May 16, 2008
Obama Hits the Sweet Spot?
There are a lot worse things to be called than “sweetie,” and if you’re a woman, you’ve probably heard most of them. It is, after all, a term of endearment.
Sweet-tasting foods weren’t always easy to come by, making sweetness especially prized and no doubt accounting for the association of sweetness with affection.
The word “sweetie” dates back to 1721, when it meant “candy drop”; in the form “sweet,” the endearment seems to be as old as the use of the word to mean “sweet-tasting food." In other words, it’s positively Medieval.
Using endearments with strangers has always been inappropriate, even in a country as informal as America. And it can be especially inappropriate if the term is used by a man addressing a woman in a professional situation.
Reporters must be used to getting the brush-off, but if I were Peggy Agar, I’d have found being called “sweetie” by any man I was trying to interview irritating.
On the other hand, it seems pretty clear from the video that Obama wasn’t trying to be offensive. Agar herself was concentrating on getting her question answered. The media storm that erupted around the use of the word came as a complete surprise to her.
If she’s happy to accept his apology, then that should be good enough for the rest of us.
But perhaps next time he should say, "hold on one second, my friend."
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