Saturday, 19 November 2005

You’re sharing my life; what shall I call you?

In recent years it’s become fashionable for young, unmarried French women to refer to their boyfriends, partners, companions, etc. as “mon chéri”. It means "my darling" and, if you’re talking to the person, it's fine, but, if you’re talking about them to someone else, it becomes something like “my sweetie”. They’ll say, “J’ai demandé à mon chéri de venir avec moi.” (I asked my sweetie to come with me.) “Mon chéri does this.” “Mon chéri says that.” Ugh!

It’s cute in the worst possible way; it’s twee; it’s much too intimate for everyday use (it’s a glimpse into the bedroom) and it's so smug. It's not possible to adequately convey how silly it sounds. It makes me bristle.

The men don’t do it, of course. And therein lies my main objection to it. It’s the little woman talking about “her man” and somehow stressing the fact that she has got a man. In the past, some women would say “mon homme”, but it was usually ironic, or, if it wasn’t, it was the preserve of lower-class women (think of Piaf and that song).

I want my relationship to be based on equality and what I call the other person in that relationship should reflect it. But, then, I’m an old feminist. These young French women already belong to a different era: it’s again ok for them to define themselves in relation to a man and they see nothing wrong in being a simpering female, constantly looking up to her “chéri”.

A slap to those misguided women! It might rebound on them some day.

PS. By the way, heterosexual French women do not call each other “chérie”. Not ever!


  1. What term do they use in London, J? I don't know why, but "significant other" makes me crazy, although the more frequently used "S.O." doesn't bother me one bit.

  2. I know someone who talks about her boyfriend as "my honey." That immediately makes me feel uncomfortable, as if I am overhearing someone's private conversation. Perhaps, it is because I do not know either one of these people well.

    When I was in Kiev this summer, I kept hearing "boyfriend" often, as in "moi boifrend," with an accent on "e". Seems like many English words have made their way into Russian over the past few years. The one that bothers me the most is "teenagers" (pronounced as "teenaigery"). Why, oh why? We have a perfectly good Russian word for it--"podrostki."

  3. When I talk about the man I love and live with, I try to call him by his name, rather than something else. If I mention him so someone who don't know me (and would be confused by a mere name) I use the Swedish term for co-habitee ("sambo"). It is a common term to use in Sweden.

    Also, "partner" us getting very popular.

    Of course, when people are among friends, some of them call their loved ones all sorts of cutsie things...

    What strikes me the most though is how young girls talk to each other. Skank, tramp and whore have become "terms of affection", something you call your friends when you meet in school... "Hey, you little whore, you look great today"...

    Don't we get enough of that from condescending male chauvinists? DO we have to do that to each other as well?!

  4. The trouble with partner is that people can misunderstand it, especially if you are self-employed.

    Most people I know still use boyfriend and girlfriend, albeit with an ironic grimace if over 30.

    What about 'my main squeeze'? Bleagh!

  5. I don't like that young women are giving away our hard-earned freedoms. So, could you close your hand when you slap them? More like a punch?

    I wish there were an English word for a co-habitee. In my long-long ago life, I worked in Social Welfare. We referred to the man who was living with a woman, but who was not married to that woman, as a MARS. Man Assuming the Role of Spouse.

    Why don't people just say "spouse?" After all, it's no one else's business if it's a legal marriage or not.

  6. While laughing, I wonder if you're becoming more British everyday!? I think so!!:-)

  7. I completely agree. It's the simpering aspect that I dislike. The expression "my honey" in English can work for an intimate little conversation between best gal pals, but for everyday use? Blech.

    Tan Lucy Pez: There was a brief vogue in the late 80s for the term POSSLQ (pronounced possle-q), from the census form acronym "Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters." I'm rather glad it didn't catch on. MARS is a bit better, but spouse sounds a bit ... bloodless, somehow.

    You would think a versatile, ever-changing language like English could accomodate this dilemma without forcing us to sound like either Census takers or giggling airheads.

  8. Spouse is a silly-sounding word, I agree. But POSSLQ (which sounds even sillier) makes no allowance for a live-in mate of the same sex.

    Maybe "mate" is more to the point. But I don't like it either.

    But whatever term folks use, the worse is one of those things like "my honey," or as Bela wrote, "mon cheri."

    What do guys say in a similar situation? Probably "girlfriend." So maybe women should say, "Boyfriend."

  9. Why is our language so inadequate to deal with what has become such a common situation? I like TLP's suggestion that we just use 'spouse' - I looked it up and found it's from a Latin root, spondere, which means 'to promise solemnly'. The word 'sponsor' comes from the same root. So it's basically a person to whom one has pledged oneself - whether legally or not is no one's business. I like it even better in Spanish - 'mi esposo' or 'esposa' - because you can tell the gender of the person being referred to, but it doesn't have the heterosexual connotations of 'husband' or 'wife'.

  10. I also intensely dislike it when older men refer to their spouses as "my bride". It is too grotesque for words!

  11. R, ‘boyfriend’ is the most common term, followed by ‘partner’, I think. I agree with you about SO (it's only all right abbreviated).

    ‘My honey’, blech! Like me with French, you’re fighting a losing battle, V. I keep wondering why the French need to pepper their speech with English (or distorted English) words all the time. It’s so silly.

    J, I can see everywhere’s the same – even levelheaded Sweden has a problem.

    I’m aware that the young like to insult each other as a way of showing affection (g-d forbid, they should appear soft, eh!). I’m so glad it wasn’t the fashion when I was younger. It would have been difficult for me to accept it; but peer pressure is very hard to resist. As you say, who needs to emulate male chauvinists?

    L, ‘my main squeeze’ sounds as vulgar to me as the French ‘mon homme’. I’ve never heard anyone say it; it would have made me cringe.

    The word ‘partner’ also allows people (ok, men) to deliberately misunderstand the relationship sometimes, doesn’t it?

    TLP, reading ‘mon chéri’ all over the place these days definitely makes me want to punch those women.

    I’m only ‘British’ some of the time, CH – when it suits me. LOL! But I do find the French even more irritating than I used to before moving to the UK. I’d have a problem if I ever wanted to back to live there (which happens from time to time).

    F, POSSLQ!!!! I’m so glad that acronym was never in use here. Who invents those things?!

    TLP, nothing ever makes an allowance for live-in mates of the same sex.

    ‘Mate’. Please, no.

    D, I don’t think it’s surprising that language fails in the domain of relationships and feelings. It does look like ‘spouse’ would be the right – and nicest – term to use, but one can’t yet.

    Oh, ‘my bride’! What’s that about?! No way!

  12. This is a very funny conversation.

    A friend of mine and I had this conversation ourselves a while back. Every phrase we used to refer to our live-in boyfriends sounded awful and euphemistic. One of us would say, "So, the significant other said to me—" and the other would interrupt, "You mean your LOVER?"

  13. Oh, another horrible one is 'the boyf'. I think I might be 5 years out of date here, though (as usual).

  14. Nothing makes me cringe more than "my lover." Sometimes a little euphemism is a good thing.

    After my child is born, I intend to refer to my spouse as "my baby's daddy." ;-)

  15. T, when you're having a chat with your pal, I think anything's ok. (Btw, thanks for stopping by.)

    Is there a female equivalent? 'The girlf', L? Thought not. LOL!

    K, I think 'my lover' is the same as 'mon chéri' - only slightly more up-front. It only emphasizes one aspect of the relationship.

    'My baby's daddy', eh? That should please any macho man. LOL!

    *Aside*: I really love it when a post has gone cold and I'm thinking, "Drat! Quick! Must find something to write about!" And then, suddenly, it revives again. :-)

  16. Well, everything's been said -- (so I'll repeat it because I need to belong): from disapproval of current vogue for bandying about of "whore" or its popular diminutive "ho" as a term of endearment (why would you elect to use a term employed by misogynists to tell you what they really think of women?) ... to the sappy My Guy-ness of what one calls one's husband. I call him My Husband, or dear husband, or DH or ... feeling frisky and only in the privacy of our home, and the internet, because it mortifies him ... bunny muffin. ♥ xoxo

  17. The whole point of calling each other horrible names like "whore" and "skank" was supposed to be to defuse them, like that whole trend a few years back of using the word "queer" to distraction, or of the constant barrage of that n-epithet that no one is allowed to say and yet which gets said every five seconds in so much of what they called gangsta rap, before Snoop Dogg became a Motorola mascot.

    But it didn't really work out that way.

    This is all reminding me that I downloaded a painfully funny cover this weekend of sensitive piano man Ben Folds singing Dr. Dre's notorious hit of a few years back, "B****es Ain't ****." The line that gets quoted from that supremely annoying song is the supremely annoying "B****es ain't **** but hos and tricks." It's one of the most misogynist things ever said, anywhere. At the time the original came out, I hated it. It turned me off rap for years. But accompanied by a tender piano arrangement, a lilting melody, and the quavery reedy voice of Ben Folds, the lyrics are exposed as the ludicrous nonsense they always were. More surprising, in the middle of it, in the Snoop Dogg section, I can suddenly hear, the way I never could before through all the "ho" references, that there's an actual tale of betrayal and heartbreak in the narrative.

    I saw the writer George Saunders speak recently, and his characters often speak, to terrific comic effect, in the stilted jargons and slangs of the modern day: new age speak, corporate speak, teenage girl speak. But all these argots, although they make us laugh, can express real emotions and feelings. Part of his comedy is that disjoint between the language someone has at his or her disposal and the true emotions that they're trying to express while using that language.

    Now I've roamed so far off topic that I am embarrassed.

    Of course, no one has brought up the terms "old lady" or "old man." They're so biker, so weird, and yet...I find them tender and funny, and they give you a sense of the commitment between people, they make you imagine a couple together on a porch swing, white haired, holding hands, being comfortable with each other. You could say they were condescending too, but "sweetie" is worse, I'd say.

  18. Actually, I LOVE the term "my old man" but these days people think you're referring to your father. But a real hippie never uses "old man" or "old lady" for anything but a POSSLQ.

    Bela, what sayest thou? "Mon vieux"? That has other meanings in French, doesn't it?

  19. I don't mind "partner" so much, but this is only because the alternatives are, as you and others have pointed out, much worse.

    After leaving my teen years, I really despised the word "boyfriend." I hated being referred to as a "girl" when I was rightly a woman at that point, and it seemed rotten to call me a "girl"friend or call a man a "boy"friend. And to go on a tangent, both my husband and I had weirdness over the word "fiancée." We instead decided to use the phrase "my intended," but that was only because it made us giggle.

  20. Drat, Blogger ate my comment again!

    T, I don't buy the whole "defusing" thing. An insulting name is an insulting name. I dislike rap intensely for its inanity and its misogyny. What's wrong with expressing one's emotions in a truthful and acceptable way?

    F, you can't really call your spouse 'mon vieux' or 'ma vieille' in French. They mean 'mate' and are best accompanied by a slap (!) on the back. Comment ça va, mon vieux?”

    K, I find fiancé(e) as yucky as ‘mon chéri’: it’s soooo smug!


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