“Fat.” There, I Said It.

I have two copies of the first book in The Bobbsey Twins series. One is a 1961 edition, and the other is from 1989. My kids and I found, while reading along with these two versions, that an adjective from the nicknames of the youngest set of Bobbsey twins had been removed. Flossie is nicknamed “my fat little fairy” by her father, and Fred has the loving epitaph, “fat little fireman.” “Fat” was completely missing in the 1989 version.

“The Bobbsey twins were very busy that morning. They were all seated around the dining-room table, making houses and furnishing them…” By Carla Pettigrew Hufstedler [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
After the kids and I discovered this, we had a good laugh. The connotation of “fat” in the U.S. is much different from its harmless meaning fifty years ago. How about centuries ago? Wasn’t fatness a desired quality during the Renaissance? One risked being considered impoverished and easily susceptible to disease without a healthy display of bulk.

My kids are slender. They are all good eaters, but I have a child who tends to lose weight easily when she’s sick. I’m always trying to plump her up with cheese and spoonfuls of peanut butter. She often requests to melt the peanut butter with chocolate chips. That works for me.

Sometimes she will ask me if a food she enjoys will help her get fat.

“Mom, are these Kippers good for making me fat?”

“Mom, can we get those Little Debbie domino brownies at the store?”

I can’t stand those.

She knows it, so she adds, “I think they will help me get fat.”

In our fat-phobic society, a nickname like “my fat little fairy” or “my fat little fireman” is tottering on abusive language. If you use a similar phrase as a term of endearment, you might be blamed for your child’s years of therapy. So, don’t do that. Just stick to something noncommittal, like “nice” or “sweet.”

What about using “fat” as a writer? Do you find you avoid certain words and phrases merely because they could be offensive to that reader whose pet pug is going to need a dog whisperer because you didn’t think anything of naming your main character’s dog Pudgy Purple Pug? Or have you ever wondered what harmless adjectives, names, or even ideals might be offensive in later years?

No, never.

I don’t either. Not at all.

Author: Rilla Z

I'm a scribbler. I write about this world, the worlds inside my head, and the world to come.

11 thoughts on ““Fat.” There, I Said It.”

  1. My most recent novel deals with the topic of fat-shaming and bullying (among other things), so I do use the word ‘fat’ a lot. But my character who is trying to effect positive change in the area avoids using it, and I make a point of showing this.

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    1. Bullying is a prevalent topic for novels, nonfic, and blog posts, so it sounds like you’ve chosen a topic that sells. You know I’m anti-bullying and have had experiences with bullying myself. That said, I think our society is attempting to squash the symptoms without getting to the root of why bullying is such a problem. This concerns me for the innocent.

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  2. Hi Rilla: OY! I read this yesterday, and had something very specific to say. When I got to this comment section and begin typing, it went right out of my head. Forgetfulness – casualty of old age. T/f I saved the e-mail & thought, I’ll read it again tomorrow & maybe I’ll remember what I wanted to say. Uh….no such luck. I think it’s gone for good. Anyway, it is amazing how times change isn’t it. You are so right – 50, 100 years ago “fat” was so acceptable, & yes you would have been somewhat like a pauper to be thin. I do avoid abusive language in my writing, but I have 2 manuscripts that are time dated – 1956 & 1960. Both of them have some specific language. It was hard typing them, but those were the times. Great piece.

    Veronica

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  3. I am conscious of word choices—for similar reasons I just made on another blog post regarding my characters being religious or not. And in both cases, the decision in part is to not have readers be sidetracked by something that isn’t a crucial element of the story or character. Since my books don’t focus on potentially controversial issues, I try to avoid anything that might be interpreted that way.

    Linguistic and cultural changes are a fascinating study. What would a 15-year-old today make of the phrase, “The Gay ‘Nineties”? Words will change meaning. Cultural mores will shift. We can only imagine what might happen to some of the words we use today!

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  4. I try to always look past the word, and find the intent behind it. In fact, my next blog post will be about this very topic. When I recently used the word deaf in a conversation, my daughter, who teaches third-grade, corrected me. “It’s hearing-impaired,” she said. I don’t really see the difference. Both terms describe an ability that’s absent, with one doing it in a single syllable, while the other uses four. Neither is intended to be abusive or offensive. Meanwhile, our language is becoming watered-down and lifeless. Do you worry about that?

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