Why do Brits call strangers “love,” “dear,” or “duck?”


This article was updated by the Great British Mag content team on 21 September 2021

How often have you heard Brits call strangers or a complete stranger call you “love,” “dear” or “duck?” Probably too many times to count, right? Have you found it odd? Maybe even uncomfortable? Well, I agree that it’s strange.

On one side, we Brits have a reputation of being ultra-reserved. On the other hand, we’re often overly-friendly, calling virtual strangers love, sweetheart and such like. There is also a common belief the further north you go the friendlier the people are and quite frankly, the weirder the terms of affection become.

GB Mag Survival Service creative - 2021

If you are new to the UK I can assure you that when someone in Newcastle calls you “my pet” or someone in the Midlands says to you “ay up me duck” you shouldn’t worry too much. They are perfectly sane people using socially-acceptable terms of endearment.

Beyond “mate,” “sir” or “madam” there are many words Brits call strangers with whom they are interacting.

You would probably expect a shop assistant to call you “sir” or “miss” when serving you, but it is also socially acceptable for the assistant to call you “darling,” “dear” or “love.” Don’t be offended; it is normal here.

Other terms of endearment include “petal,” “flower,” “chick,” “chuck,” “me duck,” “me duckie,” “guy,” “son” or even “treacle.” It all depends on your age in comparison to the person talking to you as well as the geographical location.

For example, if you give your seat to an elderly lady on the bus she is more likely to say, “Thank you, petal.” If you were in a pub in the West Midlands trying to order a drink from the bar, the barmen would most likely say, “What’ll it be, duck?”

So next time when you get called a peculiar name in public just remember it is a cultural term of endearment and not in any way personal. Simply smile, remember to say “please” and “thank you,” and everything will go swimmingly as the Brits say.

You may also want to read

Dictionary of British slang 

Learn Glaswegian slang

10 British words and phrases you won’t find in a textbook