Hon. Honey. Angel. Sugar-plum. Sugar-baby. Cupcake. Cookie. Pumpkin. Precious. Sweetie. Sweetie-pie. Sweetheart. Baby-doll. Doll-face. Sweet-lips. Hot-lips. Honey-lips. Honey-lamb. Lambkin. Lamby-pie. Dearest. Darling. Dumpling.

How we talk.

Of course, we only talk that way under exquisite pressure. And, according to Lee Marvin, the terms themselves actually mean nothing. Mr. Marvin, as you may have read, is being sued for $1 million by Michelle Triola Marvin, with whom he lived steadily, though unwedded, for six years. Michelle contends that Lee loved her, and vowed eternal support. Lee insists his vows were "idle male promises" -- a great natural title for a feminist pamphlet -- and states categorically he did not love Michelle.

But last week, Michelle's lawyer read the closing of one of Lee's letters to Michelle aloud in court. It went: "Hey baby, hey baby, hey baby, hey baby, hey baby, hey baby."

"What did you mean by that?" asked the lawyer.

"I can't explain," answered Lee.

Only one other courtroom confrontation in history comes close. It occurs in a James Thurber cartoon, where a prosecutor, with a kangaroo in tow, says to the witness in the box: "Perhaps this will refresh your memory." Perhaps these six "hey babies " will refresh your memory, Mr. Marvin. Not a chance, says Lee.

Well, I don't wish to take sides in this legal dispute, especially having lived with a woman nearly 16 years in a relationship characterized by idle male promises. But I can tell you one thing: No matter what he ways now, Lee did indeed love Michelle. And the "hey babies" prove it.

To begin with, he could have addressed her by name. If he had closed his letter with six "hey Michelles" or "hey Triolas," there'd be no case today. The first telltale factor, then, is that he chose a term of endearment. And it is especially telling that "baby" was his choice.

Basically, there are three types of terms of endearment -- animal, edible and innocent. Animal is generally used to convey a sense of physical or temperamental characteristics, as in "duckface" or "mousie." I know a fellow who calls his wife "wolf" for some reason, causing riots in supermarkets whenever he shouts after her. Animal terms are significant in that they often imply the presumed superiority of lover to lovee ("my pet"); and while they are almost always adorable, on the whole they are less impassioned than the two remaining types.

Of those two, the edible terms are more numerous. There must be over 20 terms of endearment that are names of desserts and other unhealthful foods. The implication here, obviously, is that the lover is a treat; but he/she may also be forbidden fruit ("apple-dumpling"). Occasionally, sweets and animals are fortuitously joined, as in the memorable lyric, "When my sugar goes down the street,/ All the little birdies go 'Tweet, tweet, tweet.'" At the same time, there is something fundamentally unserious about calling someone "sugar" or a piece of pastry. In the song from "South Pacific," the woman known as "honey-bun" is 101 pounds of fun, but nothing more.

(Certain terms are sui generis, such as "poopsie." "Poopsie" has no known origin and may refer to tiredness.)

This brings us to the terms that suggest innocence -- Lee Marvin's choice. These terms are the most affectionate of the lot, being the furthest from the truth, and they also include terms of divinity, since "angel" and "baby" are often combined. What one creates through the use of "angel" and "baby" (or "babe"), as well as "doll," "baby-doll," etc., is the happy illusion that the world has begun afresh with the advent of one's love. Moreover, "babe" and "baby" are statements of pride and possession, as when, in "Little Caesar," someone boasts, referring to a painting: "That baby set me back 150 berries." Reporting one of the early moon shots, Walter Cronkite exulted, "Go, baby," as the thing took off.

Naturally, Mr. Cronkite's use of "baby" did not conclusively prove he was in love with the rocket ship. And it must be said, too, that the fact Lee Marvin used the term "baby" as he wrote "hey baby" six times in a row at the end of a letter, does not in itself prove he loved Michelle.

The proof of that is he sounded like a jerk.

He was in love, all right.