"What can I get you, sweetheart?"
"Come on my lovelies. Lots of bargains here today!"
In the BBC TV series Absolutely Fabulous the upper class main characters called each other "Darling" continuously so it can't be said to only be the vocabulary of the lower class.
Many of these salutations are regional and while Geordies use "pet" and "hinny" you're more like to hear "babe" in Essex. These terms are part of each region's linguistic heritage and Ian Brookes, Consultant Editor at Collins Language, says, "People use these words as a reflex without thinking of the item to which the word originally refers." So when someone says "pet" they are not referring to you as a small animal nor does "babe" mean you are a child.
And it's not just in the UK as in the Southern States of the US it is commonplace to use these terms of endearment to anyone and everyone and by everyone.
There have been moves to stop the use of such over-familiar terms. Some say the words should only be said to them by their partner and not a stranger, particularly not in a shop, but there are situations when it seems more acceptable such as when a London taxi driver says, "Where to luv?"
Your age and the age of the speaker seem to raise more opinions. While most can be more forgiving of the older generation as they were brought up in an age where this was deemed appropriate behaviour, many are offended by younger people using these words even if their cultural background means they use them in their everyday speech.
A patronising tone is always inappropriate and that should be clear immediately. We've all heard "dear" tagged on the end of a passive aggressive statement. In a survey of 3,000 female workers "love" was revealed as female employees' most hated pet name. And this business etiquette advisor states, "These terms are not allowed in the office or in any other professional workplace. Go to Human Resources, find a poster on sexual harassment and display it somewhere prominent."
In The Workplace
While terms of endearment at work are still often commonplace, a male air steward tried to sue British Airways for religious discrimination, when during a transatlantic flight as a cabin crew member he took offence to a female colleague referring to him as "darling".
There can be situations where name calling can constitute sexual harassment, because the definition includes "any conduct of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile or humiliating working environment". Clearly though, if a person has the habit of calling everyone "love" it would be difficult to see how a case of sexual harassment or discrimination could succeed.
Debate raged earlier this year when bus drivers in Brighton and Hove were told not to call passengers "babe" or any such familiar terms. A good look at the arguments on both sides was raised in this YouGov article.
For an extreme feminist view see this BlogHer article which says, "It's a perfectly legitimate response to feel repelled by certain forms of address" yet "There exists no way to politely issue a rejection of these names." It seems sad that to be a feminist means you have to lose your manners. This inflammatory language is matched by this snarky rant from another feminist site.
What is your opinion? Is all of this political correctness gone mad or does society need to move with the times to avoid offending?