The caveat of cute

by Jessie K on January 2, 2013

June and I were waiting for our connecting flight at the airport over New Years when an older man walking by bent down to pick up a small object that had been accidentally dropped by two girls sitting across from us. The girls, 20-somethings, both wore heavy bangs, mod inspired minidresses over striped tights.

The man, who looked to be in his 70s, handed the object back to the girls. I couldn’t see what it was, though I imagine it was some unbearably cloying token of cuteness  like a pair of heart shaped sunglasses or a tiny plush deer. One of the girls received it in her hand. She thanked him. The man nodded.  As he walked off, her friend remarked, “Awww, he is so cute.”

I swear I saw the man’s body seize up as he walked off.

Unless an older person is dressed as the Easter Bunny and cavorting with a litter of kittens and bunnies, never, EVER call them cute. It is so patronizing! This girl thought she was paying him a compliment but  what she was really saying was, “Awww, look how feeble and ineffectual he is! He’s so cute. Like a small woodland animal! Like a Furby!”

There are many adjectives to describe those older than us  — wise, wonderful, experienced, lovable, eccentric,wacky  — but “cute” and “adorable” are not among them. It conveys the opposite of what is implied.

I’ve always inwardly cringed when I’d hear a younger person describe an older person this way, and this man’s physical reaction validated my conviction. It’s no different than when some young dope says to an older woman, “And what can I get for you, young lady?” Translation: “Damn, you look old.”

I pity the person who ever calls me cute or young when I’m 70. I will beat them over the head with my handbag.




IMG_7589Not cute. Wonderful. (It’s my Grandma Kate and I love her.)

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula January 2, 2013 at 10:01 pm


Totally agree!

Leah January 2, 2013 at 10:47 pm


Absolutely beyond irritating is when, as a mature person (I don’t use the “O” word) some dim bulb teenager calls me honey. They are always girls and usually about 17. Usually they are clerks or waitressing or whatever and always say “thanks honey”. Come back again “honey”. I just want to use that “mature” person’s perogative of snapping back with something like “sure kid”.

Joanne from Colorado January 2, 2013 at 11:11 pm


This is so funny because a similar thing happened here and I thought the same thing. My 86 year old Mom is visiting for the holidays and a neighbor came over one night and I introduced them. The neighbor said to me within earshot of my Mom, “she is soo cute”. And the first thing I thought was “how insulting!”…That’s my Mom! She’s still baking cookies, doing dishes, instructing me on how to cook family recipes…I don’t care if she does walk with a walker, or isn’t as tall as she used to be, she’s not cute! Puppies yeah, kittens yeah. Not our mothers or fathers or any other older person. Totally agree with you.

Janelle January 3, 2013 at 11:39 am


I’ve heard many an older woman get very insulted by being called “young lady.” But how do older women feel about ma’am? I use that but have been told that’s insulting too. I say it as a sign of respect. Any thoughts?

Paula January 3, 2013 at 11:49 am


There is absolutely nothing insulting about ma’am. When young people use it when referring to me, I know they have been well brought up. Maybe it’s a southern thing, but excellent manners shouldn’t be regional.

Jessie K January 3, 2013 at 1:51 pm


“Ma’am” is a fact of life here in Virginia. I hated it when I first moved here. But I realized the term seems to apply to any woman who looks over the age of 21. There’s no getting away from it so I had to embrace it.

Paula January 3, 2013 at 4:40 pm


My parents weren’t quite that strict, but many parents when I was growing up required that their children answer them “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am”, in addition to speaking that way to other adults.

Joanne from Colorado January 3, 2013 at 6:09 pm


So my 21 year old daughter just got back from a semester abroad in India. Back story – she was totally homesick for 3 1/2 months…totally miserable….than she meets Mr wonderful who’s from Jaipur – an Indian activist – doing a lot of good work over there. So she skypes him every day, and I meet him and he keeps calling me Maam. He’s 25 I’m…I have a 21 year old…haha. My daughter says he wants to know what to call me and I say “Joanne! Maam makes me feel old!” ha. I was not raised in the South – yet I know how special that term is. I am not a maam and I am definately not cute! Haha. It’s fun to hear everyone’s opinions.

Peg January 3, 2013 at 7:58 pm


Hmm, different perspective here. I do think it is somewhat demeaning and hopefully we will think before we say something that would offend someone else. However, my guess is those sweet young things in the airport did not have the vocabulary or wisdom to know that. I would guess they meant no harm whatsoever and wanted to be complimentary but did not know how. As I get older (definitely into the “m’am” years now, I think what a person’s intent is, is more important than the actual words. Just my two (cute) cents.

Julie January 4, 2013 at 11:48 am


I’m 39. My 6 year old recently asked me “did you have a bathroom in the olden days?” HAHAHAH! I just about fell on the floor. I know this doesn’t completely pertain…but I needed to share. Thanks.

Jessie K January 4, 2013 at 1:41 pm


Ha ha! “Why, yes, dear, we did have bathrooms though no toilet paper, sadly. Only rocks.”

mouse January 4, 2013 at 1:21 pm


Oh man, thanks for saying this! I hate it when people baby talk older folks. So condescending and gross. I also hate it when they baby talk babies, though. 😛

Jessie K January 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm


You’re clearly a tough nut, mouse. Ha ha ha.

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