Saturday, July 31, 2010

Edible Babies?

This post is NOT about Jonathan Swift's classic satire, "A Modest Proposal," though if you have never read it I highly recommend you do.

I'm thinking about how we use nicknames related to food.

This is most common with babies, and in particular with girl babies. There are a few words, like "honey" and "sugar" and "sweetie pie" (focus on the "pie") that can apply to both boys and girls. However, nicknames like "cupcake" and "peach" do not apply to boys at all, and it's nearly impossible to find food nicknames that are used exclusively for boys. The older the boys get, the less likely it is that they'll be cast in this food-related light. "Beefcake" after all is an unnatural word, invented as a response to the use of "cheesecake" for females.

What does it mean? Well, I'm not about to claim that food nicknames have any literal cannibalistic meaning. However, as a mom who very often threatens playfully to eat her children up, I have some thoughts. This metaphorical "eating" usually has to do with kissing, and I think there is a parallel between the use of eating nicknames and the appropriateness of affectionate kissing with children (usually within the family, but not always). Boys learn to disapprove of it much earlier, and to expect a kind of physical autonomy that makes rough play okay, but snuggly intimacy not okay (I personally think this is a shame). There's also an element of permission involved in being the one "eaten" that can be interpreted as submissiveness - more grist for the feminist mill, and I'm sure that could potentially generate some story ideas.

I think it would be useful to consider what form this sort of intimacy might take in a fantasy or alien society. One could explore an alternate avenue for the nicknaming - different foods might be an obvious direction to go. Another alternative might be to consider physical expressions of intimacy that don't involve the mouth (for cultural or physiological reasons), and see what directions your nicknames might take as a result.

It's something to think about.