Most of us who are English-speakers struggle with our own language, and those who don’t, probably should! We probably always will struggle with it for a variety of reasons. Not the least of these reasons is that the language, as is true of all languages, is subject to change. Change by manner of usage, change by neglect, change by design, change by ignorance, and change by error are just some of the forces that cause the language to change. Some of these changes happen slowly over hundreds of years. Other changes, in keeping with rapidly expanding technology, science discoveries, and a host of other reasons, occur at a much quicker pace.
As kids we always gave boxes of these candies to our classmates and then enjoyed reading the little messages to each other. In retrospect, some of these messages, like “Home Run,” may not have been appropriate for innocent 1st graders. However, as I recall, we just read them, giggled or humphed, and quickly chomped them down without further thought of the potential moral implications of such messages. (I still don’t know what that one means. At least, I’m not admitting to it.) After all, Valentine’s Day was all about eating as many candies and frosted cookies as we could shove in our faces before we got home and had to share them with anyone else. As I recall, Valentine’s Day was also about getting sick on the way home from school.
After further research, I have discovered that “sweetard” was not actually a reference to a “drunkard.” The suffix “-ard” was an intensifier for the root word, as in “drunkard.” Thus, “drunkard” was merely an example of how the word “drunk” was used with this intensifier to further describe a person who was drunk. So, “sweetard” would have been a Middle English word that intensified the meaning of the word “sweet.” Unfortunately, this development is made more complex by the fact that as a suffix, “-ard” was used from the Middle High German in a pejorative sense thus intensifying the root word to mean something even worse. Hmmm…so how could going from “sweet” to intensifying that word to come out as meaning something worse? The obvious answer is that it doesn’t! The nice thing about English is there’s always an exception to the rule. “Sweetard” and later “sweetheart” did always refer to addressing a loved one. It was never used in a disparaging way. Well, it never was used in a disparaging way until the 1950s when it was used to describe questionable, if not nefarious, labor contracts (i.e. “sweetheart deals”). So, even the exception has an exception. Which leads me to conclude with one question: Why exactly do we use this language?!?