Here's the social set up. I'm talking to a girl on-line whom I've never met. After a few short messages I'm pointing out that she's not that devoted to the conversation and I'm suggesting that we go on (in each's own direction). To that she remarks that my profile is thin of information and she's got little to go on. So I'm sending her a few fun facts and finish off the message by:

"So, there you go, sweety. I've picked a few facts for you to work with and I've even intentionally made them a bit controversial and edgy. :)"

She gets offended by the choice of the words, especially "sweety". When I rephrase the wording directly into Swedish, I realize the issue. The connotation then is (in raising level of oopsiness:

  1. affectionate (which'd be sleazy at this point),
  2. diminutive (which'd be inappropriate lack of respect) or
  3. derogatory (which'd be obnoxious and counter-productive to my aim).

I've been using expressions like:

"Here you go, love."
"Let me get that for you, sweety."

expressing both respect and kindness informally. I've never been confronted with nor remarked on any of such. So, my working theory at the moment is that said lady Swedishifized the contents of my message and took it all wrong.

But I'm not entirely sure how that's interpreted by a SoE. I also suspect that there might be difference in how it's interpreted amongst different demographics and locations.

So my question is whether the interpretation I'm making is applicable at all. And if so, in what regions, demographic groups, times etc.?

As a bonus part of the question, what could (or should, in case it's not applicable at all) be used instead. Please note that I'm trying to be polite but gradually decrease the level of formality because I'd like to get to know that individual.

  • 6
    I would definitely have interpreted sweetie to be vaguely condescending and insulting too, if it were me. Could you have called someone you knew this superficially/briefly sötnös, or even raring without coming off as chauvinist and degrading towards women? Hardly. I wouldn't have used any term at all in your position—I would have written just, “So there you go, then”. Sep 28, 2014 at 20:31
  • Using a nickname/short-form is always a great start to signify friendship; remember to ask for their consent beforehand for etiquette's sake. Hey Nickie (instead of Nicole). Lady/sir are neutral, polite choices that are used frequently in workplaces, stores, etc. Here you go sir/lady. Have a nice day. Sep 28, 2014 at 20:54
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    This is 100% a subjective matter of opinion. Some people routinely address almost anyone as "Pet, Sweetie, Ducks, Luvvy, Hun," etc. Some people bristle at unwarranted familiarity, others think it's cute. It's not really about English - it's about social customs, and the extent to which established face-to-face conventions can screw up in contexts where the interaction is entirely conducted through a text medium. Sep 28, 2014 at 21:29
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    @Crosscounter, "Here you go lady" is hardly a neutral choice. It's likely to be taken to mean you think the other person is pretentious or snobbish.
    – The Photon
    Sep 29, 2014 at 4:51
  • 1
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about inter-personal relationships and has little to do with language or the meanings of words or how they are used.
    – WS2
    Sep 29, 2014 at 23:13

2 Answers 2


In the Southern part of the United States, "sweetie" and "honey" are sometimes used by women or gay men when speaking to others in various situations in public. For instance, a woman at a clothing store might ask a man or a woman, "Do you need any help, sweetie?"

It is not used by straight men except in a flirtatious/sexual or condescending way. The above would not have worked if it were a straight man, as it is supposed to be a 'professional' and not flirtatious atmosphere.

In your above comments, you are coming off as both overly sexual and condescending. "Let me get that for you, sweetie" seems to imply she is incompetent when a man says it to a woman (who are not together romantically), whereas "Let me get that for you" has none of that connotation.

'Sweetie' and other pet names are generally NOT used until you are in an established relationship with someone. Boyfriends and girlfriends may do so, but before that, while dating, it's a little presumptuous and definitely implies that you are together.

  • 1
    Oh, I've been using it all wrong, then. In fact, I've learned the expression from a huge, black lady at a waterpark. She referred to my companion as sweety and to me as love. I interpreted it as a sign of being friendly and informal. I guess I'll have to stand corrected. What work should be put at the end of "here you go, XXX"? "Lady" seems too presumptions. "Girl" sounds not proper neither... Sep 28, 2014 at 21:05
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    I'm not sure exactly how widespread the usage by women is, but when used by gay men as a generic term for, well, human beings, it's certainly not limited to the southern US. In fact, it's an aspect (and word) of gay argot that's been borrowed into several other languages, including the asker's native language of Swedish. (In the UK, love has a similar function.) Sep 28, 2014 at 21:05
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    @KonradViltersten: There's always "ma'am", which is a compromise between the overly formal "madam" and the completely informal versions. For folks in some age ranges, "Ms" (pronounced "miz") may be an alternative; it's a variant of "Miss/Missus" with the marriage-status indication removed. Or you can leave the appellation off entirely: "Here you go. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
    – keshlam
    Sep 28, 2014 at 21:33
  • @JanusBahsJacquet You're absolutely right, I should have specified that it's Southern women and gay men in general, not Southern gay men. Sep 28, 2014 at 22:20
  • This usage goes at least into the Midwest. While it wasn't very common, I heard waitresses calling customers "honey" on occasion when I lived in St. Louis. Sep 29, 2014 at 2:26

AmE here; I hope this answer is helpful.

Men who use terms of endearment toward women that they don’t know often don't come off as cute or kind. Often they come off as awkward, clueless, creepy, rude, condescending (perceived superiority), or sexist. It can be casual way of asserting dominance. It's like men you don't know calling you Boy-o, Kiddo, Sonny or Killer.

If you're on a first name basis, you can't go wrong with calling someone by their actual name. It's friendly and respectful.

Names best to avoid until you know someone pretty well:

Mamacita, Little Lady, Freckles, Dimples, Muchacha, Lollipop, Sister, Shortcake, Suzy Q, Toots, Honey, Sugar, Sweetcheeks, Baby, Babycakes, Sweetheart, Cupcake, Puddin’, Doll, Dollface, Honeybuns, Barbie, Sweetie, Love, Sweetcake, Gorgeous, Darlin', Hon.

Sure, lots of folks don't mean anything by it, I understand that. At it's most benign, it still says something. How you mean it is clearly not always (or usually) how it's perceived.

  • 1
    I believe SoE just means “Speakers of English”, so I think you are quite familiar with them. ;-) Sep 28, 2014 at 22:12
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Just to be clear - SoE means precisely what you said. However, one should note that NSoE is Native speaker(s) of English and not (as I've noticed on some occasions the negation of the former - not a speaker(s) of English. :) Sep 29, 2014 at 5:20

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