February 14, 2022 10:30:14 pm
Long lines in front of flower shops, people with boxes of chocolate tucked under their arms, maybe along with a love note — lovers in many countries all over the world celebrate February 14, Valentine’s Day.
That goes hand in hand with the terms of endearment reserved for that special significant other, with every culture having a different idea of what the ideal pet name should sound like.
Heart and liver: body parts are essential
There is no need to be offended if a Chinese calls you “heart liver.” On the contrary, you might want to feel flattered and seriously ponder whether that person is “the one.” Calling someone heart liver, “xin gan” in Chinese, is a sign of affection and love. Just as a person cannot live without these two organs, a “xin gan” is someone you can’t imagine living without.
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People in the countries of East Africa who speak Kiswahili also turn to body parts for terms of endearment. A hug is guaranteed if you call someone “nyongo mkalia ini. “Nyongo” means gallbladder and “ini” means liver. “Mkalia” can be translated as “sitting.” If you are someone’s “nyongo mkalia ini,” you are literally their gallbladder sitting on the liver.
The gallbladder is located under the liver and because the two organs are so difficult to separate, it’s easy to apply that to life as a couple. What could then be a better way to show love than to whisper “nyongo mkalia ini” in someone’s ear?
Pet names involving the eye sound slightly more romantic. People in Romania call their loved ones “the treasure or the light of my eyes” and in Turkey, they might say “deer eye” (Ceylan gözlüm).
Love ‘goes through the stomach’
Besides flowers, chocolate is a popular gift on Valentine’s Day, because love and food go hand in hand — according to a German idiom, “love goes through the stomach.” Pet names in some countries suggest that food is love and love is food: “my licorice” (dropje) in Dutch and “plum” (sveske) in Danish. Licorice is a national favorite in the Netherlands, so the pet name seems logical. Plums in Denmark sound more exotic, which just might be the intention. In English, it is not uncommon to hear people say “pumpkin,” “cupcake” or “sweetie.”
It gets interesting when you turn to francophone countries. French cuisine has a very upscale reputation, including world-famous red wines and elaborate dishes. A favorite pet name, however, is “my cabbage” (mon chou), and of course, the intention is the same, it is a term of endearment.
In Brazil, on the other hand, people might call their loved ions “chuchu,” which is a light green pear-shaped tropical gourd, also known as chayote. It cannot be stored for a long period of time, which might be the reason it is largely unknown in Europe. In Latin America, however, people eat it all the time. Used for savory as well as sweet dishes, the roots and seeds are considered a delicacy, the leaves are edible, and the plant can be eaten raw, fried, grilled and candied. An all-rounder, just like love.
Italy is another country known for its culinary delights. “A man without a woman is like spaghetti without Parmesan,” is a common Italian saying. The nickname “little onion” seems a bit strange. Certainly, any dish sautéed with onions tastes delicious, but chopping the vegetable is not always a pleasure. It’s the same with love — you have to put in the effort to make it taste and work in the end.
Speaking of affectionate names involving food: In Spanish, “my fatty” is supposed to be a term of endearment. It seems a couple would have to be looking back at many years together for that to be okay, because quite honestly, how would you react if you were called “fatty” on a first date, regardless of the intention?
Rabbits and lambs
In Germany, for example, classic pet names include “Schatz” (treasure), “Hase” (rabbit), “Mäuschen” (little mouse) or “Bärchen.” In Russian, people like to call a loved one “my swallow” while in Polish, the term of endearment would be “Zabka “(little frog).
In Bulgaria, the choice of pet name depends on the status of the relationship. In cases of young love, partners are often affectionately called “little lamb,” a term that can eventually become “sheep” over time. And if love is not on the horizon, Bulgarians have a plan B for Valentine’s Day. According to the Orthodox calendar, February 14 is Trifon Day, a celebration to honor the winemakers — with great amounts of wine. Bulgarians celebrate and drink a lot that day, either for love or to nurse a heartbreak.
Some languages come up with terms that use diminutives to the fullest — the smaller the scale, the more a person is loved. Poles, for instance, are true masters of diminutives, usually using them for first names. Loved ones also imply become a “sloneczko,” or little sun.
It seems the phenomenon of what becomes a pet name has not really been analyzed by researchers.
“Clearly, really very questionable words can take on the function of pet names,” says Dietlind Kremer, head of the Names Advisory Service at the University of Leipzig. That “intimate world of names” needs more research, she told DW, in particular with “regard to unchanging or changing interpersonal relationships, seniority, subordination, and cooperating at eye level.”
In the meantime, whatever you call your sweetheart, remember the words of 20th-century German author Hermann Hesse: “Happiness is love, nothing else.”
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