Sexy

By Maeve Maddox

The adjective sexy is a US coinage. According to OnlineEtymologyDictionary, it was first used in 1923 to describe smoldering silent screen star Rudolf Valentino.

Sexy to describe the sexual attractiveness of individuals and the sexual aspect or content of things is still probably the most common use of the word:

George Clooney Voted Sexiest Man Alive (Again)

Joan Crawford proves that you can be a powerful and sexy screen presence even after the age of forty.

Out of Sight has been voted the sexiest film of all time in a poll of industry insiders for an American magazine.

Can minors go to video stores and buy or rent sexy, violent movies without parental consent?

Nowadays, however, sexy is used to describe things that have nothing to do with sexual attraction or content:

The 101 sexiest cars of all time

Houses with the world’s sexiest garages

Homelessness is not a sexy cause unless it’s around Thanksgiving.

Not too many mayors find it very sexy to stand next to a fixed sewer or repaired bridge.

Childcare and children’s services, in the general public’s view, is not sexy; it is not at the top of people’s agenda.

Somewhere in the 1950s, sexy acquired the meaning “appealing, liable to excite interest, not boring.” The word is especially popular in the marketing industry:

How to Make Your Product Look Sexy on Facebook

Build a strong foundation for your marketing – now that’s sexy.

A retail experience needs to be dynamic, energetic, [and] sexy.

The most successful company is the one with the sexy logo, the sexy ads, the sexy products, and the sexy packaging.

Considering that the purpose of advertising is to cause consumers to lust after products, I suppose that the extended meaning is not much of a stretch.

Just as I felt confident to say that sexy in these contexts is simply a synonym for “not boring,” I came across a marketing site with the headline “Sexy Doesn’t Mean ‘Not Boring.’ ” According to this site, “Helpful is the new sexy.”

Marketers will continue to use sexy as shorthand for “attention-getting,” but for me, sexy seems more suitable as an adjective for beautiful people like Antonio Banderas or Cote de Pablo than for an insurance blog.

When it comes to describing the appeal of advertising and merchandise, writers may want to explore other words that convey the idea of appealing to human craving and covetousness.

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5 Responses to “Sexy”

  • YY

    In your piece on Sexy, you wrote:

    Just as I felt confident to say that sexy in these contexts is simply the opposite of “not boring,”

    Did you mean to say “the opposite of ‘boring'”?
    In other words, sexy = not boring, so sex is the opposite of “boring”

  • thebluebird11

    Sexy isn’t just about being interesting or “not boring.” It’s what turns people on (in some way, whether sexually, emotionally or other). And there’s no accounting for what turns people on in any particular way. If you ask people what’s so sexy about George Clooney, for example, it’s not just his looks. It’s his personality, probably his fame, his power, his money, and intangible stuff like charisma. As a package, he is a sexy man. If he were just good looking or just rich or just famous, he might not be so sexy (not as appealing, not as much of a turn-on). I mean, there are plenty of rich and famous people who are not all that sexy. When the term is applied to a product like a car, I guess it also depends on an individual’s concept of sexy. Sometimes it’s the curves of the car body combined with a powerful engine (literal power), sensual material (e.g. leather), luxury features (figurative power, over people who can’t afford them). Anyway, sexy is in the eye of the beholder, and I guess there are people for whom calculus might be a turn-on, who knows.

  • Mister Furkles

    This use of ‘sexy’ for things which are in some since desirable is akin to the use of ‘cool’ or ‘groovy’. It is not possible to give a definition to terms when they are used this way. A raring fire can be ‘cool’, a very smooth surface can be ‘groovy’, and a monastery can be ‘sexy’.

    Why is for psychologist to answer not linguists. Besides, calculus can be beautiful if the theory is presented extraordinarily well.

  • Larry Barkley

    I once had one of my thesis advisers describe the thesis for my Master’s thesis as “sexy.” And I have been known to describe grammar and punctuation in specific contexts as “sexy.” As thebluebird 11 noted above, “sexy is in the eye of the beholder.”

  • thebluebird11

    @Larry: Like with the Addams family, when Gomez would be turned on when Morticia spoke French as she clipped the roses off their stems LOL

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