What is the Chinese word for “husband”?

The word is “丈夫” or zháng fū. However, there is also “老公” or “Lao gong.” But while I’m attracted to much older men it’s hard to imagine myself ever calling a man “lao gong,” as a term of endearment as it literally means “old grandpa.” I could never bring myself to use it in any sort of seriousness in the past. It just didn’t seem very respectful to me. I only used it in the past in jest or to 撒娇 (sājiāo) when dating. Like, “Lao gong, please give me a kiss!?” Haha!

It’s ironic to be asked this question as this actually came up in conversation this week. I attend a small Chinese speaking (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka) church during the week so Tuesday night I was fascinated by the discussion. Our pastor is originally from Guangdong and he was saying that he does not like the terms “lao gong” and “lao po” (the slang word for wife, meaning old granny). His reasoning is that he doesn’t feel those terms convey adequate respect or affection for one’s spouse.

Now I once dated a man who called me “lao po.” Which, hearing a seventy year old man call a middle aged woman a granny was amusing, this I can not deny. But I also can’t deny that I much preferred when a man called me “亲爱的” or “qīn ài de.” This phrase means “dear” or “honey.” Or literally “loved one.” My preference is probably just the Western cultural difference coming through though.

So hearing the pastor express this opinion, I was curious. I’d never heard a Chinese person say they felt “lao po and Lao gong” were not respectful enough or conveying enough affection. So, I asked him what he felt was a better alternative. (The week night services are more informal. There was no problem with me or anyone else asking questions aloud during the Bible study.)

He said he felt there needed to be a movement back toward former words for husband and wife when the terms conveyed more respect. He also felt words of endearment were preferred over “old man” or “old woman.” He mentioned the Chinese equivalents to words like “dear, darling, sweetheart” or simply words that meant husband and wife. He’s very old-fashioned so I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised his opinion. I also find that I agree with him on the subject.

I will say my aversion to the slang words are probably because there is the habit in English to call one’s significant other “my old lady,” or “my old man.” I hate those terms in American culture. I find them to be so disrespectful. I think a wife should treat her husband with respect, publicly and privately, and I feel that a husband should also do the same. It’s just my preference, though some people see no problem with it, and I say if they don’t mind then my opinion doesn’t matter.

I’m curious to know what all of you think. Is it disrespectful to use terms like “Lao po” or “Lao gong” and should there be a return to the old-fashioned terminology? Or do you think they are acceptable and ingrained terminology now? I won’t take offense at your opinions. I’d like to hear.

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