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Diminutives

By
Bonnie Mills, read by Mignon Fogarty,
September 3, 2015
Episode #480

Page 3 of 3

When Are Pet Names and Diminutive Inappropriate?

In several situations, you should probably refrain from using a pet name or a diminutive. Many parents call their children by a diminutive, such as Ricky and Annie. What's fine for a two-year-old, however, is not necessarily OK for older offspring. As the children get closer to adulthood, they may prefer to sound more grown up and want to be known by their full name. Parents certainly should not address their six-foot-tall adult son as Jakey-Poo in public, or maybe even in private, especially if he requests that Mom and Dad stop calling him that. Other privately used monikers such as studmuffin should also stay private. If you let that slip in front of others, especially in front of a boss, a waiter, or his parents, the man in your life will likely be rightfully angry or embarrassed.

You might be surprised to learn that diminutives can be used for evil as well as good. One style guide states that “a diminutive is a word or name that indicates smallness, youth, familiarity, affection, or contempt.” (16) Some women, for example, object to the use of honey and other diminutive names. They feel that these words are condescending, and they request that their significant others not use them. In addition, as women have increasingly pressed for gender equality, they have spoken up about the sometime male habit of calling them by pet names that seem to place them on a lower rung, especially at work. There's a famous scene in the 1982 movie Tootsie, where Dustin Hoffman's character pretends to be a woman so he can get acting work. He becomes Dorothy Michaels, and she says to a man who has been demeaning her at work, “I have a name. It's Dorothy. It's not Tootsie or Toots or Sweetie or Honey or Doll.” Upon hearing this, the man she's speaking to swears, and so she continues: “No, just Dorothy. Alan's always Alan, Tom's always Tom and John's always John. I have a name too. It's Dorothy, capital D-O-R-O-T-H-Y.” (17) You go, girl!

And so, if you want to call a submarine sandwich a sub, go right ahead; no one will complain. But if you're addressing a person with something other than a full first name, make sure he or she is cool with it.

This segment was written by Bonnie Mills, who blogs at sentencesleuth.blogspot.com and is the author of The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier.

References

1. Transparent Language blog, “Using the Diminutive in English,” http://blogs.transparent.com/english/using-the-diminutive-in-english/. Accessed July 6, 2015.

2. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p.141.

3. Language Learning Base, “Diminutive Suffixes in English,” http://languagelearningbase.com/87803/diminutive-suffixes-in-english. Accessed July 6, 2015.

4. Dictionary.com, “-et,” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/-et. Accessed July 6, 2015.

5. Dictionary.com, “-ette,” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/-ette. Accessed July 6, 2015.

6. Behind the Name, “Diminutive,” http://www.behindthename.com/glossary/view/diminutive. Accessed July 6, 2015.

7. Behind the Name, “Diminutive,” http://www.behindthename.com/glossary/view/diminutive. Accessed July 6, 2015.

8. Behind the Name, “Diminutive,” http://www.behindthename.com/glossary/view/diminutive. Accessed July 6, 2015.

9. IMDB, “Good Will Hunting: Quotes,” http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0119217/quotes?qt=qt0408128. Accessed July 7, 2015.

10. Behind the Name, “Diminutive,” http://www.behindthename.com/glossary/view/diminutive. Accessed July 6, 2015.

11. Transparent Language blog, “Using the Diminutive in English,” http://blogs.transparent.com/english/using-the-diminutive-in-english/. Accessed July 6, 2015.

12. Dictionary.com, “Hypocorism,” http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hypocorism. Accessed July 7, 2015.

13. Behind the Name, “Diminutive,” http://www.behindthename.com/glossary/view/diminutive. Accessed July 6, 2015.

14. Scientific American MIND Guest Blog, “Terms of Endearment: Why Do We Use Pet Names in Relationships?” http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/why-do-we-use-pet-names-in-relationships/. Accessed July 6, 2015.

15. Scientific American MIND Guest Blog, “Terms of Endearment: Why Do We Use Pet Names in Relationships?” http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/why-do-we-use-pet-names-in-relationships/. Accessed July 6, 2015.

16. American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005, p.141.

17. IMDB, “Tootsie: Quotes,” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084805/quotes. Accessed July 7, 2015.

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