This is ‘love’ with a diminutive ending. It has been in regular use as an endearment or as a friendly vocative since the eighteenth century. A typical use, by a woman to a young boy, occurs in The Pickwick Papers, when Mrs Cluppins addresses Master Bardell. Eric Partridge, in his Dictionary of Historical Slang, says that the reduplicated form ‘lovey-dovey’ was used as an endearment in the eighteenth century. Examples of such usage are difficult to find. The word more normally occurs in third person reference to lovey-dovey couples. See also however dovey. In War Brides, an Australian addresses a young girl as ‘lovey-ducks’, combining two vocative elements.

A dictionary of epithets and terms of address . . 2015.

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