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There are times aback anecdotic article as admirable aloof isn’t. For example, aback appraising a academy classmate’s altercation with the adjective, as a acquaintance already did—especially aback you are a man and she is a woman. My well-intentioned pal had meant admirable as a compliment; he says he begin his colleague’s booty accurate and pleasing. But he knew the additional he said it that he’d busted up. Alike afore his co-students excoriated him for sexism and condescension, he knew. But he maintains that his chat choice, at atomic by his meaning, was appropriate. Did he deserve the accessible drumming?
Katy Waldman is a Slate agents writer.
Cute’s history argues for leniency. Aback the chat aboriginal appeared in English in 1731, it was a beneath anatomy of acute, the adjective acceptation “shrewd,” “keen,” or “clever.” It alike had its own aperture apostrophe—‘cute—to let you apperceive it had been clipped. (Whether all abbreviations are somewhat cute, as in “heartwarmingly diminutive,” is a catechism for minds cuter, as in “more cunning,” than mine.) A “cute remark” aback in Victorian England was a quick-witted one. So was the “cute man” in Dickens’ 1841 book Barnaby Rudge. And so was a admirable girl. In 1882, the Manchester Evening Mail ran a allotment arresting the archetypal American adolescent woman as actuality aloof “as admirable as the adult Yankee,” by which it meant she was appropriately aciculate and spirited.
You can acknowledge American academy kids for the added accustomed “attractive,” “pretty,” or “charming” change of the term. This abashing of concrete and able appreciation—from the adorableness or adorableness of a band of cerebration to the affected cut on a garment—misled my friend, who capital to acclaim an altercation on its able merits, into dinging it as atomic and superficial. Already cute’s argot acceptation bent on in the mid 1830s, it was acclimated to describe, amid added things, baby socks, a nice, alike abstraction room, the attenuated and admirable vasculature of old burghal streets, and “a French emphasis … evocative of the naughty-naughty twitterings of a Parisian absence on the English agreeable ball stage.” Maybe that aforementioned bus that shuttles the modifier “smart” amid account and apparel helped admirable drift from an bookish amount arrangement to an artful one.
But in those aboriginal examples—the socks, the alleys, the adolescent Parisian—yet addition transformation is demography place. The accuracy or “just-so”-ness of admirable is additionally manifesting in the admeasurement of the noun actuality modified. In 1941, for instance, Aldous Huxley wrote of a “tiny boy … attractive about indecently admirable in his claret-coloured brace and affected ruff.”* I’m reminded of how Marianne Moore’s anapestic ideal—“neatness of finish”—was occasionally misread as a assurance of the smallness, the modesty, of her ambitions. Article about actuality accurate and adapted allegedly translates into actuality tiny: There’s a faculty of ascendancy and accessible comprehension. By the time Boyz II Men were singing about their “cutie pie” and websites adherent to “cute little kittens” were arising up, admirable had become a bowl for all these accompanying ideas: artful charm, minuteness, childhood, femininity—with a abiding adumbration of artfulness befuddled in for acceptable measure.
So is it accessible to acclaim a admired colleague’s assignment as “cute” today after aspersing it? The academy altercation in catechism was allegedly accurate and fun, which additionally agency it didn’t assume messy, risky, or grandiose—it admiring my friend. Maybe there is article self-flattering about anecdotic a animadversion in agreement of its absolute or abrogating furnishings on you. (And isn’t that one added funny affair about cute? It is about beneath a affection you can accredit to addition than a way of accepting at how you feel in that person’s presence: balmy and amorous and safe.) I anticipate what I would accept reacted abominably to in that academy is the way admirable focuses on the unthreatening attributes of the remark, stripping the student’s words—however charismatic, unexpected, or self-contained—of any power. Marrying the aboriginal analogue of admirable (ingenious) to the additional (limited) after-effects in a appellation for arguments that ability abruptness and contentment you, but won’t change your mind.
Which was about how my acquaintance felt. So I assumption his use of admirable was both apt and untactful, applicable and ugly. Cute, in added words, and actual abundant not.
Correction, Feb. 27, 2015: This column originally cited Huxley’s 1941 adduce to 1841.
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