Some medieval terms of endearment are still in use today – honey and darling, for example, were already used affectionately around the 14th century. Others, however, didn’t stand the test of time. For anyone who wants to address their beloved in a historically accurate way (or who writes about historical characters), here’s a list!
Medieval terms of endearment
Whether you’re trying to write a love letter in medieval style or working on a medieval romance: some accurate medieval terms of endearment always come in handy. The terms below have all been found around or before 1500, so you can be sure you sound like a proper medieval knight or lady!
- Bird. Weird fun fact: until roughly 1400, the word bird was spelled as brid or bryd in English. Chaucer, for example, still writes “My faire bryd”!
- Cinnamon. An expensive, sweet spice – perfect as a term of endearment, again shown by Chaucer. “My faire bryd, me swete cynamome”.
- Coney. Original meaning: “rabbit skin”. But in the late Middle Ages, we find terms of endearment such as sweete lambe and coney.
- Culver. This is an old word for dove (it’s a mangled version of Latin columba, “dove”… Yes, strange things happened there.)
- Darling. The word darling comes from Old English dereling, deorling, which is literally dear-ling, so “dear one”.
- Ding-ding. The weirdest option on the list, in my opinion. The Oxford English Dictionary lists it as “obsolete”, and rightly so… It might be linked to similarly obsolete ding-dang, which denoted testicles.
- Halewei. Literally something like “health water”: a sweat, healing liquid. If you want to make it even more poetic, you could also opt for the attested phrase mi heorte haliwei: “healing lotion for my heart”.
- Heart’s root. Myne owne hertis rote, in Middle English. Root is used here in the meaning or “core, origin”.
- Heart’s gleam. Or, as they put it in Middle English: “myn huerte gleem, bryhtore þen þe sonnebeem”. Yep, that’s “my heart’s gleam, brighter than the sunbeam”.
- Honey. As said before, this one goes a long time back. Interestingly, honey was often used as a term of endearment in religous medieval poetry, as in “Jhesu kyng of alle kynges, þe swete hony drope”. Or “Jesu, my hony swete, My herte!”
- Honeycomb, honeybird, honeysuckle. All variations on the honey above.
- Jewel. This one is pretty clear. Fun fact: medieval writers went absolutely bonkers with the spelling of this word. We find variations like jeuelle, jowaile, yowel, giwel, juelx…
- Joy. Plain and simple, and my joy sounds lovely even in modern times.
- Lemman. Be a little careful here: lemman (which is from leof man, “dear person”) can be either a term of endearment or an insult, depending on the time period. Originally it was used for wives or lovers, but it came to mean “misstress” and then “concubine” or “prostitute”. So in the 13th century you’ll be fine, but pick another option a hundred years later!
- Leof. This is Old English for simple “dear”. The word is related to love.
- Liking. Then usually spelled as “lykyng”, because Old and Middle English spelling was a wild ride. Myn lyking can roughly be translated as “something / someone that pleases me”.
- Miting. From mite, a small creature – so miting means something like “little one”.
- Mop or moppe. This was actually a word for a young fish, but it could also be a term of endearment for a girl or young woman. As in But none so sweete as thy selfe, sweete conye moppe.
- Mulling. It’s a bit unclear where this term, meaning “darling”, comes from. One theory says it may be derived from the obsolete verb to mull, meaning “to become wet”. Hmm.
- Poppet. A small or dainty woman. (The term was also used to describe wax figurines used for dark magic, so if you ever run into a medieval witch, be careful.)
- Primrose. Primroses are supposed to be the most beautiful roses around, so exclamations like My primerose, my paramour! are to be expected in Middle English.
- Queen. Preferably used in combinations such as “my heart’s queen” or “my life’s queen”.
- Sweetheart. It may sound rather modern, but sweetheart is actually one of the oldest medieval terms of endearment that we know! Already in 1290, mi swete heorte is found in a text.
- Sweeting. Like sweety, but medieval.
- Tib. Literally “calf”, which was a huge compliment in a time when calves were very expensive. They’re also very cute.
- Tickling. Yep, this one is derived from the verb to tickle: it’s literally “someone who tickles me”.
Medieval terms of endearment for men
Interestingly, I haven’t been able to find nearly so many medieval terms of endearment for men. Some of the terms above are unisex (for example honey and lemman), but many others are quite exclusively feminine. So how do you compliment your man in medieval terms?
The best way to go is probably to write a nice epic poem about him in which you sum up all his good qualities. For example…
swych a knyghtly sighte, trewely,
As was on hym was nought, withouten faille,
To loke on Mars, that god is of bataille.
So lik a man of armes and a knyght
He was to seen, fulfilled of heigh prowesse;
For bothe he hadde a body and a myght
To doon that thing, as wel as hardynesse;
And eek to seen hym in his gere hym dresse,
So fressh, so yong, so weldy semed he,
It was an heven up-on hym for to see.
In short: you tell him he looks like Mars, that’s he’s really (really) strong and powerful and that seeing him is like seeing heaven. If that doesn’t win his heart, he probably isn’t decent knight material anyway.
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