A lot of the words we use today owe their existence to mistakes and mishearings, such as ‘sweetheart’, which began its life as ‘sweetard’.
Sources say that a person you think is sweet used to be called your ‘sweetard’, like ‘coward’, ‘wizard’ and ‘drunkard’.1,2 The ‘-ard’ means ‘one who is’, so ‘sweetard’ meant ‘one who is sweet’.
But people misheard the second syllable as ‘heart’, which was reinforced by the association between your heart and your loved ones. There began the mutation of the word into ‘sweetheart’.
It’s a tale that some authorities argue is dubious. Some say ‘sweetard’ never existed and that ‘sweetheart’ was formed simply by the fusing of ‘sweet’ and ‘heart’, for a person who makes your heart throb. Whatever the true origin of the word is, I think I might start using it.
“Pass the salt, please, sweetard.”
- Bryson, B. (1990). Mother Tongue. London: Penguin Books
- Verma, D. (1998). Enrich your grammar: Word origins. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Ltd.
Thanks to Wordcraft for the sweet inspiration for this post.
About the author
Christopher Berry is a qualified solicitor and aspiring copywriter who interned with us this year. He specialises in writing for business, children's books, science fiction for adults, and poetry. He enjoys creating pictures out of words, has a weakness for time travel, and his favourite word is 'defenestrate'.
Banner image: 90s television series "Goodnight Sweetheart" title card, sourced from LandGirl1980