The term “adorable” has become increasingly used to describe the kinds of things that attract people.
What does it mean?
When people think of “adornment,” they usually think of people with distinctive features, or features that make them “special,” according to a study from the University of Maryland.
In other words, a Connecticut man with a white mustache and blue-gray hair might be described as “special.”
But the term doesn’t necessarily have to have that meaning.
It can describe the kind of people who attract people, says Jennifer Tompkins, an associate professor of communication at the University at Buffalo who studies the meaning of attraction.
In this case, she says, the “adorned” is someone who is “really special.”
In addition to being a unique individual, a special person can also be described by their “toughness, their ability to get along with others, or the way they treat people,” Tompys says.
And people can be described more broadly than just special.
“There are lots of people that are special to people,” she says.
The term can also refer to a person’s personality, such as a person who is charismatic or “caring.”
A person who has charisma may be described in a way that sounds “toughened up,” Tampys says, because they “don’t have to be tough.”
But when people hear “treat people,” they don’t think of someone who’s “tolerant of criticism.”
They think of somebody who “makes people feel comfortable,” she adds.
People who are more “tender” or “generous” can also have a special way of expressing themselves, Tompers says.
In fact, one study from Columbia University found that “treating people with kindness and compassion is often the most attractive attribute of individuals who are special and can be classified as being unique.”
It may be that people who are “totally special” are often the least “trendy,” Topeys says: “There’s a stereotype that people that have the most special features, they’re cool.”
She thinks that stereotype may be accurate, but that doesn’t mean that it is always the case.
“I think there’s a lot of room for the word to be used in a broad way to describe a range of different qualities,” she notes.
For example, a person with a unique way of dressing, speaking, or behaving may be “unique,” says Tompaks.
“That’s a great descriptor for a lot a people, because that person is a real special.”
It’s not always clear what that specialness is.
The study used data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey to find out about the types of people most likely to be considered “special” in Connecticut.
People in Connecticut who were defined as special in the Census by their ethnicity were found to be less likely to say they’re “troubled” by the color of their skin, to be more likely to have a job or school in their hometown, and to have higher earnings.
These factors were not statistically different from people who were considered “unspecial” by these measures.
However, the census does not include information on how much money people earn or the income of their friends and family.
The findings were consistent across all three of the most commonly used measures of specialness, according to the study.
“You can say there’s more variation across the three, but there’s not a whole lot of variation,” Tomps says.
What people think is special is not always the same as what they actually have in mind, says Topeks.
“If you look at it, you have to consider that there’s so much variability, that people may think they have something special and then realize that’s not true,” she said.