As far as I know dear, darling, and honey are commonly used between lovers, but I suppose there are more words like that. What else is commonly used?

Which of these can be used to address a (close/not close) friend without sounding sarcastic or awkward?

  • I'm not sure how to tag this, feel free to tell me or edit it yourself :)
    – mafu
    Jan 8, 2011 at 4:28
  • If you are using honey on someone, they tend to be more intimate than just a friend! ;) Jan 8, 2011 at 9:31
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    I once got a telemarketing call from a lady who addressed me as "honey" without any discernible southern accent. Let's just say, it didn't come across as polite. (Thinking on it later, she was probably from the South and had managed to lose the accent but not her speech habits.)
    – Marthaª
    Jan 8, 2011 at 14:33
  • @Martha southern US was the first image that sprang to mind :D Jan 8, 2011 at 22:58
  • If a male greeted me with dear, darling or honey I would find it camp or sarcastic depending on tone. A female under 60 using this, would make me feel awkward if I was not her lover unless she was obviously joking or flirting. 'Luv is expected from a woman running a London Caf
    – mplungjan
    Feb 23, 2011 at 13:00

9 Answers 9


This varies greatly by geography.

In the Southeastern United States, it is not uncommon for some women to address or answer people--even strangers--of either sex with terms of endearment, such as Honey, Sugar, Sweetie, Darling, Baby, etc.

This practice is so intimately associated with "The South," that it will almost always be awkward or at best unusual for someone without a "southern accent" to speak in this way.

These terms do seem to be acceptable throughout the U.S. and Canada when speaking to a significant other or to very young children.

If this is not the way that you are known to speak, it could be awkward to use any of these terms to address a friend. It does depend upon the genders of speaker and the addressee, and the cultural/geographical/linguistic background of the addressee.

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    When I moved to Bristol a few years ago, I was startled at first to be addressed as "my lover" by women I'd never set eyes on before. Jan 8, 2011 at 9:05
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    @Brian: Wow. I'd heard "my love" (in movies, TV, etc.) but Bristol's "my lover" was new to me! Jan 8, 2011 at 17:19
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    While I lived in Virginia I met several people who did this. The strangest thing was the lady who ran the register at a cafeteria I used. She used several of the above terms for everyone, varying them for different people, but appeared to be perfectly consistent in which term was applied to which person. I was always "Honey", and a friend was always "Sugar". I've no idea how she did it. Jan 8, 2011 at 22:49
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    @dmckee: Maybe it was based on what you each took in your coffee, power of association. ;)
    – John K
    Jan 9, 2011 at 0:11
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    @John: Hmmm...I think that would have made me "Hot, black, and strong"... Jan 9, 2011 at 1:49

I agree with Jay's answer, but would add that "Dear Sir", "Dear Mr. Smith", etc. used to be (still are?) considered standard openings for formal or business letters. In this pro forma context, the word "dear" is nearly meaningless. Perhaps at most, it means "I respect you, and I respect the tradition of opening my letter this way".


Taking the geographical oddities a little further in Cornwall (South West of the UK) complete strangers, normally women, may finish questions with the term 'my lover'. IE "That'll be seven sixty my luuver" best pronounced with a distinct country burr.

Here in Australia there's an equivalent which is 'Darl' - short for darling, again best pronounced with a good Queensland aussie accent.

In answer to your question many couples have pet names, which are normally toe curlingly cute - fluff bunny, didums etc, but the use of darling, honey etc sounds a little 1950's to my English/Australian ear. We use mate a lot, as in 'Cheers mate' for anyone we're interacting with - works for friends and aquaintances - but then Australia is known for being very informal.

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    "mate" even works for complete strangers... met an Aussie (I think) years (ages!) ago who called me mate. Okay, after I helped him with something I don't recall, I think it was buying a train ticket from a (German-only) vending machine. Jan 8, 2011 at 23:04
  • I live in New Zealand. Most strangers here (shop assistants, train conductors, waiters/waitresses and so on) will address me as "sir" if I'm wearing a suit, and either "mate" or "bro'" if I'm dressed casually. This is normal for this part of the world.
    – user16269
    Jan 19, 2012 at 9:29

In the American South, it’s quite common for women to address total strangers, as honey, sugar, baby, etc. (On TV, black men do too, but I haven’t observed this first-hand. It might be fiction.) It’s a tricky thing because you’re taking a very familiar attitude. If you’re a vigorous Southern woman with heaps of personality, it’s charming. You’re just irrepressibly friendly. For maximum effect, you have to give the impression that if the president of France walked in the diner door, you’d call him honey too.

But if you have to ask, don’t call people honey. Most people don’t, and you especially shouldn’t. You weren’t born into it. You’ll stand out.

In fact, if your demeanor towards someone is otherwise professional, and especially if you are a man and that person is a woman, never address them using such terms. It’s patronizing and offensive, an echo of the sexual attitudes of the 1950s and ’60s.

  • I love "if you have to ask". That's the key here. Jan 19, 2012 at 1:50

In Australia and New Zealand you'll hear any of the terms luv, mate, cuz, bro, darl, darlin, honey, sweets, cobber, dear, sir, ma'am and even on occasion buddy, you guys, jokers, blokes, sheilas, and so on. It seems to depend on the individual as to when and how these terms are applied.

None of them are generally considered sexist or offensive when used casually but that too depends on the context because they can equally be used as terms of endearment or sarcastically.

At any rate, using any of the above terms to address another individual seems better than “hey you” and other less appropriate or derogatory terms such as babe, retard, wanker, asshole, and much worse. However, even these horrid terms are used quasi-endearingly within groups of individuals, especially teens.


My mom uses the word 'love' when addressing her close friends. Like by saying "Thanks, love! Much appreciated!" And also sometimes if I thank someone like a store clerk for their help, they will say "You're welcome, honey."


I think the word Dear is quite okay while addressing your close friends. I do that very often and it's not so awkward. As for Honey.. that would mean a little more than friends, or extremely close friends who wouldn't mind being addressed anything at all! In the end it all depends on your relationship with the friend to whom you are addressing.


As part of a new campus initiative, my college's student body had to take a sexual harassment test. Interestingly enough this test claimed any term of endearment such as, "sweetie" or "honey" was a form of sexual harassment.

I live in Chicago, but in the South Eastern United States its not uncommon for friends to refer to each other in such a manner. The novel A Confederacy of Dunces, which is widely championed for its depiction of Louisiana accents, frequently includes dialog where friends call each other "babe" and "honey."

It's more of a cultural thing than anything else, but as a general rule I would avoid using the terms in language or writing since they can have drastically different meanings.


If you use those words in the office then you feel some inclination towards those who you addressed. Again it depends on geography.

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