What’s in a Name

Caplan says the public are idiots. Yglesias says they are just using a word differently. I agree with Yglesias. Words mean different things to different people.

So when I read these two posts, I confess I didn’t agree with the author. It’s true that if you ask “How can I make myself more attractive to women?” a woman will give you a stupid answer. And it’s also true that she doesn’t mean to be unhelpful. But I think it’s absurd to conclude that women are incapable of empathy, or that they lack critical thinking skills. Instead, I think it’s a problem with language.

The word “attractive” means something different to men than to women. If a man calls a woman attractive, it means he wants to fuck her. If a woman calls a man attractive, it’s a much vaguer term, which could mean anything from fuckable to admirable to reasonably nice. For example, I had this conversation a while ago:

Me: It’s too bad none of these girls are into me.
Jeremy: I think Anna likes you, she told me she finds you intellectually attractive.
Me: “Intellectually attractive.” Listen to what she’s not saying.

And everyone laughed. We all understood that Anna didn’t mean she wanted me bad, she was just saying she thought I was an interesting guy. Meanwhile, no man has ever described a woman as “intellectually attractive.” Workshy Joe is just suffering a breakdown in communication. When he asks “How can I make myself more attractive to women?” he means “How can I make women want to have sex with me?” But a woman hears it as “How can I make women think I’m nice?”

The obvious solution is to change the wording. “How can I make women think I’m sexy?” Then you might get a better answer.

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