Words Straight Guys Don't Use:

I was just reading a very interesting post by a woman lawprof, and I noticed her saying that she "adore[s]" a figure of speech in someone else's post. From her, it seemed perfectly proper, and not even fulsome, just a nice compliment.

But then I wondered: Would I ever use that term? Somehow it seemed like something that men don't say. I'm not saying this reaction is logical; it was just the instant reaction that I got from my internal idiom checker, the sort of thing that tells us what sounds normal and what sounds stilted, no matter how grammatically or semantically valid it might be. I'd be quite willing to say "love," though that's a bit too effusive for me. I'm certainly happy to praise in other ways. But somehow my guide draws the line at "adore."

We ignore at our peril the advice these internal idiom checkers give us -- but maybe I've gotten this wrong. So what do you folks think? Do you have this reaction? Is there a relation to sexual orientation (or, to be more precise, to the distinctive "gay culture" to which not all gays belong)?

Is this just my own idiosyncracy, perhaps because I've heard "adore" more often from women than from men (it's not a very common term of praise, but my mother uses it on occasion), and perhaps on a few occasion from gays I know? Or do others have the same reaction (whether they're straight men, or others who imagine whether they'd find it odd if they heard a straight man say it)?

Wile E:
No question, there are words and expressions that straight men just don't use. In addition to "adore", off the top of my head, I can think of a few: "fabulous", "to die for", and "I was in heaven."
6.27.2005 8:00pm
John Tabin (mail) (www):
Hmm... I have a (straight male) friend who uses "adore" once in a while. He spent some years living in England and also uses "queue" and "whinge," so maybe it's a regional thing. I can't find anywhere I've used it myself, but I'd never thought about it until you brought it up.
6.27.2005 8:08pm
I'm heterosexual, and I have a tendency to use "fabulous" but only in a sarcastic sort of way. I.e.:

"Bill, you're fired!"


When it comes to "adore," I tend to think of it in its primary meaning "worship," and therefore, agreee with Eugene that it seems a bit odd in the context of a figure of speech. But hey, English is a language defined by usage, and if adoring somebody's writing becomes the right way to talk about it, who am I to say "boo?"
6.27.2005 8:08pm
Patrick Casey (mail):
Your internal idiom detector didn't lead you astray.
6.27.2005 8:10pm
MOD (mail):
Perhaps the use of 'adore' to express a strong preference sounds too emotional and too stylized given the context. Along similar lines, if I were to hear a woman say that a baby or soft, furry, domestic creature was "precious," I might be inclined not to take notice. Generally speaking, hearing a man say this would induce a different reaction. To some extent the reaction depends on the male speaker (and I don't mean just whether he's gay or straight) as well as the object of description. Some distinguished chaps can get away with proclaiming a joke or an anecdote "just precious." Whether they can do so with respect to a love letter addressed to them is another matter.
6.27.2005 8:13pm
Michaelg (mail):
I might use "adore" about a woman with whom I'm infatuated or in love, and even then only if I'm speaking to her ("I adore you") and no one else can hear. Otherwise, not a chance.
6.27.2005 8:27pm
Craig Oren (mail):
A straight man might tell a woman that she's adorable, right? (I have, fwiw; I once told a woman that she was admirable and adorable. I was telling the truth, but it wasn't a winning line.) But I suspect any other usage might be seen as, uh, precious.

"Fabulous" -- I could see a straight man telling someone of any sexual orientation that the acceptance of his/her article by a prestigious journal was "fabulous news." Consider Van Morrison singing, "It's a fabulous night for a moon-dance."

I think there's a lot more variety in usage than we tend to assume.
6.27.2005 8:28pm
David Hecht (mail):
I'm pretty sure that none of these words or phrases would have sounded out of place in my father's mouth: inasmuch as he was married to my mother till the day she died (just under 46 years) and I was the product of their union, I think it safe to say he wasn't gay.

Of course he and my mother had many gay friends, as was more or less inevitable if you were (1) living in an urban area on the East Coast (New York, Upper East Side), (2) were an academic (history professor), and (3) were married to a woman who was involved in the arts (my mother worked at MOMA and knew pretty much all the machers in the New York art world).

However I would say that such usages are more the currency of Anglophilism (as implied by John Tabin) than of homosexuality.
6.27.2005 8:31pm
Geoffrey Barto (mail) (www):
There is a point Volokh misses in the gay/straight confusion: The linguistic preferences of the metrosexual. Presumably, one does not match one's Gucci loafers and Bill Blass suit only to ejaculate, "Hey Fred, let's go grab some brewskis." I suspect that language will be (further) softened, not to say femininized, in the future. In a few years, a certain type of woman is going to just adore the kind of man who isn't afraid to utter a heartfelt "adore" as he fiddles with the collar of his pink polo shirt. At which point the rejected "real man" nearby is going to wish he'd learned to converse more empathetically with the ladies.
6.27.2005 8:37pm
Gary Imhoff (mail) (www):
"Adore" is a normal part of the vocabulary of straight men, but only in very limited circumstances, such as when the object of the verb is Halle Berry. In that case, the word does carry the connotation of worship.

"Adore" is never used in the context of home furnishings, except as an unguarded exclamation applied to a wide-screen plasma television/La-Z-Boy recliner combination.
6.27.2005 8:43pm
Van Morrison's actual lyric is "Well it's a marvelous night for a moondance/ With the stars up above in your eyes/ A fantabulous night to make romance/ 'Neath the cover of October skies."

I suppose "fantabulous" sets of my Straight Guy Usage Detector as much as, if not more than, fabulous. But given that it seems to be used for rhyme and rhythm (with marvelous), Van Morrison gets a poetic license exemption from Straight Guy Usage.
6.27.2005 8:45pm
Ed Minchau (mail) (www):
I'm with Michaelg on this one. I have told a woman that I adored her, but only in a private moment with a woman I, well, adored. I wouldn't adore, say, furniture. Or clothing. Or some kind of home decoration.
6.27.2005 8:57pm
Rebecca Tushnet (mail) (www):
Since that's clearly me, I'll just make the point that I would only use "adore" for phrases whimsical in themselves, like the clever "strangling iPods in their cradles," which manages to resurrect the "cradle" as metaphor (maybe resurrect is itself a tricky word in context) in a memorable way. I love -- even worship -- Auden's "they were small and could not hope for help and no help came," from "The Shield of Achilles," but I probably would not say I adored it.
6.27.2005 9:13pm
Kipp (mail):
It's not gay/straight or anglo/yankee - it all about flair and effort: The American (at least) ideal of maniless includes the idea that manly men don't put much effort into things (neatness, home decore, hairstyle) - and that includes flowery word-choice. And manly men certainly don't dwell on or show their (non-aggressive or non-amorous) emotions in public.

A word like "adore"
1)is indicative of vocabulary cultivation a real man should have no time for
2)has emotive significance that might indicate it as an unmanly public expression of "feelings" and
3)suggests a contemplation of feelings (like vs love vs adore) than men also should have no time for.

Or to put it another way: A word like "adore" is just too fancy to be straight.
6.27.2005 9:30pm
Wile E said: I can think of a few: "fabulous", "to die for", and "I was in heaven."

Hmm, those sound more like examples of words men rarely hear, rather than never utter :-)
6.27.2005 10:06pm
Barbara Skolaut (mail):
Eugene, maybe it's just where I live and the crowd I run with (though in my younger days I lived in NYC and was involved in the theatre), but if I heard a man use "adore" in the way that woman lawprof did, I'd instinctivly think that, at the very least, his gate swung both ways.

And I'd definitely put some space between us. ;-p
6.27.2005 10:49pm
I adore this post:
The only time a straight man uses the word adore is when he is describing an object, usually made of wood, that allows someone to enter a room. (Hint: it has a knob also)
6.27.2005 10:52pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"And I'd definitely put some space between us. ;-p"

May I ask why? Is there something about gay or bisexual people that makes you want to be far away from them?
6.27.2005 11:03pm
Texas Brian (mail):
Amongst the better educated, it would not be unusual to hear such an expression. I live in Texas. I work with several (male) construction engineers from good old Texas A&M: they wouldn't bat an eyelash if they heard me use the expression. ;-)

Even homophobes have been known to use certain "gay" expressions. It's largely generational, though confined to the metrosexually fashionable.
6.27.2005 11:39pm
Jacob T. Levy (mail):
Hmm. I'd "adore" pretty freely-- but "to die for" or "I was in heaven" are completely out of bounds. But then, I'm apparently suspect on other grounds.
6.28.2005 12:01am
hayesms73 (mail):
hmm. i'm gay and don't say "adore." unless maybe its sunday morning and i'm at church and its a word in a hymn.

but then again i don't say "fabulous" or "girl" either unless (1) i'm with other gay boys and (2) using the word to be deliberately gay, often accompanied by the certain gay/black girl tone that a lot of southern gay guys speak in to be funny (although others speak in it all the time). like if you're at a bar and you see a guy walk in who's got frosted tips, you might hear me say: "girl done got her hairs did, she be lookin fabulous tonight." [pronounced the fab-uh-lous.] but it would all be for humor, effect.
6.28.2005 12:05am
It's not a word I use, or that I can easily picture my straight male friends or colleagues using. None of us are uneducated: We all have degrees from very respectable law and undergraduate schools. I think it would sound odd coming from a straight man. My wife concurs. But perhaps, as some have suggested, it's a generational thing. I'm 34, and the youngest attorney in my office; my wife is 36.
6.28.2005 12:05am
Timothy Sandefur (mail):
I've sometimes gotten funny reactions for using the word "cute."
6.28.2005 12:30am
Alex... (www):
I'm a straight man and I've recently started to use the word "adore." I've been living in Brazil where the verb "adorar" (same meaning) is extremely common. Now I find it spilling over into English... I wonder what will happen when I come back home.
6.28.2005 1:03am
Stephen Brown (mail):
"Fabulous" is a great word. I really like it. But I can't use it, because I'm not gay. Years ago, it was okay for heterosexual males to use the word "fabulous." It's not like "adore," which really has always been a woman's word. "Fabulous" was just a word. But now gay men have taken it over, and no one else can use it. I'm really quite bitter about it. I want my word back.
6.28.2005 1:16am
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Eugene,the thing that made my eyebrows rise was

From her, it seemed perfectly proper, and not even fulsome, just a nice compliment.

"not even fulsome"? In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, "I do not think that word means what you think it means."
6.28.2005 1:24am
chuck (mail):
Adore is a tender word and--let's face it--men who express tenderness are limp-wristed pussies.

Also, adore begs for an exclamation mark and real men resist being overly expressive. We'd all have second thoughts about a guy who says "I adore my Hummer!"

The guy who gets the girls tho' is the one who can use the word adore with just the right ironic tone that lets people know he's secure enough in his masculinity that he can joke about it. "I adore my Ruger Super Blackhawk single-action .44 magnum."
6.28.2005 3:28am
Sudha Shenoy (mail):
'Adore': an _Anglicism_??!! I've only heard _Americans_ (all sorts) use the term 'adorable' (shudder.)
6.28.2005 7:48am
When searching for a word to describe a girl or woman I find attractive in a certain way, the words 'hot' and 'beautiful' frequently can't quite capture it, and 'pretty' seems so plain a word as to be almost and insult now, so...

'cute'. I always feel weird when I use this word, even if it's the only one that quite gets at what I'm trying to say. And I've never heard any of my straight male friends use it.
6.28.2005 8:06am
hey (mail):
French also uses adore much more than english, and it is used in Jay-Z's song "Girls, Girls, Girls". Of course Jay-Z and friends adore "Girls" and the ladies adore Jay-Z: "Jay-Z, Jay-Z, je t'adore" in a nice french accent.

So barring foreign language experience or anglophilia (both of which I have, though I still don't use adore) I believe the thesis is proven.
6.28.2005 10:16am
SteveMG (mail):
"Honey, Susan is coming over this weekend."


"She's bringing her six kids, two dogs and cat. Oh, and I forgot to tell you, I had a small accident with the car."



* You may substitute: "super", "wonderful", "lovely".
6.28.2005 10:52am
ScottC (mail):
Are you implying anything about President Bush? He says "fabulous" frequently.

I don't think there's anything gay about "adore" - maybe it has that connotation though because it is so rarely used that it seems somehow exotic, and implies a level of tenderness that makes a lot of straight guys uncomfortable. "I was in heaven"? I don't think I've ever heard that come out of any guy's mouth, period. It's much more a saying for 50+ women, which means ... it likely stems from some long ago pop culture reference?
6.28.2005 11:04am
I occasionally tell my wife she's adorable when trying to argue with me, but that's usually because I'm escalating a fight.
6.28.2005 11:41am
Andy Freeman (mail):
Male vocabularies also vary with life events. For example, men who don't own houses don't know or use the word "sconce".

Women pick up such words without the associated life event.
6.28.2005 12:13pm
SupremacyClaus (mail):
"I am extremely upset."

"I find that highly offensive."

"Racist, sexist, homophobic, insensititive to transgender issues."

Any use of the word "issue". "You don't have issues. You have an entire subscription."

Gay or lawyer. You decide.
6.28.2005 12:21pm
CM (www):
Another one is "divine."

I think Kipp is right on -- the stereotypical guy isn't effusive, and the stereotypical woman gushes.
6.28.2005 12:27pm
William Sjostrom (mail) (www):
I would put "so" in that category, as in "he is so right", although a man can could probably get away with "I so do not want to do that".
6.28.2005 1:31pm
m (mail):
C.C. Baxter: You hear what I said, Miss Kubelik? I absolutely adore you.
Fran Kubelik: Shut up and deal.
6.28.2005 2:17pm
Sparky (mail):
This is a broader phenomenon than the use of any single word.

I have frequently been able to tell just from the text of an article whether the author was male or female. And I don't mean just an article in Family Circle about how to make Snickerdoodles! Usually, I can put my finger on whatever tipped me off; sometimes it's a single word (such as "adore"), and sometimes it's an attitude or an approach (such as a mention of making a warm bath even better by lighting a few candles in the bathroom).

Occasionally, I guess wrong. For example, I used to assume that an appreciative physical description of a man (e.g., "sparkling eyes," "warm smile") was most likely written by a woman, but I have discovered that it seems equally likely to be written by a man -- perhaps even more so.

Anyway, this could be the basis of a fun parlor game.
6.28.2005 3:19pm
A. Libertarian (mail):
It's largely a function of education, background, location, context, usage, etc.

Also, if someone has already formed an opinion of you they will try to find a way to support that opinion - use a "macho" word and you're "overcompensating", use a less common or more effusive word and it's "feminine". Sort of a variety of "when did you stop beating your wife"?

When you analyze it the reverse psychology gets even more twisted - if supposedly straight people are so intent on analyzing someone else's orientation maybe they have some concerns of their own.......then there's the gay/bi phenomenon of them thinking everyone else is secretly gay/bi too........

To paraphrase a largely debunked figure from the social sciences, "sometimes a word is just a word."
6.28.2005 3:48pm
old maltese:
Michelle: Brava!
6.28.2005 4:13pm
Michael Williams (mail) (www):
Don't forget about Gender Genie, which is pretty good at determining gender from text -- though it focuses on much more common, short words than "adore" and the like.
6.28.2005 6:25pm
Bugz (mail):
Mahan Atma asked, "May I ask why? Is there something about gay or bisexual people that makes you want to be far away from them?"

You bet there is. In cases of mistaken sexual preferences, as a straight man I am much more likely to get my ass grabbed by a gay/bisexual person than a straight woman is by a straight man. All the woman has to do is holler sexual abuse, but if I complain, I'd probably be accused of being homophobic. When it comes to getting my ass grabbed, damn straight (pardon the pun) I'm homophobic.

On the subject at hand, I had a gay friend of mine advise me once that I shouldn't use the word 'tacky' in idle conversation in mixed company. Failure to comply would likely mean I would get my ass grabbed by a gay man by mistake.

Word to the wise...
6.28.2005 7:04pm
SupremacyClaus (mail):
Prof. Volokh: Did someone hack this site and post the disclaimer below these messages?
6.29.2005 12:15am