TruckStruck: Honey Sugar Darlin’ Dear
By: Lynn Bolster
Recently, I was speaking with a retired driver named Oz and when I finished, I said, “You know what I mean honey?” He gave me a stern look and said “honey? What do you mean by that?” Taken aback I said, “I meant nothing by it, it’s just a figure of speech, not everything means something. ”“Figure of speech? I don’t like being called honey, no honeys here!” He thinks phrases like these should be reserved for spouses or significant others, not anyone else. And if you do use one, it could be construed as being suggestive. This can and does happen but I would venture to say not as much as one would believe. So I apologized and promised not to repeat it. But, of course, after years of use, it slips out, and I am asking for his forgiveness yet again. It’s rare anyone calls me out on it, other than Oz of course, but he’s a story for another day. If his feathers got this ruffled what about all the other people I say this to?
I have learned, after years on the road, that if honey is the worst thing you are called, you are fortunate indeed. When living out there, drivers see so many people each day, that using words like these actually seems like a courtesy or that you are just being friendly. I lump them in with ‘Have a nice day.’ Those of us who use them just think we are being nice, so why be offended? Some folks see their use as dumbing down, disrespectful and condescending. Others think the speaker is being flirtatious, and overly familiar and that’s a reason to call them out. But I think most of us would agree that using these terms makes them lose any ‘loaded’ meaning when said to a stranger unless your body language or facial expression says otherwise. In my world, it’s a daily thing, no ulterior motives. I lived in Baltimore for 20 years and if there is a home for the use of the word hon, that’s the place. They even have a Honfest each year!
The top words male drivers have called me are sweetheart, darlin’, and sugar. Women use honey, dear and sweetie it seems more often. Whenever I talk about this, I always think of the truck stop waitresses I worked with. They would say “What’ll you have honey?” or “More coffee dear?” Whereas men would say to me, “Get the cheater pipe and tighten those straps sweetheart” or “Pull the snow chains out the side box darlin’” or the ever-popular “Hand me the torque wrench sugar.” These guys think they are softening the blow after making me do all the work, by ending their request with a term of endearment. Well, honey, Momma didn’t raise no fool, I see right through that.
When trucking down south, everyone uses these terms. It appears to be a regional thing, like southern hospitality, it is expected and accepted. Tell me who would get offended if Dolly Parton, in her sweet southern drawl, said “Can you take out the trash sweetheart?” Who can pass that up? Show me the garbage!
When I talk with the old school drivers, I expect this. They were calling women sweetheart long before being politically correct became a thing. Back in their day, they listened to country crooner Conway Twitty sing his hit “Hello Darlin.” It seems to be more accepted as a person ages. We all have grandparents that say “It’s so good to see you dear.” It’s so sweet you can’t get upset with that.
Talking this way is especially useful if you forget someone’s name. It can save a business transaction. It can help save face. I think I got a free dinner once when I ran into a driver I recognized from a couple of thousand miles ago but just couldn’t place his name. Works for me!
I’ve used these terms so long that I have said them to the lowest paid employee up to the top managers. I’ve had bosses say they found it refreshing when they heard me because it showed unpretentiousness and that I treated everyone the same. The next guy wanted to take me to HR. I say them to blue collar or white collar. I don’t care about social standing or how much money someone has in the bank. I get that it is a respect thing, but as I’ve aged, I’ve learned to pick my battles. This isn’t one of them.
Someone once said it’s not about what you’re called, it’s about what you answer to. Now that’s some wisdom right there. So world, I give you permission to call me honey, sugar, darlin’, and dear, just don’t wink at me after you say it. That is unless you look as good as George Clooney.