In 1924 a teacher named Jaime Garí i Poch discovered a curious drawing on a wall in the Cuevas de Araña, or Spider Caves, near Valencia, Spain. The drawing, which is as much as 15,000 years old, depicts a person on a rickety ladder, reaching up to gather honey from a beehive. It’s the oldest indication yet discovered that our ancestors were willing to risk life and limb and anger a swarm of stinging insects just to satisfy their sweet tooths.
As the second sweetest naturally occurring substance in the world (dates hold the top spot), humans have loved honey maybe as much as Pooh bears do, for millennia. Ancient Egyptians used it in medicines and rituals and, presumably, to feed those late night sugary cravings. The Promised Land in Exodus flows with milk and honey, and in the sexiest book in the Bible, Song of Solomon, the lover’s “lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb” and she has “milk and honey under [her] tongue.”
It’s not a great leap, then, to the use of the word “honey” as a term of endearment, which according to the OED happened around the middle of the 14th century. Honey has long held an important place in the human experience. It’s worth striving for. Kind of like love.
So, enter honey, honey pie, honey bunches, honey bunny, or any other nauseating honey-themed nickname you can dream up. And let’s not forget the ubiquitous hon or hun, depending on whether you are comparing your loved one to a gooey sweet treat or a war-mongering barbarian.
And actually, I don’t mind the use of the word as a term of endearment. I have on occasion been known to use it when speaking to my husband or my children (when it can be either hon or hun, depending on the situation). My parents sometimes use it when speaking to me. It’s lovely that they do because it makes me feel treasured by some of the people who matter most in my life.
But when the checker at the grocery store, who is easily half my age, and who I have never met, calls me hon, I don’t like it. This recently happened to me and I posted about it on Facebook, polling the audience as to whether or not the incident should have bothered me.
The post generated a lot of comments, primarily divided along geographical lines. My friends who grew up in the Southern US or who live there now either defended the practice or said it didn’t bother them, while my more Northern friends took the opportunity to join the chorus of complaints. Others suggested that it was acceptable under only some circumstances, like if the person using the term were older, and not a man. It was an interesting string of comments, but I’m not sure I really got an answer to my question.
Should it bother me? I don’t know. I’m generally okay with and appreciate cultural diversity, and as our world shrinks through electronic and economic connectedness, I suppose clashes over minor differences in mannerisms are becoming more common. In the grand scheme of things, this one isn’t so bad. I mean I’m not going to correct the young lady. But I also recognize that I’m allowed to feel what I feel and openly complain about it on social media. Because that’s what we do, right?
Of course it could be worse. Not every language has grabbed on to honey, honey pie, honey bunches, honey bunny, or hon as go to terms of endearment. My husband, who is conversationally fluent in French, refers to me once in a while as his petit chou, a term that apparently sets French hearts to fluttering and literally translates as “little cabbage.” I’m pretty sure if the young lady at the grocery store checkout called me that, I’d go a little war-mongering barbarian on her.
So what do you think, my wider Internet community? Should I have been bothered?
16 thoughts on “Attack of the Hons”
i’m not a fan of being called ‘hon’ either, but at least now i understand the origin –
Glad I could help. I’m trying to make peace with the idea.
It wouldn’t work for me at the checkout, whatever age the till assistant, but that’s mostly ‘cos by that time in a shopping expedition I’m so worn down it would set my teeth on edge for sure 😉
That’s a good point. I wonder if that’s part of the reason it bothered me.
Hmmm… It doesn’t really bother me but I have friends who are annoyed by it. I’m more bothered when people interrupt your thoughts to demand you, “Smile!” as you are walking through the store, sitting at the park, etc. What’s your thought on being “sugar”ed by servers in the south?
I don’t care for Sugar, either, but mostly because that’s part of a pet name my dad used for me when I was little so it feels personal. I do also despise demands for smiles. So intrusive!
I see the term basically as someone being nice, so it doesn’t bother me much. And I’ve been known to use the term semi-frequently myself. 🙂
I am trying to adjust my perspective. I know it’s not generally used in a negative way.
I loathe being called “honey” and “love” by checkout people. But I would rather be called that than asked “How has your day been?” (And on a side note – I taught a whole family of children with the ancient surname of Honeybun!)
Best name ever! And how have you been? 😉
A bout of this and a bout of that. Excuse me while I sneeze over your groceries.
Doesn’t honey also last like… forever? You put it in a jar and 2,000 years later you can still eat it? As for being called “hon” at the grocery store, I think it would depend on the circumstances for me. Said in a friendly greeting way, a-okay. Said in a condescending manner, not so honey sweet.
Tone definitely matters. Yes, I’ve seen stories of ancient honey that’s still good. I don’t know that I’d eat it, but my honey bear bottle seems to stay good in my pantry for an awfully long time.
Chiming in from South Carolina…it annoys the heck out of me. I know it’s common for older ladies to do it, but older or younger, I don’t like it. It’s usually an over-the-top fake niceness coming from people providing service or from people who want to establish themselves as being the more seasoned, wiser person present. I won’t say anything (unless it’s a man who isn’t related to me), but I will *feel* like rolling my eyes (I usually won’t).
I may have involuntarily rolled my eyes.