I recently switched doctors, which meant my old physician wrote a, patient profile, summarizing my medical history for the new one.
Part of this profile caught my eye, in particular the phrase …and a tendency toward mild obesity.
This has a suitably clinical ring to it, so the outgoing doctor may have been surprised when I launched a right uppercut into his solar plexus, remarking… Obesity this, Dr. Dimbulb.
Just kidding, of course. I have never punched out a doctor. Yet…
But I admit I was mildly taken aback by the “mild obesity” remark, which is a case in point for Latvians acquiring English:
Although Americans are in the midst of an obesity pandemic, and it’s hardly a national secret, many still aren’t used to being confronted with the word itself.
So, today’s Point
1: Calling someone “obese” may land you in trouble, unless you’re a doctor. And even then, you may want to check your patient list for my name.
The roster of terms that should generally be avoided when referring to people of wide profile continues with “fat,” “gross,” “paunchy”, “plump,” “potbellied,” “oversized,” “blimped-out” and “whale-like.”
Brits are much taken with the phrase “fat cow” for large women they dislike, particularly or casually, but this will likely raise more eyebrows than ire in the United States.
Among the nicknames and epithets that you may hear in common American usage – but should not automatically repeat yourself – are “Fatso,” “Fatty,” “Porky,” “Chubby,” “Tubby” and “Lardbutt,” the last a notch more offensive than the rest.
Descriptions of people as “specific gravity-enhanced” or “suffering from fork-in-mouth disease” are faux-politically correct and humorous ways, respectively, of referring to an absent party.
A more neutral euphemism is “big-boned” (or “large-boned”). This can be applied to both sexes, but note that it has traditionally figured in descriptions of blind dates people later wish they hadn’t met.
On to a starter list of (nominally) neutral terms: “big,” “large,” “heavy,” “burly,” “husky,” “hefty,” “portly,” “stout” and “rotund.”
A good example of standard newspaper-ese is the term “heavyset,” which is used as a neutral adjective for public figures of the Helmut Kohl / Jānis Ozoliņš school and beyond, from the severely obese to those approaching the Goodrich blimp.
Are there positive models among those assigned “oversized” nicknames?
Stretching a point, so to speak, you could cite Minnesota Fats, the pool-shooting maestro played by Jackie Gleason in the film “The Hustler”…
If you like exotica and the borderline-sinister, there’s Kasper “The Fat Man” Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet) in the classic “The Maltese Falcon.
From real life, you can see two unalloyed positives in the African-American piano virtuosi Fats Waller and Fats Domino, both of whom showed that the roly-poly could rock.
The fortunate un-fat of the world are not “blessed” with a wealth of common pejoratives – “You can’t be too thin or too rich,” as the saying has it – and even nominally negative terms like “skinny” and “gaunt” can be used as positives.
Indeed, you can combine a pejorative with an insult and produce a best-selling cookbook for vegans – “Skinny Bitch.” (Incidentally, the pronunciation of “vegan” varies: some people say “VEE-gun,” while others pronounce it “eating disorder.”)
A vegetarian, incidentally, may be good-naturedly called a “veggie” (rhyming with “edgy”); but referring to any individual, even someone on life-support, as “a vegetable” could prove a bad mistake.
Also inaccurate, though in a benign way, are references to Barack Obama as America’s “veggie-in-chief.”
Enough food for thought. I’m off to my fitnesa klubs – that’s Latvian for “expensive place to perspire” – to pursue the cure for obesity. Mildly.
Extreme Extra Credit: One bonus point today for those who recognized that the “Goodrich blimp” exists only as an urban legend (born of a clever ad campaign in the 1970s).
The actual idiom is “…as big as the Goodyear blimp.” 🙂