I grew up a Yankee in the north where if a younger woman called an older woman honey it would be considered slanderous! Not so for the women of Kentucky where women of all ages use it with reverence, respect, and camaraderie. I believe the women of Kentucky are sincere when they call you honey, even the ones who are not smiling. As a woman from Pennsylvania it took several years to fully appreciate this kindred and complex sincerity.
The women of Kentucky do not use hon in a patronizing way, nor do they toss around the equally flippant and sarcastic, “Whatever you say honey.” They draw out their honey and make it clear that they are talking to you, even as you look over your shoulder for the person you believe endeared to them!
As a teacher I have witnessed elementary aged women of Kentucky bend down and quietly whisper to their crying friend, “Oh, honey! What happened?” I have eavesdropped on preschool girls, the future women of Kentucky, as they play in the housekeeping area with their pretend husbands. They hand these little boys cups and saucers and say, “More coffee, honey?”
I never feel more assured than when my colleague and friend, and of course, a woman from Kentucky, puts her arms around me, wipes my tears away, and says, “I know just how you feel, honey.”
By the same token, the women of Kentucky can quickly put you in your place with just the tone of their voice and a disapproving, “Now, honey…”
Often I visit my neighbor who is an 80-year-old woman from Kentucky on Saturday afternoons when her sister, who is 86, is visiting. I watch and listen to their verbal exchanges and although their eyes may occasionally roll, voices rise, and heads shake from side to side in disagreement, the conversations are dappled with honeys and they depart with a “Good-bye. Be careful, honey.”
I have learned that the women of Kentucky can say just about anything they want about anyone or any situation as long as it is preceded or followed by, “Oh, honey. Bless her little heart!”(or his as the case may render).
In the quiet of my home I practice what comes naturally to the women of Kentucky. I ask my dog in my sweetest voice, “What would you like for dinner, honey? or I console her when she comes in muddy with, “It’s okay, honey.” I’ve lived in Kentucky for six years now and have yet to call anyone honey outside the safe haven of my own home. This just doesn’t come easy to someone raised in the northeast! I recently confided this to my favorite woman from Kentucky who smiled, patted my leg, and said, “Now don’t you worry honey, you’ve got plenty of time. It’ll happen.” I believe that the women of Kentucky are sincere when they call you honey.
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