Tuesday, March 20, 2012

chubby, plump, pudgy, tubby

What's the difference?

I've been working on the question of connotation since I described a person as "pudgy" and John vehemently disagreed. That started a discussion of the connotation of adjectives that equal fat. With my mother and several other people the list grew into the four adjectives in the title: chubby, plump, pudgy, tubby.

All of these are defined as "having excess body fat" in my thesaurus and readers are directed to to entry on fat. In my AMERICAN HERITAGE dictionary these words are used to define each other. Now my question is: Do you assign different amounts of excess body fat to these words? Is chubby cute? I.e. a chubby-checked baby, or plump pleasing as we say so often? It's all in your perception of the words...and your self-image if you're describing yourself. (Note to self--pleasingly plump sounds so much better than pudgy.)

All this matters when we describe characters for our readers. How do you decide which word to use? How do writers decide between two close words? We do it all the time and it does matter. Check out Your Brain on Fiction from THE NEW YORK TIMES. Our brains actually react to different words in different ways.

I posed this question to the writers on the Forum in a thread titled chubby, plump, pudgy, tubby and got a rollicking discussion of adjectives for overweight. Some of the words included were:


portly, stout, husky, zoftig, thick, barrel-chested, porcine, corpulent, thickset, heavyset, doughy, fleshly, thick-waisted, Rubenesque, cuddly, chunky

What was really interesting in the discussion was the age and gender assignments that went with the various adjectives.

So, how do you decide which adjective to use? Do you take connotation into consideration?

9 comments:

  1. I'm afraid I don't have anything to add to the list. There are nuances though. For me chubby is more of for a child or baby. (Not that I haven't heard it applied to an adult, that's just how I'm more inclined to use it)Plump is nicer than pudgy or tubby. Rubenesque seems more applied to women while portly, and barrel-chested seem more for men. Just my feelings.

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    1. Yep! You agree with the group at the Forum. And taking that into consideration, it matters which word a writer uses, doesn't it? I wouldn't use chubby for an adult unless they are also immature in nature as well. ; )

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  2. Every word counts. Once I choose a word though...I try not to listen to other voices that say it is the wrong one. Afterall, I chose it for a reason.

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    1. Great tip, Michael. I think the lesson is to chose the words with awareness of the connotation. Though we can't control our readers' interpretations, we can be aware of our own.

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  3. I always try to think about connotations, right around my fourth round edits... It's harder when writing a historical, I think, cos some words just didn't use to have as many meanings as they do now.

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    1. I think you're right about historicals, Deniz. I think it would be much harder to find the right word.

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  4. I agree with S.P. Although when using chubby to describe an adult or teen, I do think of overweight, but not full blown morbidly obese. All of the listed words do give me the image of being overweight or fat, but certain ones such as tubby or doughy make me think the person is much larger than chubby or plump.

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  5. Caitlin, I agree.
    Aren't words fun! I've got a nifty little video link for this week. You'll love it.

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