- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008

So we’re troubled by war and tumult, global warming, media frenzy and a barrage of primary elections. And woe is us, Valentine’s Day has now become a $17 billion “industry,” according to the latest figures from the National Retail Federation.

But some things never change.

“Be Mine,” “Be Good,” “Be True,” “My Man,” “Kiss Me” and “Sweet Talk” remain the most popular mottos on those itty-bitty candy hearts for Valentine’s Day, according to Necco, which has manufactured the simple treats since 1866.

“This is a reassuring phenomenon. The popularity of those sayings actually taps into a basic human feeling that doesn’t change over time — an emotion which is not colored by cultural fads or the cynicism of an age,” said Richard Harris, a Kansas State University psychologist whose research plumbs the complexities of modern romance.

His most recent study revealed that men actually enjoy lovey-dovey chick flicks just as much as their female companions — but that’s a different story.

“It’s healthy to remember these phrases. It’s healthy to be reminded that a positive, fundamental human experience — true love — is still with us no matter what,” Mr. Harris said.

Still, the Massachusetts-based manufacturer has plenty of competition for America’s sweet tooth. In a nod to marketing, Necco introduces 10 new mottos for its hearts every year. This year’s theme is climate-related, reflecting “the tumultuous weather patterns across the United States,” said spokeswoman Lory Zimbalatti.

Last year, the themes were pet-related. In 2006, the candy crop included conjunctions and prepositions such as “and” and “to” so romantic wordsmiths could construct whole sentences with the candy. Some mottoes are definitely era-sensitive. Who could forget “Fax Me” (1998), “1-800CUPID” (1999) or “ILU” (2006)?

“Some old-school romantics have been slow to embrace the new sayings, but on the whole, our fans welcome the updates,” Ms. Zimbalatti said.

Indeed. Though there’s no payment or royalty involved, the company welcomes suggestions from the public for new mottoes and features a line in Spanish, showcasing such words as “Hola” and “Amor.”

But even Valentine’s Day candy is not immune to the rigors of the press.

An investigation by WCBS-TV in New York City yesterday revealed that unscrupulous or clueless retailers were recycling last year’s sweets. Correspondent Kirsten Cole reported that out of six containers of chocolate kisses or truffles, five were inedible, rotten, expired or infested with worms.

The confections probably had been “thrown in a basement for a year,” Miss Cole said.

“I would not eat them and I would not advise anybody to. It’s just disgusting,” said Brian Buckley, a candy specialist with the Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education.

“It’s not saying, ‘I love you.’ It’s saying, ‘Oops,’ ” Mr. Buckley added.

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