Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

`DARLING, have you seen the car keys?' shouted my husband from downstairs. When he says darling in that tone of voice I know he's annoyed with himself but is clutching at the straw that there is an outside chance of blaming me, bless him.

I suppose darling is the most commonly used conjugal equivalent of oy, you these days. I have always been amused by Othello calling Desdemona honey like some American advertising executive in a 1950s television comedy.

Now I've come across some advice from William Gouge (1578-1653), whose wife had 13 children. He was the author of Domesticall Duties, and you would think he knew something about the subject. He was also a Puritan clergyman (in the Church of England) and on principle opposed the head of the marriage (the husband) getting too chummy with the wife (consistent with begetting 13 children, that is). He therefore warned wives not to call their husbands `Sweet, Sweeting, Sweetheart, Heart, Love, Joy or Dear', let alone `Duck, Chick or Pigsnie'.

Pigsnie must have been a tempting endearment, though. …

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