There’s A Word for That: Hypocorism

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou probably aren’t aware of this, but you have engaged in hypocorism — not just once, put hundreds or thousands of times in your life. “No way!” you respond indignantly, “I confess I don’t know that means, but it sure sounds like something really terrible — and I am not guilty.” Chill. The definition of a hypocorism, pronounced “hi POK uh riz uhm,” is a pet name (formally known as a hypocorisma). The secondary definition is the practice of using a pet name. So if you have a loved one, like a spouse, partner, child, or a pet, you have indeed engaged in hypocorism — using terms like “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Babe,” “Darling” “Mom,” “Dad,” and so forth. Another form of hypocorism is a diminutive; for example taking a name like Robert and turning it into Bobby or William into Billy. The third definition of a hypocorism is speaking in baby talk. So if you have a baby or a pet, chances are high (as in 100%!) that you have engaged in hypocorism. And just like you can use baby talk to name things (e.g. “woof woof” for dog or “yum yum” for food), you can also use baby talk to create pet names like “Nana” for Grandma, or “Papa” for Grandfather.

Hypocorism is one of those fascinating words in the English language that sounds really bad (it sounds very similar to “hypocrisy”), but actually represents something very sweet. You can blame the harsh sound of the word on the Greek word forming elements. The Late Latin word hypocorisma is based on the Greek word hypokorisma from hypokorizesthai meaning “to call by a pet name or endearing name” that, in turn, is derived from hypo- meaning “under, less than, or beneath” and korizesthai meaning “to caress.” Related words are hypocorisma (a pet name), hypocoristic (descriptive of someone who uses pet names; endearing), and hypocoristically (descriptive of the use of pet names).

So what are some of the most common pet names that people use? Excellent question. In 2012, a UK poll asked 1000 Brits to share the pet names of their spouse or partner. Over 60% respondents admitted to using pet names. Here is their top ten list of pet names:

1. Darling
2. Babe/Baby
3. Love
4. Sweetheart
5. Gorgeous
6. Honey/Hun/Honeybunch
7. Sweetie/Sweetie pie/Sweets
8. Angel
9. Sugar/Sugarplum
10. Boo

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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