Friday, July 13, 2007

What Does it Mean When Something is "Cute"?

In Philosopher’s Playground today, Steve G. asked a question about what makes something “cute”. Please read the post to see what he is talking about.

Now that you’re back, I thought the question was intriguing and tried to answer it as best I could. Here was my response:

The best way that I can describe it is "attractive innocent simplicity." For
your wife's shoe example it is that the shoes resonate to her on some basic
simple level of "shoeness." The miniatures elicit the same type of reaction. The
older couple holding hands resonates with a "oh, how innocent and simple." A
couple making out would not be "cute," since that detracts from the "innocent"
part. "Cute" has to contain some level of all three things in our minds.

I was then asked to elaborate by C. Ewing, who laid out three categories of things that might be considered cute, and asked me:

Also, what precisely is "innocent" about the shoes or skirt? Perhaps, the
pencil/pen due to its association with the young girl, but I don't see how
all three are necessarily going to be present in Category #3 (to any degree
or on any level).

So I tried to answer:

Good questions. When I mean "innocent" in terms of the girlfriend or shoes . . I
mean that they have a quality to you, the observer, that strikes you in a place
that registers as a "good" thing or has properties of or reminds you of
something deep that just clicks. Because a lot of times it seems that those sort
of preferences are formed starting in childhood, which gives it the "innocent"
quality. As a girl myself, that's what I think of when I see something

I may not be explaining this correctly, not being an academic, so it is one of those things I can see in my head and think I instinctively know, but may be horribly misinterpreting.

My spelling was atrocious in the HaloScan, by the way. I really should write my responses in Word before I answer . . .

It really is a hard thing to explain and I doubt that I am doing it well or am even in the ballpark of being correct. It seems like a simple concept that is not so simple to explain.

So I’m throwing it out to you guys: How would you define something as “cute”?


mommanator said...

Cute is one of those connundrums of the English langage that foreigners always have trouble defining. HOWEVER to me my grandkids ARE cute foibles and all!

CS said...

This was comment on that post:
"I agree with the idea of different categories of cuteness. With babies (human and animal) I think it is hard-wired. We respond to babyness (small size, big eyes, round heads, small noses) with a powerful, biologically driven liking, and it helps us attach to the young and help them survive. Maybe it merges over to other little things? I think it is a totally different sense for things like shoes or men's rears - it just means soemthing like, "I find that aesthetically appealing.""
It's a complicated issue, I think.

Virginia Gal said...

people call me cute, I like to think it means I'm sweet, innocent (petite), not malicious but not sexy. I like being called cute. Its nice.