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Puppies are cute. So are tea sandwiches. Your teachers are not.

Griffin Smuts, News Editor

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Recently, I have noticed the word “cute” used (or rather misused) in such a way that I find troubling. This dawned on me the other day, when I sat in a local cafe and a friend approached me with an exciting story to tell. “Earlier today,” she exclaimed, “my dad texted me a quote from Walt Whitman about, like, death or something!” At this point, I expected her to enlighten me with the words her father had gone out of his way to share with her – but no such thing happened. Instead, somewhere between a sip from her mucus-colored Kreation beverage and a bite from her panini from Farmshop (which I have to imagine offset each other healthwise), she observed, “isn’t he SO CUTE?!”

No, he is not. I don’t think it makes me a stuck-up old timer to be bothered by the way in which “cute” has become a completely normalized instrument of condescension in the speech of my friends and, I would presume, my broader peer group. Just during the past election season, I heard the word used to describe everything from Bernie Sanders to Kellyanne Conway’s word salad, Bill Clinton to Kim Jong Un’s haircut (although in that case I will concede a mild degree of “cuteness”). Sorry, kids, an established U.S. senator addressing income inequality is not “cute,” neither is a political operative for the most bigoted, thuggish, and crass campaign in American history. Oh yeah! And the first word that comes to mind when I think of Bill Clinton, one of the most influential political leaders of the past two decades, is definitely “cute!” No, I don’t think so.

But the list doesn’t stop at political figures. Perhaps more perplexing is when “cute” is employed to describe adults that we know personally. This includes parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, among others. I recall a conversation once about a certain older teacher who was a veteran of the Korean War in which a fellow student remarked, “Gosh, when he talked about being in battle and stuff… ugh… just SO ADORABLE!” Can you imagine what this teacher would have felt if he had been there, witnessing this student’s observation firsthand? A man wore uniform and put his life on the line for his country, his experience only to be minimized by a few ungracious brats? Combat is not “cute” and to suggest, even humorously, that it might be is evidence of a lack of respect and an even greater lack of awareness. Of course, the students who engaged in this exchange probably were unaware of their insensitivity: And that is precisely the problem.

Since when did “cute,” a word that (for me, at least) is usually reserved for fuzzy animals, crustless cucumber sandwiches, and dimples, morph into the default term for any adult who is not an utter prick. I am being quite literal when I say that the only adults in my life who haven’t (as far as I’m aware) earned the label of “cute” by my friends are the adults who come across as wretched and uninviting (traits which I too would adopt if the alternative were being deemed “adorable” by a bunch of big-headed teenagers). There was that substitute teacher who threatened to staple a kid’s hand to the table – she wasn’t “cute.” There was that lady at the Apple Store who took my friend’s spot in line for the iPhone 7 (forcing him to wait four more hours) – she apparently wasn’t cute either. Or what about Steve Bannon – I don’t hear him called “cute” very often (rightfully so, I might add).

So what’s the big issue here? Is there any negative consequence to our using the word “cute” to describe things that really just are not? Actually, I think there is. First of all, my friends’ use of “cute” is a bit like our president’s use of “HUGE” in that it is a thoroughly uncreative, somewhat thoughtless substitute for a variety of other adjectives which (get this!) actually mean something! Just think, if every time we were tempted to call something “cute” we opted for something a bit more descriptive, maybe we could avoid sounding like flippant know-it-alls with the added bonus of being modestly articulate! Just an idea. But the main issue isn’t the reduction in size of our vocabularies, but rather a broader lack of humility which is inherent in our use of the word.

When “cute” is used to describe everything from our parents’ efforts to connect with us to a veteran’s account of his combat experience to a politician’s discussion of critically important issues, it is abundantly clear that something has to change. Friends, let us banish this dismissive epithet from our daily speech for the sake of communicating with clarity, carrying ourselves with humility, and above all, treating our adults with basic respect.

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The online student newspaper of Palisades Charter High School
Puppies are cute. So are tea sandwiches. Your teachers are not.