Recently one of my friends responded to an email from a colleague by addressing him as “buddy boy.” It was the first time I’d heard that phrase in a while, and it was used perfectly, in line with the standards of my childhood.
When I was a kid, there were definite gradations of parental reprimand. Reprimands, of course, were different from punishment. Punishment was typically physical, and could range from a swat on the behind to loss of TV-watching privileges to having to sit at the kitchen table until you ate all of the vegetables on your plate to being “grounded.” Reprimands, on the other hand, were verbal, for offenses not quite meriting more vigorous discipline. “Buddy boy” — as in “Listen, buddy boy” — typically was used with a relatively mild form of verbal censure, and when it was directed your way you knew that you had trangressed, probably by acting “too big for your britches” and presuming too much familiarity or expressing an opinion on some adult topic. “Young man” was the next step up the scolding ladder, and usually was employed if you’d acted in an impolite or unmannerly way, often with respect to an older relative. And the top form of reproach, which usually was reserved for some inappropriate public behavior, like at school, was to say your full given name, first, middle, and last. When you heard that, you knew you were really in for it.
There was a similar reprimand ladder for girls. The female equivalent of “buddy boy” was “Missy,” and the “young lady” replaced “young man,” but the top rung — the full name — was the same.
The reprimand ladder was an effective way of letting a kid know just how badly he or she had crossed the line. Once a boy understood the censure spectrum, and then heard “buddy boy” directed his way, he knew he had screwed up, but his parents were really annoyed rather than furious.
Of course, these things change, and the “buddy boy” reprimand seems to have fallen out of favor. In fact, if you run a Google search for “buddy boy” today, you learn from the top hit that it’s the name of a chain of marijuana dispensaries in Denver — so maybe the “buddy boy” message these days would be a little bit mixed.