Ian McMillan: Listen pal, I won’t duck out of calling you ‘love’

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I’m from Barnsley, so of course I call everybody “love”. Men, women, dogs, cats and once, embarrassingly, a statue in a stately home. I just walked into a dark-ish room and there it was, and I thought it was a pale bloke in a raincoat so I said “Hello, love”; of course the statue didn’t reply and of course nobody who witnessed the event has ever, ever let me forget it, and quite right too. People from other parts of the country find it odd that us Yorkshiremen call each other “love”, and they remark on it to each other in pubs in places like Nuneaton and Truro, but it always seems to me like the most natural thing in the world.

But then, because I often get accused by curmudgeons of being that amorphous thing A Professional Yorkshireman, I thought it was time I varied my mode of address to people. Perhaps calling people “love” just played into the hands of those who wanted to jam a flat cap on my head and thrust a whippet into my hand, so maybe it was, in the words of politicians, time for a change.

Perhaps calling people “love” just played into the hands of those who wanted to jam a flat cap on my head and thrust a whippet into my hand

I could try “pal”, for example, but I’m not really that keen on it. Somebody called me “pal” the other day, and I felt that it sounded a bit aggressive, and not really in a spirit of joy and companionship. “Hello, pal” always seems to me to suggest that the speaker feels superior to the speakee, if I can use technical jargon for a moment. “Mate” is the same for me, although I knew a bloke called Keith who used to call people “My mate”, which feels friendlier and more inclusive. Mind you, it has to be said that it does sound a little bit like Marmite. So, no pal, mate or, regretfully, my mate.

I like “duck” and “me duck” but they’re so tied to the Midlands, that if I started using them people would assume that I’d drifted over to the other side and I’d have to stop writing this column straight away, so the ducks are out.

There are a few more eccentric ones that might give me a certain raffish air; when I worked on a building site decades ago a lot of my fellow artisans called each other Blue or Bruce, and there was a Cockney plasterer called Billy Mush because he called everybody Mush. Mush, like Duck, is too regional for a Yorkshireman to utter and if you do utter it, it has to sound as though you were born within the sound of Bow bells rather than Wakefield Cathedral, but I suppose I could give Blue or Bruce a try. Hello, Blue. Hello, Bruce. They do sound a little bit forced.

So: no pal, mate, my mate, duck, my duck, Blue, Bruce or Mush. What’s left? Well, ignoring epithets from other 
parts of the map like Hinny, Hen, 
and the beautiful My Lover, which you hear in parts of Devon, how about 
some even more eccentric addresses? A friend from Rotherham called people Prince or Comrade or Brother. Men in fast cars still call each other Chief. People in parts of Sheffield still say “Nar then Fatha!” to people who couldn’t possibly be their dad. I worked with a man in a factory who called everybody Oysterface. That might work.

No, it wouldn’t. I’ll stick with “love”.