I sometimes call my son embarrassing pet names he is much too old to be called by. I suck like that.

For some reason, my son and I were discussing one particular such name, and I was saying how nice it was phonetically. How it rolled off the tongue, how it felt loving to say it. And we started thinking of pet names that didn’t sound like that. Names that felt formal, like “Dearest.” You have to stop and say dearest carefully; the syllables require enunciation. Or “Sweetheart.” There’s a stop in that one, between the “t” and the “h,” which makes saying it slightly labored. Whereas “Baby” or “Honey” roll off the tongue.

“Lovely” (which is what Pete calls Trudy) doesn’t roll off the tongue. It’s labored. Everything about it is full of effort and artifice. “Lovely” is a fake pet name. It screams “I made this up for you to prove to you I love you.” It says “Listen to me use fancy words so that you’ll give in to my manipulations.” Even Thurston Howell’s “Lovey” is more relaxed. As is “Birdie,” which has an easy enunciation that feels like it just slipped out.

It’s amazing to me that even what they call their wives draws fundamental character distinctions between Don and Pete.

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