Plain person

Daniel López

Senior Member
Spanish
If you say that a girl, woman, man, person, etc. is plain, are you implying a)lack of attractiveness, b)simplicity or C)ugliness?

I guess it may depend on the context, as we have a similar expression in Spanish that in just in the boundary of "average/normal" and "vulgar, ugly, common".

By the way, "commmon" has also a similar ambiguity, both in English and Spanish. And has to be dealt with very tactfully and in a clear context.
The real trouble is that quite often the context is not clear enough, it´s weak, or there´s no context at all: just a statement to be interpreted.

So, "She is a plain girl/woman/man" is a compliment, something neutral, a derogatory adjective; or doest it all depend on the context?(if there is any, as it usually happens).

And how would you would feel about it if you were the person so qualified?

Tanks in advance for your help.
 
Last edited:
  • Mahantongo

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    To call a woman "plain" means that her appearance is not particularly interesting, attractive, or beautiful. It is not the same thing as saying she is actually ugly, but it certainly is not complimentary.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I would say that "She's a plain girl" probably implies either A or C. "Simplicity" isn't exactly the meaning I would take from that. ("She's a plain man" has other interesting implications, but those might be off-topic.) Context will decide - is it said with a smile, or with a sneer?

    I wouldn't personally like to be described as "plain."

    That being said, I could imagine a context in which "plainness" would be seen as a positive quality - it could be seen as positive through comparison with people who care too much about their appearance. I could also see something like "She was a plain farmer's wife, with the same blank beauty as the prairies that surrounded her."
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Difficult question, Daniel!

    I'd say that
    (1) plain is used more of women than of men: I'd be slightly puzzled by "he is plain"/"he is a plain man";
    (2) If you call a woman "plain", you're saying that she's not pretty - though you're not saying that she's ugly.

    It's not a compliment:(.

    If someone called me "plain", I'd be hurt, I think - even though I never have been "pretty"...

    (multiply-cross-posted!:D)
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I too would only use the word 'plain' to describe a woman. And I would normally be describing an unattractive woman (unattractive to my - female - mind;)) who has nothing special about her, but who is not necessarily ugly.

    That said, as Daniel mentions, context is everything, because we can of course use it as a euphemism. If I were to talk about a plain, plump woman, I may just be being polite: I could well mean that she's fat and ugly.;)
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I think the Amish are very happy to be called "plain", and Jacob (in Genesis) was "a plain man". As used nowadays it is not a compliment, though nor is it really derogatory. "Vulgar" and "common" are not associated with being plain; an aristocratic and well-dressed woman could still be plain.

    (I'm sure you have an interesting face Loob)
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I think the Amish are very happy to be called "plain", and Jacob (in Genesis) was "a plain man".
    That's actually a good point. There are contexts in which "plain folk" can mean "simple people" in an entirely neutral or even positive way. But in a sentence like "She's a plain girl," I wouldn't readily understand "plain" in that way.
     

    Daniel López

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I would say that "She's a plain girl" probably implies either A or C. "Simplicity" isn't exactly the meaning I would take from that. ("She's a plain man" has other interesting implications, but those might be off-topic.)






    Thanks for your quick and many answers.

    I gather that "plain" belongs to that group of word like "commmon, simple, just a, average..." which are present in probably most languages and are the opposite of "outstanding, extra..."

    Lucas-sp has an interesting point: In English, when you think of "plain", "girl/woman" immediately come to your mind; and "a plain boy/man" has other nuances. The reason is sexism. In Spanish, however, these terms apply to wealth, social status, prestige, skill, intelligence...but not really to beauty: indeed there´s no distinction when used referring to women or men. That may be the reason why this word is particularly tricky to me: we don´t have an exact equivalent for "plain" in Spanish, but we get a basic concept ("plain" comes from Latin).
     
    Last edited:
    Top