“Chouchou” is Carla Bruni’s term for her husband, the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Samantha Cameron was heard on microphone saying “I love you babe” to her man, Prime Minister David Cameron – and Michelle Obama described the most-tweeted picture ever (above) with the words, “That’s my honey giving me a hug.”

Some terms of endearment can be used in many languages – “baby”, “angel” and “sweetheart” for example. But some don’t travel as well as you might think. If you call a French person “honey” (“miel”) he or she may take it as a unflattering comparison with a sticky mess.

And how would you react if someone called you a cauliflower, a flea, or a baby elephant? Here is a quick guide to the language of love around the world – dominated by metaphors from cookery and the animal kingdom – with contributions by language coach Paul Noble.

1. Little cabbage (French)

Petit chou

“Chou” (cabbage) is the French equivalent of “sweetheart”. “Chou” conveys the idea of being small and round and is used to describe French puff pastry, often enjoyed as “chou a la creme”. “Chou” is said to resemble a baby’s or child’s head too. Over the years, many French children have been told that boys were born in cabbages and girls in roses. You can double it too – “chouchou” is a standard translation for “darling”.

2. Pumpkin (Brazil / Portuguese)


“Chuchu” is the word for “squash” – but strangely similar to the French “chouchou”. Could a French word have sneaked into Portuguese as a fancy way to refer to a loved one (even though it refers to a different vegetable)? The ending “zinho”, meaning “little”, emphasises fondness.

3. Egg with eyes (Japanese)

Tamago kato no kao

In Japan, women are frequently called “an egg with eyes” by those who love them. This is a great compliment, as having an oval, egg-shaped face is considered very attractive in Japanese culture – you can see this in Japanese paintings through the ages.

4. Lump of sugar (Spanish)

Terron de azucar

Like “honey” in English, sweet foodstuffs of one kind or another make popular terms of endearment in numerous languages. This popular one in Spanish, “terron de azucar” also means “sugar cube”. Apparently, it rates highly on the “tweeness” scale, so use sparingly.

5. Fruit of my heart (Indonesian)

Buah hatiku

Although the term can be used romantically, featuring in love songs and poems, today it most often used to express affection for children. Advertisers use the term to appeal to the family-oriented customers, especially young middle-class couples: “The best gift/food/product for ‘the fruit of your heart’”. You will also find the term in almost all books and articles on parenting, and it frequently appears as the name of organisations focusing on children, including a hospital near Jakarta.

Read more in BBC News Magazine