It’s a baby-talk pandemic

by Jason Staker

I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon among couples, like a sort of social pandemic sweeping across the dating culture. The problem is baby talk, and its effects reach far beyond those couples infected.

It is hard to know what exactly causes baby talk. Baby talk has traditionally been reserved for small, adorable creatures like puppies, kittens and, of course, babies. Though I do not know how it initially spread, I believe at some point this condescending dialect of infant affection was taken up by a single couple. When this couple parted ways, they took their infantile language with them to their next relationship and so on until, before we knew it, a pandemic was born.

Of course, not every couple is susceptible to this illness. There are some in our world who are able to resist the urge to revert to infantile sounds and nauseating pet names. Those couples who are afflicted with the baby talk syndrome may be in the minority. As many of you know, however, it takes only one case of baby talk at the dinner table to make you loose your appetite.

The symptoms and stages of this behavior can be subtle at first, but they must be recognized in order to diagnose and treat this problem.

Stage One begins with a slightly elevated voice. At first, it may be easily dismissed as a sore throat or some strange hormone imbalance. This stage is the most difficult to diagnose, though if it is caught early it’s the easiest to treat.

Stage Two advances the victims to decreased enunciation. In addition to the child-like voice, words become slurred and certain consonant sounds become indecipherable. It may begin with a simple “I wuve you,” but can quickly translate into everyday public conversation, such as, “would you wike a fwench fwy?”

Even at this stage it can be difficult to accurately label the symptoms as baby talk. Perhaps the subject has a speech impediment – Elmer Fudd could easily be mistaken as a victim of Stage Two baby-talk syndrome – or a substance abuse problem. Perhaps their brain is truly underdeveloped and their speech is hopelessly stuck at a toddler’s level. Diagnosis and treatment is still very difficult.

At Stage Three the disease begins reaching advanced stages. It is during this phase that we begin to see the formation and application of pet names. These names are not simple terms like “Baby” or “Honey,” but go so far as to create strange variations of the victim’s own name or a name that is entirely fictitious. Names like “Shmoopie” – given notoriety by one famous episode of Seinfeld – or “Teddy-Weddy Bear” are incorporated into daily conversations, sometimes replacing first names or even pronouns. Often these are very specific names. I know someone whose boyfriend calls her his “Wittle Maddie-crackers”.

Some couples call each other “Cupcake,” “Cookie,” or “Pudding cup,” names that should be reserved for food products or small dogs. In these final stages, the frequency of use becomes so great that many not infected begin to feel the adverse effects of the disease, including gagging, rolled eyes, loss of appetite for one’s favorite foods – it’s hard to look at a Snack Pack the same again – and alienation from infected friends.

Though this stage is the easiest to diagnose, it is almost impossible to cure.

There are a few tools we can use in treating baby talk. Confrontation is usually the most effective form of treatment. Simply approach the couple and ask a question, “You both sound so cute, when are you having a baby?” This can accomplish one of two things: the couple will note the obvious sarcasm and cease with the offense, or take your comments literally, smile awkwardly and become silent or angry that you think they are expecting a child.

Shaming can also be a useful tool.

“Oh, Cupcake, what a cute name! Is that the name of your puppy?” This puts the infected in the awkward place of having to explain they weren’t talking about an animal, but indeed referring to each other. A simple look of confusion – followed by a barely perceptible one of disgust – will generally get the job done.

In the most severe cases, complete and total avoidance may be the only answer. I don’t recommend this course of treatment unless the illness becomes so bad that baby talk moves beyond conversation with each other and into daily dialogue.

Baby talk is a serious issue in our culture, and the danger of a campus-wide, nay, world-wide pandemic is very real. Keep your ears alert, identify the stages, treat the symptoms and perhaps save the world, one couple at a time.