Tag Archives: using terms of endearment in writing

#amwriting: kinship names and terms of endearment

misuse_grammar_consistently_memeI am in the final stages of getting a manuscript ready to send to my editor. As such, I am trying to make it as clean as I can so she won’t tear her hair out in frustration. One thing I am checking for consistency is proper capitalization of terms of endearment, such as “Sir,” or “Dad,” and “Mom.”

I discussed this topic a while back, but having read several books written by authors who clearly had no idea there are rules about terms of endearment and capitalization, it bears repeating.

The rules are basic and simple to remember:

For people who are related, if you are saying it directly to them in place of their name, capitalize it.

  • “I love you, Son.”

If you are mentioning them in conversation, don’t capitalize it.

  • “My son is wonderful.”

Terms of endearment can also

  • Be relatively impersonal.
  • Denote a friendship.
  • Be slightly patronizing in situations where the speakers are not friends.

If the speaker is not related to the person in question, do not capitalize it.

  • “I wouldn’t do that, son.”

Again, as in so many other aspects of the writing craft, context is everything. Consider the word “sir.” It is an honorific. Quoted from the Chicago Manual of Style:

Honorific titles and respectful forms of address are capitalized in any context with several exceptions:

  • sir
  • ma’am
  • my lord
  • my lady

You must also capitalize the words “sir” and/or “madam” when beginning a letter or an email.

  • Dear Sir or Madam

Where king/queen, Lord, or Sir is used as part of someone’s name, it is always capitalized, as are these honorifics:

  • King Karl, and Wanda, the Queen of Meatballs
  • the Empress Sophia
  • Lord Albert Beaucleigh; Lady Mary Cheltenham
  • Sir Julian De Portiers

Where king/queen is employed in the context of a general reference it is lowercased:

  • “Good grief,” said the king.

But should one capitalize the word “sir” when it’s used in dialogue? Which of the following would be correct? “Yes sir.” OR “Yes Sir.”

If the reply is to a respected person in general, it is written with no capital, as it’s not a formal name. But you do need a comma just you would with a formal name:

“Yes, sir.”

“Yes, George.”

The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style_16th_editionAgain, consider the context. When writing dialogue: if your speaking character is in the military and the person he/she is addressing has a military rank above them, and is speaking in their military capacity you must capitalize it.

The exception to this rule is if a younger person of lesser rank is talking to an older person of higher rank in an informal setting. At that point, the younger person is simply speaking respectfully to an older person, and “sir” does not need to be capitalized.

For a more in-depth exploration of that subject see my post of March 14, 2016: son and sir: to capitalize or not?


For further information, see The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition,  issued September 2010,  section 8.32

Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guidehttp://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

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#amwriting: son and sir: to capitalize or not?

Tom Hiddleston MemeTerms of endearment are often used in casual conversation. Each has their own implications which are highly dependent on tone of voice, body language, and social context.

They can be fairly impersonal, denoting a friendship. Conversely, they can be intimate, indicating a close relationship.

Used by perfect strangers they can also be patronizing and rude.

These words vary in creativity from the sublime to the ridiculous:

  • dear
  • mate
  • chum
  • darling
  • honey
  • baby-cakes
  • sweetheart
  • sugar
  • wuvvy-dovey

From Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge: Saying “Hey baby, you’re looking good” varies greatly from the use “Baby, don’t swim at the deep end of the pool!” Certain terms can be perceived as offensive or patronizing, depending on the context and speaker. (end quoted text.)

This brings us to the word “son.” Again, as in so many other aspects of the writing craft, context is everything.

  • “I love you, Son,” said the doting father.

The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style_16th_editionFrom the Chicago Manual of Style, Section 8.35: Kinship names are lower-cased unless they immediately precede a personal name or are used alone:

  • my father and mother
  • Aunt Jane
  • the Bronte sisters
  • I believe Grandmother’s name was Marie
  • Please, Dad, let’s go.
  • She adores her aunt, Maud

But, in the past, instead of a boy’s name, men commonly called boys boy, kid or son, not as a name but as a neutral term of endearment. My interpretation of the word “son” in casual conversation is like this: I feel it should not be capitalized if it is being used to indicate friendship, or in a patronizing fashion.

Wikipedia claims that in an informal setting, such as a pub or gym, the use of terms of endearment is a positive politeness strategy among men. A term like “mate” or “son” shifts the focus toward the friendship existing between the speakers, yet maintains a slight emotional distance.

The problem here is the term “son.” In some cases, it is used when speaking to a man not related, but indicates friendship on the part of an older speaker in regard to a younger companion. I feel that, when used as a neutral form of endearment, the word “son” falls into the same class as:

  • Hand me the scissors, darling.
  • Have a beer, mate.
  • Gloria, dear—how’s your mother?
  • Grab that remote for me, love.
  • How’ve you been, old son?

The above endearments are not between speakers with a deep emotional attachment. They indicate camaraderie and nothing more–they are neutral. Therefore, “son” should not be capitalized if it is being used as a neutral term of endearment when speaking to a person you are not related to.

  • “Okay, son. Tell your ma I stopped by,” said his neighbor.
  • “Get off your high-horse, son,” said man next to him.

As stated above, The Chicago Manual of Style’s preference has always been to lowercase pet names, (which are terms of endearment) but in reality, you can’t go wrong unless you’re inconsistent, since the issue is guided by preference rather than rule.

The word preference means:

  1. a greater liking for one alternative over another or others.

synonyms: liking, partiality, predilection, proclivity, fondness, taste, inclination, leaning, bias, bent, penchant, predisposition

So, if you do choose to capitalize the word “son” when used as a term of endearment, be consistent. But also be aware that it’s not necessary.

Then there is the question of the word “sir.” It is an honorific. From the Chicago Manual of Style section 8.32

Portrait of Henry VIII (1491-1547) by Hans HolbeinHonorific titles and respectful forms of address are capitalized in any context with several exceptions:

  • sir
  • ma’am
  • my lord
  • my lady

Always capped:

  • Madam Speaker
  • Your Honor
  • Your Excellency
  • Her (His, Your) Majesty; His (Her, Your) Royal Highness
  • The Most Reverend William Ronstadt (Roman Catholic Bishop)
  • Lord John Davies; Lady Mary Shelton
  • The First Gentleman; the First Lady
  • The Right Honourable John Carter

Where king/queen is used as part of someone’s name, it is always capitalized:

  • King Bob, and Evelyn, the Queen of Darkness

Where king/queen is used as part of a general reference it is lower-cased:

  • “Hello,” said the king.

Should one capitalize the word sir when it’s used in dialogue? Which of the following would be correct? “Yes, sir.” OR “Yes, Sir.”

Paul-McCartney-on-playing-Rock-BandIf the reply is to a respected person in general, it is written with no capital, as it’s not a formal name. But you do need a comma just as you would with a formal name:

  1. “Yes, sir.” (General politeness.)
  2. “Yes, Sir Paul.” (Formally agreeing with a knight.)
  3. “Yes, Larry.” (Proper use of comma.)

When writing dialogue: if your speaking character is in the military and the person he/she is addressing has a military rank above them, THEN you must capitalize it.

If you are writing about Sir Paul McCartney’s favorite brand of socks, capitalize it.

You must also capitalize the words “sir” and/or “madam” when beginning a letter or an email. My favorite internet example of this is:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to inform you that you a related to a Nigerian prince. (Grammar Party Blog)

Just refer to me as “my lady” from here on out. Email doesn’t get better than that!

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