Imagine the face of Donald Trump Jr. Imagine his slicked-back hair, his glassy stare, his ability to bare his teeth for a smile without moving a single muscle on the upper half of his face. Now imagine him gazing straight into your eyes and murmuring, “Hello, Pooh Bear.”
This steamy scenario is allegedly everyday reality for Kimberly Guilfoyle, girlfriend to the president’s son and, it seems, the proud bearer of this pet name. According to Page Six, Guilfoyle, aka Pooh Bear, also has a nickname for Trump Jr.: Junior Mint, a possible reference to the boatloads of money the Trump family supposedly has.
It’s all very disgusting, and if you’d like to step away from your screen to dry-heave into your nearest receptacle, please take that moment of self-care. Then, once you’re back, if you have never called a significant other something saccharine and humiliating, feel free to cast the first stone.
But you won’t, because you have. Everyone has! Every couple develops a nauseating internal vocabulary that dares not greet the light outside the love nest. Sometimes, couples know they’re being gross and do their friends the favor of keeping it private. Others are oblivious to or even faintly proud of their grossness, the way some people relish the smell of their own farts. Sometimes it’s just pet names, but made-up words for everyday objects, recurring miniskits and songs, and physical gags also fall into the realm of couple talk.
At its worst, couple talk can create barriers to honest communication. In one classic Modern Love column in the New York Times, Stephen R. Johnson wrote that the infantilizing baby talk that made his relationship refreshingly playful—they called each other “froky” and “cherished mitten”—ended up masking deeper incompatibilities. “We both wanted to stop the baby talk and frivolity long enough to make a lasting adult relationship,” he wrote, “but we eventually regressed to froky-speak.”
Usually, the only thing couple talk jeopardizes is the respect of any friends who catch on. “I really can’t stand knowing about a friend and her husband who call each other ‘lovey,’ ” one colleague told me. I recently found out that a friend and her fiancé call one another “panini” as a term of endearment, adapted from the one time he called her a “meanie panini” while making up after a fight. I have nothing but love for her and her husband-to-be, but now that I have this information, they will have to endure my nonstop “panini” taunts until they meet death’s sweet release.
I’m not pretending I’m immune from couple talk. My fiancée and I call each other “booboo,” which I guess is a cutesier iteration of “boo.” When I hug or poke or pinch her while she’s antsy or in the middle of a task or just not feeling it, I tell her, “Your body, my choice.” (It’s consensual! I swear!) And when we’re people-watching in public, we like to make whispered additions to a blog that’s registered only in our minds: your-girlfriends-a-lesbian.tumblr.com. I know, it’s gross!
To soothe the bruised ego I knew I’d incur by admitting these things in public, I asked my colleagues, friends, and some internet strangers for examples of their own devastatingly embarrassing couple talk. We’ll keep these anonymous for the protection of everyone involved.
“Have you met my Uncle Izzy?”
Our couple talk tends to the sarcastic or mordant. When we have a mild disagreement about something trivial—we’re going to share a dessert, but she wants cake and I want pie—one of us will often declare, “It’s all over,” or, “We had a good run.” Similarly, I understand that some couples extend their couple talk to cutesy names for parts of their anatomy; we, instead, have a pet name for my wife’s middle finger. “Have you met my Uncle Izzy?” she asks when I’m being annoying. “No, I don’t think I have,” I’ll say. “Here’s Uncle Izzy!” she shouts, flipping me off.
We call each other “baby,” which is pretty normal, but it has levels. Like, we say we are “babies.” We definitely call each other “best baby” as well as “baby bunnies.” It’s evolved from us calling each other baby to referring to each other as types of babies—like, if he got a haircut, I’ll say, “You’re a haircut baby,” or if I’m in a bad mood, he could say, “don’t be a grumpy baby.” We also lately say “boi” in a similar context, like “haircut boi” or “grumpy boi.” That’s an example of how we incorporate memespeak into some of our couple talk. Sometimes, “boi” is pronounced “bwah.”
“My sweet butter tub”
When my fiancée and I started dating, I was complaining about my weight one day and said, “I’m just a big butter tub.” Two years later, she named my Netflix profile “My sweet butter tub.” (I should note that I think it’s hilarious.) She sometimes calls me that when we’re alone, but I think it’s used most in how I’m saved in her apps.
“Snap Pea and Punkin’ Spice”
We used to be Snap Pea and Punkin’ Spice, but that has kind of faded. Snap Pea was a sort of a nod to our mutual Southern heritage, and Punkin’ Spice was because of my affinity for autumnal baking, but mostly they were just gross and adorable.
My wife sometimes calls me “clam” when I need soothing. It started with “clam down.”
My partner and I like to go camping a lot. One time, we stayed up really late making unbearable puns about bears. (I was fearful our cooking might attract them and that we still smelled of meat.) It was also very cold, so we started hiding our noses in our sleeping bag. We called them “nose tents.” We decided they were manufactured at the “olfactory.” The next morning, she dropped nonstop references to nose tents and the olfactory and bear puns. None of the other couples we went camping with understood any of it. Fast forward nearly a year (in our two-year relationship), and she still makes these references in front of other people all the time. I was annoyed at first. The jokes were dumb to begin with and were only funny in the depth of night in our private tented comedy club. But I love how much joy it brings her to make the nose tent and bear references around people. I embrace it fully now.
“Corn on the cob”
My boyfriend and I will sometimes give each other little fast kisses back-and-forth on the arm whenever one of us says the word corn. Like corn on the cob.
We address each other using different iterations on the words woof and bark, as in the sounds a dog makes. Like “barkmeister,” “woofmeister,” “woofenstein,” “barkeroni,” “barkster.” We also roll the r’s: barrrrrrk. I DON’T KNOW WHY.
We call each other “beans.” Also: bubs, bubso, chunch, Beelzebub, boobers.
We refer to each other as “babe.” All the time. Friends make fun of us. We had a baby, whom we usually refer to as “baby.” The other main term of affection in our household is “buttface,” and everybody gets called that. Our weird inside jokes are, I guess, the pun-offs, wherein we will take a topic and riff on it, back-and-forth, until we exhaust it. So for instance, if the baby drools, we’ll take turns riffing, calling her: Drooly Andrews, Drool Carey, Drooliana Margulies, Drool Barrymore, Ja-Drool, Droolius Caesar, etc.
I call him bananas, angel, angel butt, banana boats. He calls me sweets, mang mang, Smokey, monkey, monkey shines. All more or less impossible to explain.
“You my kiss kiss”
So many pet names that don’t make any sense: booty cutie, love bug, Coco, scootaloo, sweet sweet. We say, “You my kiss kiss, you my love love,” but it has to be in a particular rhythm.
A GIF of Joe Biden shaking his head
I called my partner “elk” because she said she didn’t like being called “dear” because a previous partner had called her that. She was completely happy with the change. Another partner and I split up and she moved to a different city, but we still continued to see each other and talk regularly because our feelings hadn’t diminished. Because we didn’t want to address the awkwardness of still caring for each other, we would share a GIF of Joe Biden shaking his head as a way to express that we cared about each other and demonstrate how when we tried putting it into words, we would just shake our heads and laugh.
I call my wife “carrot.” Then, as we obtained pets, they became “little carrots,” except a particularly rotund cat, who is a “beet.” At first I would get embarrassed when it slipped out in public, but now I barely use her real first name.
I refer to my female partner as a “hedgie” all the time. The joke started when I said she was just like a hedgehog, because her short brown hair gets spiky in the morning, and because she loves to eat and sleep, and because she is nice 95 percent of the time, and even the other 5 percent of the time she is mostly just a bit prickly. I was sad that I had no animal to call myself, so she started calling me her “sharkie,” because, well, I really like sharks, I joke that I have what Tina Fey refers to as “dead shark eyes“ (very dark brown eyes), my skin can be kind of rough, and I do like to gently chomp on her shoulders and her earlobes. Now we have a ton of hedgehog-themed, and some shark-themed, stuff in the house. Her mom bought us tiny Venetian glass-blown figurines of a hedgehog and a shark.
We used to call each other “boo,” but one time it came out wrong, and now we call each other “boob.”
As I’m kind of a science and computer geek, my significant other started calling me Dilbert, but somehow it morphed into a whole family of brothers and alter egos: Dilbert, Filbert, Wilbert, and Gilbert. The favorite became Filbert, who is perfect and can do no wrong, and who is always praised to spite me, Dilbert. “Filbert would never do that!” “That’s why Filbert is my favorite—he loves me!” “Filbert and I are going to Italy for vacation!” Sometimes I’ll try to fool my significant other into thinking I’m Filbert, but they always catch on. Wow, it’s even more embarrassing in writing.
“Beast” and “Sweet meats”
I call her “beast,” because she likes to role-play beastlike animals in a disturbingly convincing way. She calls me “sweet meats,” because she likes to call flesh “meats,” and I have a lot of meats.
Fake Mean mode
Sometimes my husband likes to pretend that we’ve been married for ages and ages and ages—so many weary and downtrodden years that he can’t even remember the number. (It’s been nine years, as of this summer.) This is a part of the Fake Mean mode we sometimes affect with each other, which I find very soothing, because it lets us playact animosity without getting too real about it. “You’re so annoying,” one of us might say, and the other might reply, “Not as annoying as you, goddamn,” accompanied by an epic eye-roll. You just have to be careful not to let real grievances slip into Fake Mean conversations, or all cathartic value is lost!
I started saying to my husband, “I smooch you muchly” to mean “I love you.” That became the nickname “smooch” which I often shorten to just “smoo.”
“Watch your penis!”
My husband and I once met a guy who told us a crazy story about his 4-year-old son: They were in a parking lot, and he said to his son, “Watch out!” The kid, who must have just learned the proper names for genitalia, snapped back, “Why don’t you watch your penis!” So now, instead of saying “move” or “excuse me,” my husband and I say, “Watch your penis!”
“Do you want nipples tacos?”
When we are, say, on the subway, and one of us wants to spend some time looking at our phone, we say, “Do you want to nipples tacos?” or “Is it okay if we nipples tacos?” The backstory is, if I remember correctly, that we once tried to order “nopales tacos,” but it autocorrected to “nipples tacos.” It has to do with us trying to navigate the problem of wanting to be good listeners for each other but also wanting to spend some time unwinding on our phone.
“I love U2 … the band”
One of us will say “I love you,” and the other will say, “I love U2… [pause for a few beats] … the band.” This is daily. Another thing we do: “Your brother called, he wants us to pick up some Popeyes,” or insert any other fast food we want to eat. Sometimes we also meow or ruff. That’s not really a joke, just weird.