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a friendly greeting

Tri from France writes:

Could you please explain the friendly/informal terms of addressing people usually used in British English as well as in American English? I've found the following: love, hen (in Scotland?), duck (?), hon or honey (in American English?). Are there any other terms in regional dialects of English?

Thanking you in advance.

'Friendly/informal terms of address'


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Mark Shea answers:

Hi Tri,

Thanks for sending in such a fun question! Friendly and informal ways of addressing people is an area where English vocabulary is very rich.

Many different local or national varieties of English have their own terms of address. There are also different terms of address depending on the relationship between the speaker and the other person. This would give us a very long list - here are a few of my favourites:

The one that I personally use most is "mate". I use it for friends and family and mostly for men, although women might call each other mate as well.

I frequently start sentences with 'mate', or tag it onto the end of a sentence.

"Mate, what are you up to tonight?" or
"See you later, mate."
The meaning is 'friend', and it's particularly common in London and in Australian English.

'Geezer is another London term, though far less common.

In a very informal context, you might also hear 'love' used - a greengrocer might say to a customer:

"That'll be two pounds please, love."

Men wouldn't normally use this with other men though. It's often used between boyfriends and girlfriends - who might also call each other 'babe'.

In the north of England, particularly in Newcastle, 'pet' is an affectionate term of address.

"Alright, pet" -

is just a way of saying 'hello' to virtually anybody, known or unknown - although men wouldn't usually call each other 'pet'.

In London, men might address male strangers as 'governor' or 'gov' for short, 'squire' or 'mush' - which rhymes with 'push' and comes from the old Romany word for 'man'.

All over Britain, and even more in the United States, adults might address children as 'kid', or 'kiddo'. In Britain, boys might also be called 'lad', 'laddy', 'young fella m'lad', 'sonny Jim', etc. But they can sound very condescending if you don't know each other really well.

La' is a common abbreviation in Liverpool in the north-west of England, where it might be used for almost any young male.

'Laddy' and 'lassie' are used in Scotland for young men and young women respectively.

'Boyo' is the Welsh version, and can be used for adults too.

Rather confusingly, some terms that sound very friendly might not be...
'Pal' means friend, but a sentence which begins
"Listen pal..." - could well be a warning or a threat.
"Sunshine" is another term that can be used between men, and isn't always as friendly as it sounds.

The United States, and rap music in particular, has always been a very rich source of slang, which gradually crosses the Atlantic in American film and music. From this, we get brother, bro', bruv, brud, beau or boo, blood, dog etc.

An important point to make about all of these terms, just like all slang, is that by using them you are claiming membership of a particular group or club. It sounds strange when older people try to use slang that teenagers use for example - they just don't fit in.

As a non-native speaker of English, people might not expect you to use slang, and so they'll be surprised when you do and may mishear or misunderstand what you are saying. You need to be very confident that you're using this vocabulary in an appropriate context to use it well - perhaps amongst friends. It's always fun to learn slang, but it's really easy to get it wrong.

Mark Shea has been a teacher and teacher trainer for fifteen years. He has taught English and trained teachers extensively in Asia and South America, and is a qualified examiner for the University of Cambridge oral examinations. He is currently working with journalists and is the author of the BBC College of Journalism's online English tutor.


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