On Inappropriate Adjectives (or why you shouldn’t call babies “sexy”)

Warning:  The following post contains potentially disturbing images.  Sensitive readers beware!

sexy:  1 (of a person) sexually attractive; 2 sexually exciting; 3 (of a person) sexually excited; 4 exciting and interesting.

~ The Oxford English Dictionary

An innocuous little word, isn’t it?  We use it every day, not always sticking to it’s denotative meaning.  The Doctor, for example, often called his TARDIS “Sexy”, though I’m sure he didn’t find his time machine exciting in a sexual sense (except, perhaps, for that one episode).  People sometimes refer to their cars (or if they’re wealthy enough, their yachts and private jets) as sexy, usually not meaning that the vehicle causes a stirring in their loins (unless there’s a bikini-clad model lying on top of it…)

Borat Mankini
…or mankini-clad model – we strive for inclusiveness here on if all else fails

But it’s primary use is to describe people (and certain items of clothing, usually of the see-through kind, worn by said people).  I call my wife sexy all the time because to me she is.  Given the nature of our relationship it is appropriate that I find her sexy and that I tell her that.  I also accept that other men (and possibly women) might find her sexy, but it won’t be appropriate for them to say so (unless they want me to punch them…erm…sure).

Thing is, nowadays people seem to do just that.  These days it seems okay to call people, with whom you do not have an intimate relationship, sexy.  I’ve had a female relative tell me recently that I was looking sexy (and it was not a smokin’ hot cousin, which would have been okay 😉  ).  I saw a mother comment on a Facebook-photo of her six-year-old son in his school uniform on the first day of term that he looked sexy.  And most disturbing of all I saw someone comment on a photo of his eight-month old granddaughter in a swimsuit that she was a “sexy little angel”.

I started to wonder if the word’s name might have changed, so I went to the definitive source on such linguistic matters (you know, the guys who brought us the new meaning of “literal” and lifted “irregardless”(which even Google spellcheck no longer flags) out of nonexistence and elevated it to word-dom), but no, Merriam-Webster gave the same definition as Oxford and added the synonyms and related words, “erotic”, “hot”, “luscious”, “nubile”, “seductive”, and “sultry”, to mention just a few.  You will not use any of these words to describe an eight-month-old girl or a six-year-old boy (unless you’re a really bad person) or any relative with whom you do not share a bed on a regular basis (wait, scratch that).  So why is “sexy” okay?

Miley cyrus with hammer
The jury’s still out on whether this is sexy. Personally, I just feel sorry for the hammer.  Can you imagine how much counselling it’s going to need after this?

“Cute”, sure.  “Sweet”, “adorable”, “handsome”, “snazzy” – so many adjectives with no possible sexual connotation.  So why do people insist on using the one adjective that has that connotation?  I mean, “sexy” is derived from “sex”.  Doesn’t that give you a clue?

Maybe it’s just in South Africa.  Most people here don’t speak English as a first language and should probably be cut some slack for not knowing the correct usage of all the words.  But using a word containing “sex” to describe your baby granddaughter?  That just gives me the creeps all round.

How do you feel about people’s use of this particular adjective?  What other adjectives (or any word for that matter) do people use inappropriately that drives you round the bend?  Do tell.

13 thoughts on “On Inappropriate Adjectives (or why you shouldn’t call babies “sexy”)

  1. Using sexy to describe your child? Deeply creepy. Using sexy to describe inanimate objects? I’ve never understood the idea that cars might be sexy. On the other hand, the older I get the more I understand how little I understand….


    1. It warms my heart to keep finding you in my archives like this. On the other hand, it makes you liable to stumble across one of those posts I should probably have deleted at some point…

      I can get my head around calling an inanimate object sexy, though I don’t really do it myself.

      Yes, we can’t really claim to understand anything, can we? Life is just too wonderfully strange for that.


  2. I use “sexy” to describe builder’s hardware a lot. What I mean by it is “I want this thing because it would make my job easier.” I would not use sexy to describe a person unless it was a person that I a) had sexual feelings towards and b) was sure that it is appropriate to express those feelings.


    1. Builder’s tools, huh? So, how do you feel about Miley and the wrecking ball? (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

      I’m with you. Using the word for stuff is one thing. Using it for people is quite another.


  3. You wrote that “sexy” is derived from “sex.” I hate to tell you this, but pretty much all of us are derived from sex. The infant is a particularly recent derivation.

    But seriously…

    When I was overseas, I once saw a mother call her 4th grade son (in his underwear) sexy. He looked visibly uncomfortable, of course. The baby and the 6-year-old bother me somewhat less because they don’t have a clue what the adult is saying. If the kid isn’t psychologically damaged, who cares what they’re called? Emphasis on “if.”

    The adult is probably damaged already, but that’s another story…


    1. THANK YOU! It’s so good to know I’m not alone in this. I’m really starting to think this is a South African thing. I simply can’t see a first-language speaker using it this way.


  4. Definitely not an appropriate term to use for a child. I don’t really have a problem with someone besides the hubs calling me sexy, but it would all depend on the context and whether or not they’re waggling their eyebrows at me when saying it. (Eyebrow waggling is not appropriate or appreciated in this case, unless one is impersonating Groucho Marx. And then it’s just weird…) Family members need not apply.

    For me, it means the same thing as it does to you and should apply to things that are actually sexy. Like spreadsheets.


    1. But you’d agree your husband can punch someone who calls you sexy, won’t you? And…spreadsheets? (You can’t see it, but I’m waggling my eyebrows as I ask that.)


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