Friday, October 24, 2014

Why Sexy Is Stupid

Maybe you’ve done that exercise where you write or say the same word over and over, around a hundred times or so, until you start to find the word strange. It’s kind of like stumbling over the oddness of words like judicial or comfortable while stoned, only you can do this entirely sober. You’re actually inducing jamais vu, déjà vu’s contrarian stepsister. Whereas déjà vu has you imagining that an unfamiliar thing is familiar, jamais vu tricks you into finding the peculiar in something you’re certain you have experienced before.

I experienced this world recently when I had to complete a writing assignment that had me using and re-using the word sexy. In doing so, I realized two things: for one, I don’t use the word sexy very often, and for another, I hate it.

Not to jump back to getting stoned and talking about words, but have you ever noticed what a weird, stupid word sexy is? It’s just the word sex — you know, doin’ it — plus the adjective suffix -y, meaning “related to” or “associated with” or something thereabouts. So at least etymologically, the word sexy just means sex-ish or sex-related. In practice, this makes the word sound rather odd.

For example:

“Hey, what did you think of Sofia Vergara’s dress at the Golden Globes?”


See how that’s weird? Do you agree with me that it’s odd how this clunky, obvious word won out when English had a wide variety of more poetic words to describe the sexually appealing? (Among them: sultry, fetching, seductive, flashy, dazzling, sensuous, dishy, alluring, beguiling, bewitching, intoxicating, enrapturing, enchanting, charming and foxy. I’m leaving off toothsome no matter what the Merriam-Webster thesaurus says.)

In practice, we use sexy to mean more often “sexually attractive” than “sex-related” or “sex-adjacent,” but even that seems strange to me. In the United States, we have so many hang-ups with sex that we feel awkward saying the word, hence the gradual replacement of sex in the “male or female” sense with the grammatically rooted (and therefore decidedly unsexy) gender. Now we talk about people having gender rather than having sex, just so we don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable by reminding them of the primary process of human reproductive and nighttime-enjoyment. And yet sexy has nonetheless become our go-to for describing visual appeal that it’s even crossed over to a generic sense of “is a thing that is good,” as in “a sexy idea” or “this season’s sexiest new car.” To me, this is baffling.

According to Etymonline, sexy has been in use since 1905 and was first documented as meaning “sexually attractive” in 1923 — in reference to Rudolph Valentino.

For example:

“Well, hey there, Mabel. Did you get an eyeful of Valentino on the beach?”

“I’ll say, Ida. That Rudy’s so swell he makes me think about sex. He’s got it, and by ‘it’ I sure mean sex-relatedness. I could see his sex-parts in those trunks, and I enjoyed that, because of the sex. Peckers!”

Etymonline also notes, however, that in this sense sexy replaced the now-discarded word sexful, which is just the most awful thing ever.

For example:

“I am full of sex. I need to let some out. Interested?”

So yes, there are worse alternatives to sexy.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:31 AM

    I've always hated the word as well, even when it's been applied to me. I suggest people be wary when their mate describes someone as 'sexy'. Other descriptives might suggest an appreciation for someone's appearance, but 'sexy' can only be in reference to someone they would like to fuck.