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?