Mon petit chou.
maw puh-tee SHOO
My dear, darling, sweetheart, honey, etc.
The burning question: Does it really mean “my little cabbage”?
Nope. That notion was made popular decades ago by Walt Kelly’s wonderful comic strip Pogo, with its delicious satire on everything from politics to human nature to–yes, the French language.
So: time for a reality check.
Mon = my: check.
Petit = little: check.
Chou = cabbage. Hold it! Double meaning alert!
In the vegetable world, a chou is indeed a cabbage. A head of cabbage, in fact; that single word refers both to the head of cabbage and what you slice off to make your coleslaw or sauerkraut.
But in the pastry world–oh, les pâtisseries! (pah-tee-suh-REE) a chou is short for a chou à la crème (shoo ah lah KREMM), a cream puff.
So when you call your Valentine mon petit chou, it’s like saying “honey”: something sweet and delicious. Your love.
And it doesn’t matter whether your chou is male or female. You still say mon petit chou (or just mon chou). Because the word chou has the masculine gender, and you can’t change that. You can also say mon petit, and leave off the chou.
When I lived in France many years ago as a young married woman, my much older landlady often called me mon petit, short for mon petit chou. She was feeling maternal, because my husband was waaaaaay across the English Channel, doing graduate studies in England. But I wasn’t her darling, so she left off the chou. She also called me ma petite Madame Hoffman.
If you don’t like les choux à la crème, there’s always chéri or chérie (shay-REE), mon amour (maw-nah-MOOR), or m’amour (mah-MOOR).