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale: “My faire bryd, my swete cynamome.”
  2. flitter-mouse – yet another unlikely animal repurposed as a sweet nothing is the bat. Bats are commonly regarded as nothing more than winged vermin, but in Ben Jonson’s Alchemist (1610), Subtle addresses Dol Common as “My fine Flitter-mouse, My Bird o’ the night,” and receives a kiss rather than a rebuff. Perhaps a Continental flavor accounts for the appeal: flitter-mouse is modeled on the German Fledermaus.
  3. ding-ding – to a contemporary English-speaker, this registers more as an insult than a compliment, since ding-dong is a contemptuous term for a fool in US English. But in the 16th and 17th centuries, both ding-dong and ding-ding could be used as expressions of endearment. It seems quite a stretch to compare one’s beloved to the sound of a bell, but during the 1950s, members of the Rat Pack used to use the term ring-a-ding to describe a particularly wonderful example of anything, including womanhood. Maybe ding-ding is ready for a retro-chic comeback.

The rest can be found on OED’s blog, right here.

If you’re one of those people who is staunchly against the Valentine’s Day frenzy, here’s a site that will generate some Shakespearean-inspired insults for you, you unmuzzled milk-livered strumpets! Something for everyone!

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