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I'm looking for a synonym for soft, as in the opposite of coarse or crass. The context is a young French woman in Nazi Germany who asks a shopkeeper for something to catch a mouse in her house. The German shopkeeper says "Oh, you French people are so soft, just say that you're looking for something to kill the mouse with."

Any suggestions? What other words would work here?

  • Are you looking for an insult, as in 'mealy-mouthed' (see Josh61) or do you want a neutral (or even complimentary) term? – chasly from UK Aug 24 '15 at 16:00
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    Given your context, “wimpy” or “wimpish” would be anachronistic, but they’d work in post-1965ish dialogues. – Papa Poule Aug 24 '15 at 16:12
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    I think that soft fits the context perfectly. :/ – Anonym Aug 24 '15 at 16:49
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    Would that be coarse? – Wayne Werner Aug 24 '15 at 17:59
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    I agree with @Anonym - in contemporary English, "you people are so soft" absolutely reads as negative or insulting. I can't say offhand whether it fits the period setting, though. – recognizer Aug 24 '15 at 20:36

20 Answers 20

23

How about delicate? Mealy-mouthed (from @Josh61 's answer) conveys what you want more precisely, but delicate has that soft negative connotation.

fragile; easily damaged; frail. From dictionary.com

An alternative if you don't like delicate could be squeamish:

easily nauseated or disgusted. From dictionary.com

  • Delicate could definitely work. – Ilanysong Aug 24 '15 at 16:15
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    Squeamish seems to be the best word, at least to my ear. – delliottg Aug 25 '15 at 16:33
  • @delliottg: this ought to be an answer. – Matthieu M. Aug 25 '15 at 18:05
  • Squeamish is not a synonym for soft... – insidesin Aug 26 '15 at 8:43
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    I would place delicate and squeamish in bold type, or embed the links in those two words instead of writing "From here" which means nothing really, or refer directly to the source by its name. – Mari-Lou A Aug 26 '15 at 10:37
10

"tender" has the connotation of being gentle and soft.

"Oh, you French people are so tender, just say that you're looking for something to kill the mouse with."

  • tender (adj) marked by, responding to, or expressing the softer emotions, showing care.
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    Reversed the drive-by downvote. No reason was given, and besides I like this answer :-) – EleventhDoctor Aug 24 '15 at 16:29
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    Not my downvote - but "tender" tends(!) to have a positive, or at least neutral, connotation (but the question asks for a negative one). – psmears Aug 25 '15 at 12:25
  • It depends on intonation. It can a negative connotation if it sounds like mockery. – Centaurus Aug 25 '15 at 16:13
9

One of the senses of precious may work:

  1. Affectedly dainty or overrefined: precious mannerisms.

{AHDEL}

though this obviously covers an affected attitude.

If the person is genuinely soft, the dialect term nesh would often be used conversationally in the UK:

nesh adjective

dialect

(Especially of a person) weak and delicate; feeble

{ODO}

  • Thanks for your suggestion. Though I agree that the dictionary definition works, "Precious" on its own would have too many other connotations and would confuse my readers. If I said "you French are so precious" - that could sound positive. I don't think too many people would know what "nesh" is. I need something more mainstream. – Ilanysong Aug 24 '15 at 16:18
  • @llanysong: Actually "precious" works really well here - a native speaker will understand perfectly from the context. Agree that "nesh" is a bit, well, niche... – psmears Aug 25 '15 at 12:28
  • Is nesh nicher than namby-pamby? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 25 '15 at 16:01
7

I think mealy-mouthed may fit in your context:

  • Afraid to speak frankly or straightforwardly: mealy-mouthed excuses. (ODO)
  • +1 for mealy-mouthed; you weren't first to mention it but you gave a definition and citation. – EleventhDoctor Aug 24 '15 at 15:34
  • Ah apologies; you were in fact first to answer; I just got confused! – EleventhDoctor Aug 24 '15 at 15:36
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    I don't know - it doesn't imply excessive softness, tenderness, etc. The idea is that "you guys need to be tougher". "Mealy-mouthed" sounds more like "wishy-washy" to me... – Ilanysong Aug 24 '15 at 16:14
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sentimental:

  • having or arousing feelings of tenderness, sadness or nostalgia, typically in an exaggerated or self-indulgent way (Defn. 1.1)

    [Source:ODO]

  • weakly emotional; mawkishly susceptible or tender (Defn. 3)

    [Source: Dictionary.com]

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    +1, especially for bringing mawkish to the table! – Papa Poule Aug 24 '15 at 18:19
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    Thanks @PapaPoule as you have found such a good definition for mawkish, please feel free to post as an answer, if you so wish:) – Julie Carter Aug 24 '15 at 18:24
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    Thanks, you're too kind, but I wasn't even sure of its meaning until looking it up after seeing it in your nice answer! (anyway, I've already given one 'great' answer and I certainly wouldn't want to attract all the positive attention it's getting away from it by adding another one!) – Papa Poule Aug 24 '15 at 18:53
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Dainty and Prissy come to mind.

Weak, Babies, Cowards would also definitely fit. Cowards would have historical context as the general view of the French by Germans of that time period. These of course are more straight insults instead of just implied ones.

Pussyfooted would also fit, though I am unsure how insulting this is historically.

MW: pussyfoot verb pussy·foot \ˈpu̇-sē-ˌfu̇t\
to avoid making a definite decision or stating a definite opinion because of fear, doubt, etc.

Finally minced as in mince words (mincing?)

Dictionary.com: mince [mins] verb
2. to soften, moderate, or weaken (one's words), especially for the sake of decorum or courtesy.
3. to perform or utter with affected elegance.
5. to walk or move with short, affectedly dainty steps.
6. Archaic. to act or speak with affected elegance.

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    Upvote for cowards as particularly appropriate and poetic within a Nazi-occupied France context, if you wish to emphasize this underlying point. – Nigel Touch Aug 25 '15 at 16:47
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I think squeamish is the adjective you're looking for, as in: "Oh, you French people are so squeamish, just say that you're looking for something to kill the mouse with."

Now whether or not there's a German word for squeamish might create a problem, but if you're writing in English, you'll get your point across appropriately.

If it were a loutish American shopkeeper, he might say: "Oh, you French people are such pussies, just say that you're looking for something to kill the mouse with."

  • The term squeamish was suggested by @Physics-Compute a day ago. – Mari-Lou A Aug 26 '15 at 6:35
  • I think that sqeamish is also a good possibility. I usually think of "squeamish" in the context of my wife whenever she sees an insect :). – Ilanysong Aug 26 '15 at 8:34
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Not sure if these are what you are looking for but "Limp", and "Shush" are what popped into my mind after first reading? :)

  • 2
    An answer without any supporting explanation or references is simply an opinion; I encourage you to edit your post to explain why you propose those terms, and to include examples, dictionary definitions, or other suitable links in support. Please take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance. – choster Aug 25 '15 at 3:05
  • I like limp... – aparente001 Aug 25 '15 at 23:02
3

If the speaker wants to imply that the listener is overly docile and caring. Perhaps verging towards being "girly" and cowardly then the noun sissy could well work.

Oh, you French people are sissies, just say that you're looking for something to kill the mouse with.

The fact that the German shopkeeper is saying this to a young French woman would make it, in my view, slightly less insulting than if the receiver were a male adult.

The Germans occupied France between 1940 and 1944, so it's important to use a derogatory term that would have been widely known and understood in that period. The abbreviation for sister, sis (n), was first recorded in the 1650s. From 1887 it became a derogatory expression, and as an adjective, sissy first appeared in print in 1891.

2

How about "effete"? It's not an exact synonym for soft, but it strongly suggests weakness and irresoluteness. Probably more suited when addressing a male though, since one of the connotations is effeminacy.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/effete

effete

adjective ef·fete \e-ˈfēt, i-\

lacking strength, courage, or spirit

resembling a woman

  • I like this one. It sounds snooty and refined, but that's not what it means at all. – Wayfaring Stranger Mar 3 '17 at 20:47
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Milky

From Oxford Dictionaries Online:

informal , dated

Weak and compliant: ‘they just talk that way to make you turn milky’

1

"Refined" or "genteel" would work.

"Genteel: Characterized by exaggerated or affected politeness, refinement, or respectability". http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/genteel. Originally "genteel" was used in a good sense, but in the 20th century it became ironic or deprecating.

Or, the German could use the French equivalent "gentil", which a non-French-speaking reader would probably understand.

Or, use the German "kultiviert." It sounds about right for a Nazi talking to the enemy, and non-German speakers would probably guess "cultivated" as a translation.

1

Why are you looking for a "soft" way for a person to tell people to not talk in "soft" ways? The shopkeeper may be telling the person to not talk "softly", but he's sure not fitting the part himself. Let the crude-ass shopkeeper be a crude-ass shopkeeper and call the person a pussy.

"Oh, you French people are such pussies, just say that you're looking for something to kill the mouse with."

Now his speech fits with how he's telling the other person to be. If "pussies" is a bit too much for you I guess you could go halfway with "pansies".

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    Hi Jimbo.. Essentially, this would work, but I don't think that this was how people talked in the 1940s. – Ilanysong Aug 24 '15 at 18:47
  • @JimboJonny - What gave you the impression the OP is looking for a soft way to give the message? Maybe I missed something. – aparente001 Aug 26 '15 at 16:00
  • @aparente001 - The example he gave, which was exactly as "soft" as the shopkeeper was supposedly telling the other person not to be. – Jimbo Jonny Sep 17 '15 at 15:09
  • @Ilanysong - I call bull. There were crass people in every period of history. Considering he's specifically telling the woman not to talk "soft", make him not a soft talker either. Fit the character's speech to his persona. What a boring read it would be to have a book where each character's speech patterns match the exact same preconceived notion of how people talked in a particular period. Make your characters individuals. – Jimbo Jonny Sep 17 '15 at 15:11
  • @JimboJonny - I agree, the guy should express himself rather crassly -- but I really don't see that the OP was looking with intention for soft expression. By the way, "I call bull" is the sort of phrase that tends not to go over big on StackEchange. – aparente001 Sep 18 '15 at 3:36
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My spouse, who is German, offered Weichei (soft-boiled egg). (Note, if you don't speak German, it might look a little less weird if we pretend there's a hyphen: Weich-ei. Literally, soft egg.)

I also looked at the all-English thesaurus for synonyms for wimp. I've picked out some words that I am hopeful are authentic for that time period (but I can't swear to it):

milksop "effeminate spiritless man," late 14c.; literal sense "piece of bread soaked in milk" attested late 15c. Perhaps this is too gendered.

namby-pamby "weakly sentimental, insipidly pretty," 1745.

cream puff In figurative sense of "weakling, sissy," it is recorded from 1935.

sissy Meaning "effeminate man" is recorded from 1887; the adjective in this sense is from 1891.

What I like about cream puff is that it goes with French cuisine. What I don't like about it is that it doesn't seem to fit with the coarseness you're after.

-- Edit -- Added what I found at the site recommended by Mari-Lou. I also checked some dictionaries and it seems milksop is indeed too gendered, but sissy is okay.

0

Probably not quite negative enough, but “you […] people are so vague, just say [what you mean and mean what you say] that you're looking for something to kill the mouse with" could work.

Vague/adjective/#5: (of persons) not clear or definite in thought, understanding, or expression: (Dictionary[dot]com)

0

euphemism

1.

the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vagueexpression for one thought to be offensive,harsh, or blunt.

2.

the expression so substituted: “To passaway” is a euphemism for “to die.”.

I believe euphemistic works

  • technically yes, but in this context ? A shopkeeper who'd say "French people are so euphemistic". I'm not sure. – P. O. Aug 24 '15 at 18:57
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How about flaccid:

flac·cid

lacking force or effectiveness. "the flaccid leadership campaign was causing concern"

synonyms: lackluster, lifeless, listless, uninspiring, unanimated, tame, dull, vapid

"his play seemed flaccid"

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    I'm not sure this fits what the OP was looking for. OP is looking for a pejorative term that would say the French are, basically, too timid to discuss killing a mouse. – ewormuth Aug 25 '15 at 1:48
  • @ewormuth You should add "timid" as an proper answer – Flambino Aug 25 '15 at 12:56
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'Soft' seems perfect here, but let me mention the relatively obscure/ dialect word 'nesh'.

Its main current meaning is "sensitive to cold", i.e. not sufficiently hardy to cope with the English weather.

However, it does also have a use in terms of being timid or generally weak.

It has been deemed fit to deserve its own Wikipedia page.

0

"Oh, you French people are so soft, just say that you're looking for something to kill the mouse with."

My favourite word here would be mushy.

Definition of mushy in English:
adjective (mushier, mushiest)

1 Soft and pulpy:
'mushy vegetables'

2 informal Excessively sentimental:
'a mushy film'
'Unfortunately, it seems as if he has a compulsion to negate those brilliant pieces by introducing ill advised mushy sentimentality.'

Reference:
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/mushy

0

Although it is not a direct synonym, the work pathetic would work quite well in that instance. It implies a deep level of disdain, which it looks like you are trying to convey in your sentence.

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