Who's Mummy's honey-boo? Oh, that's right, you're the bloke I married. Samantha Selinger-Morris on how baby talk invaded adult conversation.
The day marking my nadir as a parent began innocently enough. My husband and I were getting ready for a rare night out. One minute he's shaving and I'm showering, and the next? It's all a bit of a blur. Shame will do that to memory, but suffice to say there was a rather clumsy seduction attempt on my part that involved me flashing my husband and blurting out: "Peek-a-boob!"
The magnitude of red-hot humiliation I felt, clocking the sheer inappropriateness of inserting Play School into my sex life, should not be underestimated. I take comfort, though, in the knowledge that I'm not alone.
Everywhere I look these days I see parents who, through verbal and physical tics, are treating their peers like infants. Such as the friend with three daughters who, while dining with me one night, lunged across and began cutting my pizza into bite-size pieces with two soup spoons as I sat waiting for the waitress to return with my missing knife and fork. "There you go," she said, barely looking
at me, her head still turned in conversation with a friend on her other side.
Or my mate Craig, who recalls the time he was at church and had just finished tying his shoelaces, when a friend next to him exclaimed: "That's wonderful ... Oh, wait, you're not a child."
When trying to get pregnant, did I know I was signing on (even if grudgingly) for a future of sleeplessness, unintentional dreadlocks, repetitive eardrum strain and - yes - wonky sex? Sure. But a speech impediment? And contributing to the most appalling scourge on adult discourse since the dawn of "Yo mama" jokes?
In her acerbic book No Kids: Forty Good Reasons Not to Have Children, French psychologist and author (and mother-of-two) Corinne Maier puts "You won't have to use that idiot language when talking to children" at number seven on the list. But baby-talking Mummy's wittle itty-bitty munchkin is one thing. Nursery-rhyme foreplay with your husband is quite another.
Perhaps the constant soundtrack that fills the lives of new mums and dads - a mixture of cooing and soothing, that creepy calm voice we use to discipline our kids, The Wiggles and non-stop "Look at me!"s - seeps into our brains and somehow corrupts the neural pathways, leaving us with a sort of Tourette syndrome for parents.
Unfortunately, it seems that Australians may be particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon - Australian National University linguist Anna Wierzbicka says we already use more diminutives than other countries as a means of expressing national solidarity, which, I gather, is a step in the wrong linguistic direction.
Christian Matthiessen, chair of linguistics at Macquarie University, says the use of "motherese" among adults is not a new phenomenon. It's likely to be a "renegotiating, unconsciously, of the relationship between partners who've become parents", he says.
Meanwhile, worldwide annoyance with the trend is ramping up. Canadian website sweetspot.ca recently asked its readers what percentage of them would rather die than be called an embarrassing pet name like shmoopie, cuddlebum, kitty or monkey.
British psychologist Susan Quilliam suggests that couples who "constantly speak to each other in high-pitched childish voices, using pet names or lovey-dovey language, sometimes even in public", may be using baby talk as a way of avoiding adult issues in their relationship or as a strategy to hide anger. "By not facing the anger and keeping the relationship babyish, mature communication, negotiation - and sex - will fast fall off the agenda," she said at iVillage.co.uk.
Or perhaps the opposite is true. Researchers Meredith Bombar and Lawrence Littig in New York found that baby-talkers were more secure in their relationships. They suggest that this is because baby talk helps to create loving, emotional connections, allowing grown-ups to stop being grown up and become vulnerable, nurturing, endearing and silly. They say that baby talk shows that couples have "let their guard down, and are no longer afraid of being embarrassed around each other". It becomes an intimate, exclusive language shared only between the couple.
Either way, this lack of professional consensus inevitably leads us afflicted to confusion. Are our relationships headed for the scrap heap, or an Oprah endorsement?
Thankfully, there's a T-shirt offering more straight-forward clarification. "Warning! I feel a Temper Tantrum coming on," reads the adult-size top offered by cafepress.com, a company that also offers baby rompers with cutesy slogans. "Babies, toddlers and kids go thru [sic] a stage where they throw temper tantrums," the website explains. "Some adults do too, so we have a tee for them."
That's it, I tell myself. It's just a phase. We're all just going through a phase.
Celebrity baby talk
If you think it's only US reality-TV stars - yes, Trista Sutter and Khloe Kardashian, we're pointing our fingers at you - who are guilty of using hurl-inducing baby talk with their loved ones, think again. Former American president Ronald Reagan was taken to task recently in The New Yorker for habitually calling his wife Nancy "Mommy" throughout their marriage.
But the condition does seem to be rife among the small-screen set. One recent case featured not just one but two TV celebs guilty of assault by "beddy-bye" on Nick Lachey - his ex-wife Jessica Simpson and current squeeze Entertainment Tonight reporter Vanessa Minnillo. As one source told Star magazine: "[Vanessa] started baby-talking, which drives Nick insane because Jessica used to baby-talk."