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I said to a person that she is "chubby" and, apparently, she took it very seriously. What I meant to say is that she's not skin and bones, she carried more pounds than needed but, precisely because of that, she should be actually more attractive.

In Italian I would say that she is "in carne" but I don't know its English equivalent. Is there a word for it in English?

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Possible duplicate of Euphemisms to replace “fat”. –  RegDwigнt Jul 30 '11 at 22:43
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@RegDwight: This appears to be a two-part question: 1) Can "chubby" be used, and 2) If not, what can replace it. The "fat" question addressed only the second part. –  Tom Au Jul 30 '11 at 23:14
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@Bob, in America, it is typically impolite to discuss a woman's weight in any manner beyond compliments such as "you look like you've lost weight". I personally feel that this interferes with the issue of obesity, but generally speaking: avoid discussing a woman's weight (and age). –  zzzzBov Jul 31 '11 at 1:57
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All you need to do to answer this question is look at a selection of Women seeking men ads in the personal columns of newspapers. Statistically speaking, a goodly proportion of those women are bound to be "chubby", but few if any will use that word to describe themselves. My guess is that cuddly, curvy, and curvaceous will be among the most common words used, but I refuse to go and check in case I come over all excited! –  FumbleFingers Sep 29 '11 at 4:38
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"You have a great figure" is pretty all-purpose. –  onomatomaniak Sep 29 '11 at 7:38

11 Answers 11

up vote 35 down vote accepted

Anything can be offensive, or not. Offense is in the mind of the subject, and may take intent of the speaker into account.

In my particular culture (Western Canadian Anglophone Caucasian, which overlaps with lots of other cultures, especially throughout North America), at this particular time (2010's, but extending back for quite a few years), I would expect a significant number of women to take offense to being called "chubby", even if it was not intended to offend, and especially if they did not have a very familiar relationship with the speaker.

For what it's worth, most adjectives implying overweight would also be considered offensive to varying degrees. Being overweight is one of the most sensitive personal issues (especially for women) in my current culture & time. In fact "overweight" is probably one of the terms least taken in offense -- which is why I'm using it.

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+1 Excellent answer. –  CesarGon Jul 30 '11 at 21:21
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I agree with the exception that overweight is just as likely to cause offense. Telling someone they are overweight is rarely advisable. –  MrHen Jul 30 '11 at 23:37
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The only time I'd think "chubby" wouldn't be offensive is when describing a cute baby. Even then, some parents might not like it. –  user362 Sep 12 '11 at 3:19

The term "chubby" would generally be only used to refer to babies or small children and even then some parents may take offense.

Some positive terms used to describe a pleasantly plump woman (in order of safety: safest to use first):

  • Curvaceous: (esp. of a woman or a woman's figure) Having an attractively curved shape.
  • Rubenesque: plump and sensuous (referring to the figure of a woman), from the women depicted in the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640)
  • Voluptuous: (of a woman) Curvaceous and sexually attractive.
  • Buxom: (of a woman) Plump, esp. with large breasts; healthily plump and vigorous) "a generation ago...buxom actresses were popular"- Robt.A.Hamilton. (Be very careful using this one as it really does relate more to a woman's breasts than anything else.)

As you can see from the definitions, if you want to make a positive statement about a woman's plumpness then you are also making a statement about their sexual desirability in your eyes.

I am from New Zealand and most woman who are on the plump side would probably appreciate one of these terms being used in connection with them. Most would not appreciate being called "overweight": in some cultures here curvaceous is considered just the right weight. In fact, I'd say that "curvaceous" would be the safest term. I'm not sure this is also the case in the USA.

A note on bodacious: I don't think it refers to a woman's curvaceousness, but just her attractiveness. Definitely nice to be described as bodacious though.

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+1 for "curvaceous. Welcome to the site. –  Tom Au Jul 30 '11 at 23:16
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Shorten to "curvy" –  endolith Jul 31 '11 at 1:38
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I've seen "rubenesque" earn punchings. –  jhocking Jul 31 '11 at 3:11
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I agree with jhocking: most of these terms might be OK (if a bit provocative), but I'd avoid "rubenesque". Take a look at some of Rubens's paintings to see why. –  Nicholas Jul 31 '11 at 5:35
    
The problem with many of these alternatives is that some of them (especially 'curvy' and 'curvaceous') have so often been applied as euphemisms for the exceedingly fat that they retain, at least in American parlance, only a tenuous hold on their original meaning. Just as a size 8 means quite a different thing today than it did in 1970, so 'curvy' can no longer be trusted to mean what it once did. –  jela Sep 7 '11 at 0:59

Yeah, chubby isn't very tactful. It isn't offensive in the sense that cursing or swearing is considered offensive but it certainly isn't going to do much for her self-esteem.

Honestly, I don't know of any way to refer to not-skinny that isn't going to be at least awkward. My opinion is to refer to her as not being too-skinny:

I like that you aren't skin and bones

Some girls are far too skinny

Then again, this isn't really my area. I just avoid the topic if at all possible. In America, at least, the whole subject is typically considered a taboo.

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Try using "curvy" instead. –  Wedge Jul 30 '11 at 22:10

Chubby is in most cases going to be taken offensively in North America. It would be associated with being overweight when applied to an adult. Possible alternatives that sound more flattering could include "well proportioned", "curvy", "shapely", (more colloquially) "carrying it in all the right places", and possibly some others.

Source: Personal experience courting women :P

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There is a lot of psychology at play here and what she'll take badly depends on the lady, but you might consider "full figured" instead.

Lets see some other choices include

  • voluptuous (though the sexual connotations may not be desired)
  • built like a brick outhouse (again there are implications of sexual desirability that should be considered)
  • corn-fed (probably better to use this with the guys, and it carries possibly unwanted implications that she lacks sophistication)
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I usually say squishy, thick, solid or cuddly to avoid using the word chubby. I have also been known to use 'pleasantly plump' as Tom Au suggested.

The word bodacious evokes the 80s for me. I still love to be called bodacious. It feels more exciting, and it feels positive. For me, bodacious is the flattering substitute for the word chubby. But that is just me; I am rather biased. ;D

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What I meant to say is that she's not skin and bones... some more pounds than needed but, precisely because of that, she should be actually more attractive.

Never say to any woman who is not already your girlfriend or wife that she is chubby. And even then, say it in a sweet, affectionate and gently teasing way so she won't burst into floods of tears and accuse you of being mean, heartless and insensitive. Some women will take a different approach and refuse to speak to you for the rest of the day or start reading the invisible list of faults you possess...

If a man had written this I would have have accused him of sexism but as it's me and I belong to the category of "not a skinny bird" I can safely say this.

Chubby is not complimentary; it means someone who is overweight, soft, round, and definitely on the heavy side. It is not the same as "in carne" an expression which I personally dislike, but for Italians it tends to have more positive connotations.

To compliment a woman on her figure because she is not "skin and bones" you could simply tell her she looks healthy. Not particularly exciting compared to curvaceous; curvy; voluptuous; full-figured (potentially on dangerous ground with this one); and "curves in all the right places". But if a woman is not thin and looks "normal-sized", (i.e. size 12 and above) healthy is a safe option.

N.B. There's nothing wrong with saying she is sexy and hot either, regardless of her body weight, but that implies you are sexually attracted to her and depending on circumstances it might be considered inappropriate or creepy and offensive at the worst.

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The type of word you would use is largely on the context. I'd map out three groups to describe weight:

  1. Aesthetically - Chubby, fluffy, plump, voluptuous, buxom, skinny, bony
  2. Clinically - Obese, overweight, underweight, etc
  3. Neutral terms - Big, heavy, large, tiny.

If how you feel about how someone looks is relevant to the conversation, you might say that they're voluptuous. If you concerned about their health, you might say ... well, you get the idea.

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+1 for "voluptuous." And welcome to the site. –  Tom Au Jul 30 '11 at 22:59

No, I wouldn't use "chubby."

The term I would use is "pleasingly plump." Even that may get you into "trouble" for implying that someone is "heavy." But at least you've sugarcoated it with a compliment.

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The issue isn't so much the word as the concept. This causes a euphemism treadmill effect, where new words brought into service as less-hurtful versions of "fat" quickly adopt its bad connotations and are themselves replaced.

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+1 for euphemism treadmill –  sarah Nov 30 '11 at 23:29

This isn't an issue so much of using the right or wrong word, but rather in that situation she would have probably been upset no matter what word you used to express that.

Word choice still does matter, calling someone "chubby" is generally less offensive than "fat."

But generally in American culture, many overweight people will get upset if you make any kind of mention regarding their being overweight, especially if they don't know you very well.

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