Monday, March 29, 2010

Pet Names: A Hate Song

Okay, so not all of them. I happen to know a certain Charles who would object to my cessation of this term of endearment. But there's something, and it's not just my personal history talking, that feels really wrong about the word "babe." I feel like the noun form (e.g. "S/He's a ~ .") is less irksome, but is still kind of obnoxious, especially when paired with the qualifiers "total," "hot," or "totally hot."

It's also not just that it reminds me of the Two A-Holes skit from SNL, because I'm sure they were inspired by a like-minded-thinker's like-minded distaste for this specific pet name.

It's also not just the Oleanna feminist anger saying "Don't call your wife 'baby'." Somehow, I have less of a problem with baby, perhaps because my dad uses that one, although the infantilization of women in this practice can absolutely be debated. One of my aunts uses the term "babes" generally like others use "sweetie" or "darling."

Indeed, and ultimately, as this seems to be my problem with other relationship weirdness, it's certainly not because I've never been verbally marked with this moniker. I've had a handful of guys "babe" me, and it's always taken me out of the mind of affection: it always sounded forced, patronizing, and placating, and it always made me awkward and uncomfortable. [Please note: I did vocalize this distaste to the guys in question, and they were respectful, but it's such a strong part of casual "dating-speak" that they would say it unwittingly, in much the same way professed atheists will slip "oh god..." into casual conversation.]

But in spite of all these qualifications regarding why it *doesn't* bother me, there's something about "babe" that just really makes my skin crawl. It comes across less infantilizing than proprietary, particularly when it's a man saying it to a woman. If "baby" is infantilizing, then is "babe" your way of saying "I'm too lazy and casual to give you a second syllable because you don't deserve it"?

Maybe I don't like it because I can't put my finger on why it bothers me: infantilization is bad, and something on the lines of "dat my girl" is a whole different can of disgusting worms puking up cans of other worms, but this one is kind of just plain annoying.


  1. Oh man. I called MRB babe all the time. It even takes everything in my power not to do so anymore.

    I don't know why I do it, but I know it has nothing to do with "baby" in my mind, or infantilization of any kind. Sort of the same way saying "hey girl" has very little to do with youth (in opposition to "hey woman") and calling people "dude" has very little to do with gender.

    Maybe I'm just not that creative.

  2. I have issues with "babe" because I knew a couple where the guy called the girl that and was just AWFUL to her. "Hey babe, get me a beer." "Babe? Babe? Come on, hurry up." So I associate it with them, which is ... yuck.

    But yeah, I think when you get in the habit of calling someone a nickname like that, it just seems to make sense eventually. (I have a "honey" problem, which, when I type it out, looks nauseating. But at the time, 3 or so years ago, it worked.)

  3. I like babe, when I've been with the person for a while and they have yet to call me anything besides my actual name. Just getting a 'Hi, honey,' or a 'Come here, babe,' or something just seems like all warm and special, like you hit the next step.

    I don't much like any pet names if I've just met the person, though. Hm.

  4. JP: Point taken, re: dude/girl. I think my experience must be something similar to Elizabeth's. I find baby excusable because of my parents (at least partially) so maybe I find babe aggravating for a corresponding negative example.

    E'beth: I think it's worst when it's not "babe" at all, but rather "beb."

    Pego: Guys I date tend to call me neither my actual name nor a pet name. I get a lot of "hey" and "hi, you." Sounds a little like my freshman comp students, in which I'm sure there is a joke about equivalent maturity levels....