Saturday, January 22, 2011

You Only Think I'm Kidding Chapter 2


(Insert your favorite four-letter word in those stars.)

I am a linguistic relativist who thinks that words aren't in and of themselves offensive. There's nothing about the construction of "shhh" and "it" in the mouthing or vocalizing of it which violates the bounds of morality. I think it has more to do with the message transmitted and the perception of that message than anything inherent in the word itself. I can think of perfectly appropriate uses of words politely considered "inappropriate" or "cuss words". Similarly, I can think of a few words that, while not taboo in any circles, are so repugnant that no human being should ever inflict it upon another except in stinging barbs when goading someone into vandalizing your mother's grave.

"Cute" is the best example.

This accursed word has absolutely no positive connotations when someone uses it to your face (with one or two exceptions which I'll note later). I think the best way to break down the meanings of this word are by gender; it's a unique word in that the sexes use this intolerable utterance in different ways. I will start with the men because I can vouch for all of that usage personally.

When a man uses the word "cute" he can mean two different things by it. 1) To describe a woman as physically attractive. It is very common to hear guys talking about a girl as being cute, but usually not in the presence of that cute girl. A guy may call a girl cute to her face, but usually it's only when he's hitting on her. It's also the word he's most likely to use in talking about one girl to another because girls often get offended when a guy says another girl is "hot". Guys will never describe their sisters or mothers as cute. This is a cardinal sin. 2) As a patronizing insult to another man. "Aw, Shaun, you look so cute with your little beard." "Gee, Justin, it's cute when you get all clingy to me... like a lonely puppy." Any other way this word might be used--for instance, to describe how precious or adorable something is--can rightfully result in a beating*. Men are wont to describe anything as adorable.

I think that women use "cute" in three ways. 1) To describe adorable things. This is similar to the second way men use "cute", except it isn't meant to be derogatory. Little siblings, kids trying to wear grown-up clothes, toddlers dressed like flowers, chocolate cake smeared about after a four-year-old birthday party, or every dad-blasted photo plastered on the projector for Baby Dedication Sunday; these all elicit a wave of "Aaaaw"s from the fairer sex, a living definition of this first meaning of "cute". 2) To describe physically attractive men. It's a word they're just as likely to use as "hot" in talking about one guy to another person because girls rarely get offended when someone says a guy is "hot" (least of all if gay men say it). Yet the third way women use "cute" is the most baffling of all. 3) To describe tiny things. Gingerbread houses, small socks for babies, and formal table settings for mice are all called cute. I remember when Chicken Minis debuted at Chick-fil-a that several women I knew at the time described them as cute. I still fail to see what is cute about having less food.

By this count, that makes four different definitions for "cute": "physically attractive" and "less of a man" for men, "adorable", "physically attractive", and "whimsically small" for women. Some of these definitions are positive, some outright negative. But I want to capitalize on something by tying all those definitions together.

It is never good for a man to be called "cute" to his face, except by his girlfriend/wife (or maybe his mom when in private).

If a man calls another man cute, it's always an insult. If a girl calls a man cute, she might mean he's adorable. This is awful. This would be like saying he reminds her of her little brother, never a thing men want to hear from an attractive woman. She might mean he's physically attractive, but that is a rarity. Most women, as far as I have observed, don't like to be that overt about their attraction to a guy unless he's dropped more hints than she has. If they're already an item or married, then being open about it isn't weird. If they aren't, she won't let on by coming right out and saying it. She might finally mean that he is whimsically small. Do I really need to explain why that one is an insult?

So remember, lady readers, not to call the men in your life cute. That is, unless you mean for him to be compared with a puppy, a little brother, or a gingerbread man.

*Exception: Daughters don't count. They're always cute in Daddy's eyes; woe to the man who would say otherwise.

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