What Richard Burton called Elizabeth Taylor

June 3, 2010

Pet names: rules that can spare your blushes

Love letters written by Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor, to be published for the first time in Vanity Fair magazine, reveal both a streak of self-pity and a terrible penchant for pet names. He calls Taylor “Twit Twaddle” and “my little Twitch”. One begins with “Dear Scrupel-shrumpilstilskin”. I don’t know what it means, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how you spell it.

Terms of endearment can be silly or sweet, affectionate or ironic, self-conscious or spontaneous, but whenever they’re aired in public they’re sure to make the flesh of the disinterested crawl. Perhaps it’s because they remind us that love makes uncomplicated, earnest idiots of us all. Or maybe it’s because we know that nothing lasts for ever, and that someone who today calls you her cuddle muffin will one day refer to you exclusively as “that scumbag”.

Pet names are absurdly intimate, which is why they’re so embarrassing when revealed to anyone else. We only know that Princess Diana’s lover James Gilbey had nicknamed her Squidgy because someone eavesdropped on a phone conversation. Some couples are gruesomely at ease calling each other “pumpkin” and “twinkle-berry” in front of people, but for most of us it only happens during a momentary lapse in concentration, and it rarely happens twice.

We often speak of unconditional love, but perhaps it’s time we set a few conditions. If your soggy little heart demands that you resort to using a pet name, remember these simple rules:

▶ Don’t imagine you possess a flair for invention (see Burton, above). When in doubt, choose from a safe list that includes common pet names such as Tiger, Sweetheart, Honey, Petal and Lover. They are irritating enough.

▶ Never try to make a diminutive out of something that is, in effect, already a diminutive, especially by adding a suffix such as “pie” to “-toes” or “-bunny”. That way madness lies.

▶ Remember that while ironic pet names may be amusing, they are never fully ironic. You can’t call someone “fishface” every day for 10 years without it having some sort of cumulative effect.

▶ Never, under any circumstances, commit a pet name to print. People will find it and think less of you, even years after you’re dead.


Goldfingerer 3 Jun 2010, 8:42AM

Lovely article Timmy-pie.

elbhahto 3 Jun 2010, 9:45AM

And while we’re on the subject, can anyone explain to me why people think it’s in any way appropriate to refer to someone you have sex with as ‘baby’? Is it an extreme form of repressed paedophilia?

(via The Guardian)


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