When I was seventeen 'darling' was a word my grandmother used. Or sometimes builders with their bottoms creeping above their jeans and wolf-whistles on their lips. I had my appendix out when I was seventeen, and felt particularly feeble - and so the 'hello darling' yelled from the building site felt like a compliment.
As I embraced feminism 'darling' was reduced to something I could accept from my grandmother, but from anyone else carried a hint of condescension. The man trying to sell me a car, the colleague who felt it was fine to press against me on the stairs, the creep at the party who sidled up with another glass of wine - I dismissed them all. 'Darling' was a word men used towards women, but women had no riposte. It was derogatory, implied I was some sort of floozie, an airhead, reduced to darlingdom that had nothing to do with ideas or thinking or genuine affection. A short-cut term that implied men had a right to claim my darlingness and I must be a killjoy if I should challenge them. It is, after all, only a bit of fun?
But suddenly something has changed. 'Darling' no longer has sexual connotations. It has become playful. It is fine when the man on the market calls me 'darling' - it is part of our Saturday banter. He can even suggest I've been out partying if I should happen to yawn, and it is a joke. He does not wave an erotic carrot, approach me with a courgette. 'Darling' is just part of our chattering, a token of affection and nothing more.
I also, as a grandmother, use it with my grandchildren. I can't find another word that gets close to expressing how wonderful I think they are. They are too little (yet) to complain.
I have not abandoned feminism. It has framed my thinking for the last fifty years and I'll be a feminist till the day I die. I simply notice how my attitude to the darling word has changed as I have aged. And you - are there words that got under your skin a few years ago, but that wash over you now?