Don’t Call Me Dear! (Unless we’re married)

105182105411111CDPby Neva Bodin

“Will this be okay, Dear?” The young man indicated a booth in my favorite restaurant for my out-of-town friend and me.

“Fine,” I gritted out through my teeth. I had liked him just a second before. He was around twenty, tall, fair skinned and dressed in business slacks and shirt. Before he was done seating us, he had called me “Dear” three times. That really got my goat.

My grandkids’ baby goat.

It appears the term “get your goat,” meaning making someone annoyed or angry, comes from probably unknown origins. It began appearing in writings in the early 1900’s.

One popular story originates from the practice of putting goats with race horses to keep them calm. If someone wanted to cause a race horse distress, they would steal the goat.

In the Bible, goats are mentioned as gifts, sacrifices, and as bad people in Matthew 25:33. However, my grandchildren raise and show goats at the fair, and they are loveable, curious, and fun-loving creatures, (the grandchildren as well as the goats.)

My grandson and “grandkid”

So I take a little offense when the Bible says Jesus will separate the goats from the sheep, with the goats being on the left and not welcomed into the kingdom of God! (I also know people who would be incensed at being called a sheep which they consider a dumb animal.)

Was I being a goat (when I let this young man get my goat) when I took offense at being called “Dear?” Waitresses and waiters started calling me endearing names, like “Honey, Sweetie, and Darling” after I turned 65 or so. I’m a nurse by calling and profession. We were instructed not to call others, especially those older than us, by such patronizing terms.

I have polled many of my friends who have the same incensed reaction to these terms. So what should I do?

An article in the New York Times in 2008,  speaks to this issue, “Professionals call it elderspeak, the sweetly belittling form of address that has always rankled older people…”

They quote Elvira Nagle, then 83, of Dublin, CA as saying, “People think they’re being nice, but when I hear it, it raises my hackles.”

The article goes on to say that studies find insults can have health consequences. Insults can lead to a negative self-image says Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, and this can lead to shortened survival rates.

“In a long-term survey of 660 people over age 50 in a small Ohio town, published in 2002, Dr. Levy and her fellow researchers found that those who had positive perceptions of aging lived an average of 7.5 years longer, a bigger increase than that associated with exercising or not smoking. The findings held up even when the researchers controlled for differences in the participants’ health conditions.” This article also states, “People in their seventies and above are so often addressed in nursery language that researchers have a word for this type of hypocorisma: elderspeak.” As I sat with my sister who is in a nursing home, I heard her called “Honey, Sweetie and Darling” almost all in one sentence by a nursing assistant.

I feel bad for being so hypersensitive about this issue, and perhaps my training that definitely listed this “elderspeak” as a no-no has something to do with it. But I find I’m not alone in my peeve. Any other thoughts?


26 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me Dear! (Unless we’re married)

    1. I had someone else tell me that about Ma’am also. I think either our name or just politely speaking, stating or asking something without the need to tack a label on might work for most of us.


  1. Well de.. LOLI understand. It started happening to me around 60 ish. Doesn’t really bother me, but at first I would look at the speaker in a weird way and think, “Just how old do you think I am?” Now I find myself calling younger people by these endearments ir service people, such as wait people or cashiers. I love your goat pictures. Cher’ley


    1. I think the age of the person to person exchange has an influence, younger calling older these terms seems patronizing to me, older to younger a bit different. Perhaps it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I hadn’t been educated to not do it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t noticed the “dear and sweety” stuff. Perhaps because CA is so politically correct. I did get one guy who kept saying “young lady.” Major eye roll time.
    What tends to bug me more is youngsters calling me by my first name.


    1. I think when we allowed that (calling adults by first name) we were on the slide down from showing respect to others. I never called our neighbor ladies or adults in our community by the first name. And now I hear that students are calling teachers very derogatory slang names! I sometimes want to roll my eyes at that “young lady” term also. Depends sometimes on tone and speaker. It’s the little things that change things, like a snowflake building a huge bank, one flake at a time. I recently spent time in some restaurants in ND and was so pleased to not be called dearie or sweetie once by wait staff. Not so in my home town here.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What’s funny is that my mom calls everyone “honey” – servers, neighbors, anyone she happens to be standing in line with at a store. It drives me nuts and I tell her it sounds condescending. For some reason she doesn’t call my stepdad “honey.”


    1. Perhaps “honey” doesn’t have a lot of depth of meaning to her as to some, so your stepdad warrants something with more meaning. My husband calls me honey sometimes and I love it.


  4. Neva, you hit the nail on the head with this one. In the fifteen years I worked in a nursing home, if I had a dollar for every time I heard a younger CNA calling a resident by an endearing name… What’s worse is when my father, in an attempt to get the attention of a younger waitress in a restaurant, would call out, “Hon!”


    1. Yes, somehow it feels diminishing and I’m not sure why, but apparently others feel it too. And it’s a hard habit to break when someone starts to use those terms on others I think. The second time I was to that restaurant, same young man asked, “Would you like something to drink Dear?” I politely replied, “First off, I’m not your dear, but yes, I’d like iced tea.”


  5. My sentiments exactly. “Dear” started happening to me before I turned 60, when, I thought, I looked fairly youthful. (And I did.) I don’t like it. Anyway, It’s not appropriate in a place of business. I was surprised when young salespeople started calling me “Ma’am,” even though my students had called me that forever. A bit off topic, but my new, young, doctor who told me, “Lots of older people take this drug”–the next appointment, I told him my chart said 56 but for accuracy the 5 should be changed to a 1. (Waitresses in Tennessee can call me “dear” and “honey” and anything like that. There, they sound like they mean it.)

    Re elderspeak: A great-aunt who moved into a retirement/nursing home quite early and who, at 90, was walking a mile a day, then walking long hallways to deliver mail and read it to residents who couldn’t see well enough to read, writing letters for them, counting change from the soft drink machine, showing relatives of prospective residents over the home and answering their questions, sewing her own clothes, turning her mattress–you get the picture–was once a year part of a birthday celebration for which “birthday girls and guys” wore party hats and heard cute little bios read. Some of them always looked downright embarrassed. On her 100th birthday, family gave a formal reception, complete with cut glass plates and cups and silver flatware. (Paper and plastic for those who preferred.) Management was impressed, but I don’t think they changed their ways. (My great-aunt once gave another resident a back rub, then confessed to the director she broken a rule, only to be told, “Whatever you can do to keep her happy, just do it.” He often said he would put her on the payroll if he could.)

    Goats, I love. But if I were trying to herd the ninety and nine safely into the fold, I might prefer sheep.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love your comment. Your great aunt sounds like a fun lady to know. My friend who is 101 now is still smarting from a comment by a doctor when she was 98 and her blood pressure spiked up while she was hospitalized–“Oh, that happens to old people. You can still go home today.” I agree about herding goats, I think sheep are easier to herd. I helped my folks raise them. I want so bad to say to some of these clerks, waiters etc. that I teach my students not to speak to older people in those terms–which I do. But thankfully I have resisted that urge. It’s possible this loose skin on my neck is giving away my age…although it wasn’t that evident I didn’t think when the terms started on me either!


    1. Different parts of the country do make a difference, and even tone of voice, etc. It’s the people I have had no or very little contact with that “get my goat.” I do know terms in the south can be different.


  6. When Mom was living and we’d go to a restaurant to eat, we’d sometimes get called ‘dear’ and ‘honey’ by a waitress. I’d shrug it off, especially if they were friendly and talkative. Then I’d know that was just their nature. Now having a 20-year-old man call you ‘dear,’ I would see why that would upset you. I read a recent account of a woman who said that she was in her sixties and found that the wait staff at various major chain restaurants have a tendency to just look through older customers, as if they don’t exist. When I was 42, I thought a young woman at the beach was checking me out as we passed each other; a friend of mine with me said, “No, MIke, she’s not looking at you. She’s looking at the cute young guy behind us.” That was a lesson for me, and I’ve learned that it keeps getting worse as one ages. To the young, getting old is something that is going to happen to them a thousand years from now. They have no idea of how fast it is going to happen.


    1. Lots of truths there! I remember realizing I was getting old quite some time ago when I noticed the other car’s occupants (male) were checking my beautiful daughter out instead of me! Ha, good lesson. I try to shrug it off, but can’t quite shrug hard enough…maybe when I’m 90… thanks for sharing!


  7. It doesn’t bother me too much on the occasional times it happens, but if it were a more common practice where I live – it might. I last lived in my birth city of Glasgow in 1974, but before then it was typical of men and women to use the term ‘hen’. As in : “Hoo’s it gawn, hen?” (How are you?) I hated being called that because I didn’t like being one of the masses. i’m not sure if it’s still commonly in use. I can see how it could get irritating! And a blanket use of such words in places like nursing homes is a way of not bothering enough to learn each patient/resident ‘s name, I suppose.


    1. Absolutely, a problem with today’s many traveler’s working in the nursing homes too. I love your language, but I would object to that too I think. These terms imply an intimacy that doesn’t exist and just seems to rub me the wrong way. Perhaps it’s my insecurities showing, but I do find lots of support in my irritation.


  8. I don’t like terms of endearment being used on strangers in general. It seems to be growing popular for servers and counter staff at restaurants to call anyone and everyone sweetheart or darlin’. I reserve terms like those for people I actually know are sweethearts and darlings.


  9. Growing up, Sir and Ma’am were the norm for people I didn’t know, regardless of age. If I knew them, I called them by name. Common courtesy. Other words like dear, were for someone you cared about, unless you were in the south, then it went out the window.
    Very thoughtful post and needful. Thank you. Doris


    1. Thanks Doris. It has been whirling in my brain for sometime and I keep wondering if I’m just being an irritable old woman! But I grew up the same and intimate terms implied actual caring and a connection to the person. I think we are losing the ability to deeply connect with each other, and throwing these terms about loosely only encourage that lack of attachment.


  10. Great post Neva! I have always disliked being called by terms of endearment when I don’t even know the person speaking! It is degrading, although I believe the speaker often doesn’t realize it – they’re just trying to be nice. The word needs to get out to the younger generation – we are people who have worked, raised children and been a member of society a little longer than they, but we prefer to e give dignity and respect. I like Doris’s comment – we also called people older than us Sir or Ma’am. That’s how it should stay. There’s a song I sang often called “Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine” and that refers to my husband or children, not someone in a restaurant or store I don’t even know!


  11. I concur with you and nearly everyone responding to the blog — although they may think they are being kind and nice, I find such “endearments” by strangers patronizing and unnecessary. Sir and Ma’m are respectful and what I was taught growing up (although some people don’t like those terms either) — sometimes one just doesn’t know. But “dear” and “sweetheart” should be reserved for those people one knows and cares about.


  12. My daughter’s wedding reception was ruined when the caterer addressed me as “sweetie” and my husband as “sir.” The only reason I didn’t rip her a new one is because it was the kids’ special day and I wanted no unpleasantness.

    Now sometimes I’ll let it go. Sometimes it isn’t worth protesting. But other times I will definitely address it. I look around, puzzled. “Oh, are you addressing me? My name isn’t dear so I thought there was someone else here.” Other times I just say “My name isn’t dear.” (Or whatever vile disrespectful term they have chosen to call me.)

    My father is 86 and is apparently listed in his doctor’s files as “Sweetie.” The doctor calls him Mr. ____ but the receptionist and nurses call him Sweetie. He finds it offensive but won’t say anything, nor will he allow me to say anything.

    In middle age, I am meaner than a junkyard dog and proud of it! No Jesus meek and mild for me. I plan to be the meanest old woman in town. I was raised to be a sweet Southern girl. Always putting others ahead of myself and responding to insults with a smile. Screw that. All that accomplished was letting people walk all over me and treat me anyway they pleased. It wasn’t until I read a wonderful book called “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend that I saw the light. Unfortunately, women who set boundaries are still and will forever be known as — well, you know the word. Men who set boundaries are respected.

    I highly recommend this book to everyone.


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