dord (dôrd), n. density of mind; chiefly exhibited by one who attempts to demonstrate supposed knowledge --adj. dord'ish


Cute (adj.)

It has long been an observance of mine that a particular word—popularized and almost exclusively employed by the female gender—often fails to convey specific significance. The breadth of application of this word, combined with the ambiguity of its implications, easily results in confusion and bewilderment, particularly for the male population, who are typically as inclined to its usage as they are to spend their summer afternoons sipping tee on a veranda.

Possessing the distinct blessing (and advantage) of having five sisters, I feel it is my duty and obligation to my brotherhood to assist in unraveling this great mystery of the feminine vocabulary. In order to both ensure accuracy and assuage the fears of misrepresentation that are even now weighing upon the minds and hearts of females around the world, I have asked my sisters and mother to elucidate.

My unassailably scientific methodology consisted of gathering the expert forum (my aforementioned mother and sisters), providing them with categories (produced from years of my personal observations), and typing away as they provided generous content.

While I realize the slight possibility that some areas of the female perspective may not be represented among the ladies of my own family, I count the effort worthwhile—I would venture to guess that most men only understand two or three of the following usages. (I will leave any girls reading this guessing as to which those are.)


1. Babies—
Monica: “Elizabeth H-------.”
Natalie “Small things are cute.”
Monica: “No, miniature things are cute; they’re like a miniature person.”
Audre: “No, miniature people aren’t cute. Think of Gulliver’s Travels.”
Monica: “Babies and kids are so cute when you see them and you just want to hold them. They have cute feet, cute hands—everything about them is cute.”
Monica: “Also, because they’re so vulnerable; they depend on you for everything.”

Syn: Precious, Adorable

2. Kids—
Monica: “When kids say things that are smarter than you think they would know–”
Mom: “Precocious.”
Natalie “Or they say things that everyone is thinking but won’t say–”
Monica: “Although that can be embarrassing.”
DeAnna: “It’s really cute when little boys are wearing a suit and tie and look like a little man.”
Monica: “A little cute man.”
DeAnna: “Also a cute thing about kids is that they can be gullible. They’re so trusting.”

Syn: Precocious

3. Other Girls—
Monica: “Usually their appearance and mannerisms—clothes, hairdo, jewelry, makeup.”
DeAnna: “Girls can have a cute face, too. There’s different grades: cute, pretty—a girl can be both cute and pretty—and then there’s beautiful and gorgeous.”
Audre: “They don’t necessarily seem girly-girl, as in nail polish, but fresh off the farm.”
Monica: “Innocent and...”
Audre: “Maidenly.”
Mom: “Untainted.”

Syn: Fresh, Youthful

4. Guys—
ME: “What, none of you want quoted on this?”
Julia: “They’ve gotta be kind of... good looking.”
DeAnna: “Smiles can be cute, like if they’re a little crooked.”
Monica: “Yeah, and hair—like if it’s ruffled up.”
Julia: “But some boys try to do that on purpose and it’s not cute.”
DeAnna: “Yeah, you can’t try to be cute. You have to be cute without knowing you’re cute.”
Mom: “Intentional quirkiness is definitely uncute. What’s cute is a natural quirk that adorns a noble character.” [all the girls concur]

Syn: Boyish charm

5. Couples—
Monica: “When they go so well together it’s like they complement each other.”
DeAnna: “It’s not just that it’s a cute guy plus a cute girl; it’s that they’re cute together.”
Mom: “When they’re funny in the ways they annoy each other.”
Monica: “When they’re concerned for each other. And when they’re so excited to be together.”
Mom: “When they’ve got a warm and tender expression to their love—especially for older couples.”

Syn: Complementary, Tender love

6. Mannerisms—
Mom: “Natural quirks—”
DeAnna: “That you’ve come to like because you’ve come to like the person who has them.”
Julia: “Something that is funny but unexpected.”
Mom: “Humorous idiosyncracies that so nearly match their personality that it tickles me.”

Syn: Unique

7. Clothing—
Mom: “A lot of times I’ll think ‘that’s so cute’ when somebody can put together an outfit that totally complements them.”
Mom: “A fresh idea on what can go together.”
Monica: “Some clothes are pretty, but they’re not cute.”
Mom: “Pretty clothes reflect class and taste, but cute clothes connote youthfulness.”
Monica: “It’s the complete outfit that’s cute.”
DeAnna: “Or a cute idea to do something a certain way.”
DeAnna: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy wear cute clothes... which is a good thing.”

Syn: Youthful, Complementary

8. Decor—
Mom: “Putting things together that is a fresh idea. You wouldn’t have thought of it together before, but it creates a satisfying impression. It might not seem to be compatible at first, but when you see them together it’s like, ‘Oh, that works.’”
DeAnna: “A homey feeling, too, because it doesn’t feel like you can’t touch it.”
Monica: “Miniature—teacups, dollhouses...”
DeAnna: “Things that would normally be overlooked, but are emphasized. Everyone notices roses, but it’s cute when someone paints forget-me-nots on a teacup.”

Syn: Fresh, Original

9. Animals—
Julia: “Baby animals.”
Natalie “Except for mice.”
Monica: “Innocent, precious...”
Natalie “Helpless.”
Monica: “Usually they’re furry. And usually they have such cute eyes.”
[chorus: “yeah”]
Monica: “Baby animals are so cute because they need nurtured and cared for, and they’re dependent.”

Syn: Cuddly, Vulnerable

10. Cars & Houses—
Mom: “They remind you of a toy.”
DeAnna: “Again, the small aspect.”
Monica: “Usually cute cars are expensive.”
Mom: “Customized with little quirks.”
DeAnna: “Cottages are cute. Cabins aren’t cute; they’re rustic.”
Mom: “Something you never would have thought of.”
Audre: “On the smaller side.”

Syn: Personalized, Charming, Enchanting

DeAnna: “And there are some times we say cute when we really don’t mean it. At the moment we lack a better word.”
[Personal Note: Now everything makes sense]
DeAnna: “Also, just because things aren’t cute doesn’t mean we don’t like them.”

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Blogger Laedelas Greenleaf said...

"Now everything makes sense." WOW, that was cute! I mean...

"Cute" is known as a diminutive, which may help you understand its purpose.

I generally use "cute" sarcastically or when I can't find a better word. I prefer to use "adorable" in most of the cases that your female relatives listed.

Guys are confused by this?! Hm. Never knew that!

5/20/2008 1:06 AM

Blogger Megan said...

This is so funny! But I would have liked to hear what Julia had to say too :-)

5/20/2008 2:25 PM

Blogger Megan said...

Bartolo Colon started for the Sox tonight :-)
Ah, the Cleveland memories...

... sorry, just had a flashback there. :-)

5/21/2008 8:11 PM

Blogger The Stranger said...

Very funny. You could classify your post as not cute because it is long yet still cute because of its freshness and originality.

5/22/2008 11:09 AM

Blogger Jason said...

Let's put it this way. As far as I can tell, for most of those categories, guys only understand based on the empirical evidence. Girls use the word a lot. We listen and (try to) learn what they heck the mean, thereby minimizing our confusion, general bewilderment, and potential embarrassment.

You can have our washed up former pitchers. You can have some of our washed up current hitters, too. Oh, and Julia did have a several quotes in there.

Not cute but still cute, eh? Does that make it cutish? Maybe I should have made it a 10 part series. Then I would have had a bunch of cute posts -- and taken care of a few weeks worth of blogging ahead of time. Alas, now I need new material.

5/22/2008 11:37 PM

Blogger Megan said...

Aw yes, I see them now.

And Colon, isn't washed up... yet. He pitched a one hitter for the Sox triple-A team this year. And won his first game pitching in Boston. Plus he has the record for most wins for the active pitchers under 35! I think he's got a few more games left in him. But that's purely my opinion of course.

5/23/2008 2:46 PM

Anonymous Jenna said...

Wait...what about 'It's so ugly it's cute?'

5/27/2008 5:42 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Interesting post. I enjoyed it. I must say, I do use the word "cute" occasionally (although I have a good excuse seeing that I have the two cutest simblings ever). I try not to use it in describing the appearance of animals. I admit, however, when I use the word, I'm usually around girls--I try to use their language--be "all things to all people."
But yes, even then, we men must be careful to prevent this word from being emptied of its meaning. The word "cute" is becoming part of the growing flabby language. What is the cure? Simple. Ladies, USE SUBSTITUTIONARY WORDS FOR CUTE!!!
Hope I didn't get carried away.
Chad Tumino

5/31/2008 12:00 AM

Blogger Jason said...


"So ugly it's cute" didn't really come up. When I asked about it just now, one of my sisters said that it applies to things like pugs. I guess it would be a subset of animals--or a few of the categories(?)


"I admit, however, when I use the word, I'm usually around girls--I try to use their language--be 'all things to all people.'"

5/31/2008 9:36 PM

Blogger Sterling said...

I heard about this post a while back (from one of my brothers), and I finally got a chance to read it. The post is full of good humor and helpful elucidation! I especially enjoyed it because I could hear the voices of your mom and sisters as they answered.

I'd have to say that I've definitely made all of your male observations. 'Cute' is one of those words that clearly falls in the female vocabulary. Hmmm... can't think of a word that is clearly in the male vocabulary (though I once overheard two two girls discussing two expletives in this manner... one used mainly by girls and one by guys...and I do think they were right.) I would find it very interesting if any ladies could identify a word that clearly falls in male vocabulary; I probably have a blind spot here.

I think that 'hi' is a word similar to 'cute'. It is my hypothesis that ladies use 'hi' more than men. No this isn't so stringently observed as in 'cute', but my brothers and I tested it once [great scientific study] while we hiked on the Towpath Trail. The only men that said 'hi' said it right after their female companions led with this greeting; all the other men said something other than 'hi'; if I remember right, all of the ladies said 'hi'). I think that men usually try to say something longer than 'hi'(even if it is just 'hello'). How are you doing and what's up? are definitely quite common, esp. the latter. I think that men might sometimes gravitate towards a longer greeting just to give a similitude of greater importance (I think that pride plays itself out here). Women might be more content to merely say, "hi", because they don't feel like they have to prove themselves. Yes, 'cute' and 'hi' are diminutives, and I guess women are more prone to use diminutives (on the one hand the feminist would cry that this is an insult and a frivolous sign of weakness among women; on the other hand, I might add that this perhaps shows a greater creativity to experiment and play with language).

Sorry, I guess I am leaving a blogpost here on your comment page.

6/03/2008 10:59 PM

Blogger Megan said...

you should check out
it's full of pictures of animals... many of them "So ugly they're cute". But I think some of them are just ugly.

6/04/2008 4:28 PM

Blogger Jason said...


Hmm, young men talking about cute blog posts. What is the world coming too? It is good, though, to hear someone from the target audience say he found it helpful. (I say "target audience" because it was purportedly written for guys' benefit. I am in no way surprised, though, that it has generated a larger response from the ladies.)

I also would be interested in hearing if any of the ladies consider any words to be guys' words.

I'm going to be paying attention to your "hi" theory. I think that part of it might be that we as guys don't necessarily convey friendliness with our tone of voice. A brief "hi" could sound gruff--at least, more so than "how's it going?" which is often a disigenuous (but hopefully less gruff) attempt at opening a conversation (after all, how could such a question seem cold?), after which most men are relieved to hear a simple response such as "fine, how about yourself?"


Help! A whole website devoted to #9! Someone has put way to much time into this.

So the question is, did I originally miss a whole main category of cuteness, or should "so ugly it's cute" indeed be regarded as a subcategory of #9?

6/04/2008 6:04 PM

Blogger Megan said...

I think it's just a subcategory. But someone who is obsessed with ugly little rat-dogs may beg to differ.
(No offense to those who own small dogs) :-)

6/05/2008 9:02 AM

Blogger Sterling said...

Wow, maybe you should interview your mother and sisters more frequently, all of us, your blogging friends, really like it.

Yes, I did find your post helpful; mainly because it harmonized with my prejudices against the female over-use of this word, but definitely also because it genuinely clarified some things... or at least made me identify the meanings due the respective usages.

Test my 'Hi' theory, will you? I like your insight.

6/05/2008 10:03 PM

Blogger Mary said...

My boys steered me to your blog post about the female use of the word cute. I think it is cute that you wrote about it, but ONLY because you were not trying to be cute!

I concur with your mom and sisters about the versatile use of the word "cute", and appreciate their fine grasp of the feminine language.

When I was in high school I worked at McDonalds and the manager once told me that I was "as cute as a bug's ear." I blushed of course and assumed it was a type of compliment (flattery really, as they were empty words.) Now that I am older and wiser, and have had more encounters with bugs (even under the microscope!), I clearly know that bugs do NOT have ears at all! So what in the world did he mean by that?

By the way, please tell Julia that I think she is cute! :-) And I am NOT thinking "as a bug's ear" either! She's the real thing!

~Mrs. Detwiler

6/06/2008 12:30 AM

Blogger Bek said...

I somehow missed this Top Post of the Dord Definer till now. Probably because I was just about to marry an extraordinarily handsome man. (He is not on the level of mere cuteness.)

But I love this post and can't keep it to myself. The insight into the Mal. family culture alone is hilarious.

9/26/2008 1:31 PM

OpenID musicmaiden said...

This blog post is hysterical.

I remember getting into a long argument with my brother and other men at our church whether newborn babies were cute or not. The word cute and its definitions are so very feminine. Do guys think anything is cute?

4/11/2009 10:13 PM

Blogger Jason said...


Thanks for the comment.

"Do guys think anything is cute?"

The short answer would probably be yes. Of course, it depends on the guy. Maybe some guys don't think anything is cute. "Cute" just isn't a word that a lot us like to use. I think we understand some uses better because they actually make sense to us--maybe because some of us might describe (or at least think of) a few of these as being cute. (Versus: I can't imagine a guy ever describing a car or house as cute.)

4/13/2009 12:13 PM


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