Thoughts on a Word

Through more than a decade of copy editing for women's magazines, I've had to spend a good deal of time pondering the exact words we use to describe appearance. What does it mean to be lovely instead of prettypretty instead of beautifulbeautiful instead of hothot instead of sexy? How have these words changed through history, both ancient and contemporary? Does the literal definition of these words match how they're used in our lives? How have these words been used to reinforce--or challenge--existing ideas about gender?

Drawing from etymology, history, and usage, I've looked at the link between gorgeous and excess (gorgeous shares a root with gorge, after all); between early uses of the word sexy and the Jewish faith; between bombshell and midcentury American anxiety, and more. Here's the list so far:

• Glamour, part I
• Glamour, part II, featuring Virginia Postrel, Lauren Cerand, Lisa Ferber, and Carolyn Turgeon
• Handsome
• Cute
• Provocative
• Attractive
• Bombshell
• Lovely
• Hot
• Ugly
• Foxy
• Sexy
• Mirror
• Fair
• Gorgeous
• Portmanteau Week: cankles // manorexia, drunkorexia, liarexia // mandals
• Obese, anorexic, fat
• Hello (guest post at Feministe)
• Female (guest post at Feministe)
• Plus-size (guest post at Plus-Size Models Unite)
• Nappy  (guest post by Yassira Diggs)
• Graceful (guest post by Tori of Anytime Yoga)
• Vainglorious (guest post by Sarah Frye Valencius)
• Pretty (guest post by Mary Duffy)