Have you ever seen a movie trailer and gotten the impression the film was made exclusively for you, using a list of favorite things Hollywood must have scooped from the recesses of your mind? I mean, your perfect movie. The movie you would make if you were a filmmaker, based on your favorite book and starring your dream cast? Directed by your favorite director, this film features your #1 celebrity crush, doing an artsy nude scene in your most beloved visual style.
You buy the poster and hang it over your bed; it even matches your décor. After you wait as long as a human being with a 21st-century attention span could possibly stand, the movie premieres. You wait in line to see it on opening night … and you hate it. It crushes your expectations into a bitter ball of disappointment by sucking in every possible way (except the fun one). Has that ever happened to you?
If so, you’ll understand my reaction to the word “smexy.” I should love smexy, but I can’t. The portmanteau word is like a hideous chimera made from two beautiful species of animals that never should have mated.
“Smexy” is a combination of “smart” and “sexy.” Smart is good. Sexy is good. Put the two together, and you should have something beautiful, something that embraces all that deep-thinking individuals find sexually desirable. Everybody wants to be sexy and smart, right? If we didn’t, then “dumb fuck” would be a compliment.
But something went wrong in the hybridization process, kinda like The Fly on a linguistic level. Somehow, the word “smexy” itself seems neither smart nor sexy. It manages to be a gnarly-sounding word from the ass end of the dictionary.
Scary, Scary Dictionary
I turn to my trusty Random House to help explain why my ears can’t get used to the bastard child of smart and sexy. If smexy were here, it would fall on the page with the guidewords “smallpox/smoke.” You’re in some shady company when you’re hanging out with smallpox.
If smexy were here, it would fall precisely between “smelter” and “smidgen.” Smidgen’s not so bad; it has a cooking-show flavor, as in “Add a smidgen of cardamom to your vanilla pudding.” Smidgen could even be delicious. Likewise, I have nothing against smelters, or anyone otherwise employed in the metallurgic arts. To my ancient Irish ancestors, smiths enjoyed the patronage of the great fire-goddess Brighid, and for the love of Brighid I could even love the word “smelter.”
What makes my inner ear cringe is the first part of the word: smelt. Smelt – the shiny silver fish, lying neatly decapitated in heaps at the nearest seafood counter … or bait shop. Smelt have never appealed to me as a food, looking like something on the menu at a zoo’s penguin exhibit. Their name is murder on the ears, with connotations of smells. Unpleasant smells. Fishy smells.
You put “smell” and “sex” in the same sentence, much less the same word, and you return to the age-
old debate over whether vaginas smell like fish.
The “sm” digraph reminds me of another word: smack. A well-timed smack on the ass can be a welcome thing, but smack has another meaning. Random House defines it thus: “to close and open (the lips) smartly so as to produce a sharp sound.” (That’s smart 10, “sharp and stinging,” not smart 5, “bright and clever.”) Smack as onomatopoeia refers to one of the most obnoxious sounds in the mammalian vocabulary, which is why Kellogg’s Honey Smacks is the worst-named breakfast cereal of all time. The word is reminiscent of cows chewing the cud – not to mention its associations with heroin. Don’t listen to the 1990s, kids – there’s nothing chic about heroin. Infected track marks are so not smexy.
Like Aloha, a Word of Many Uses
It may not have hit Random House yet, but people are using “smexy” in positive ways. The romance novel review blog SmexyBooks.com wears the newly-minted word proudly, as if to say, “Of course we’re smart. We’re reading books, aren’t we?” SmexyAsians.com has another good idea: an aggregation of videos portraying Asians/Asian-American/Asian-Canadian men and women as both sexy and smart. Wikihow’s “How to Look Smexy” page is full of sound, sensible advice.
“Smexy” has a secondary usage, standing for “sexy and Mexican.” Plenty of things are sexy about Mexican culture, from mole poblano to Salma Hayek to Michael Trevino. Again, a perfectly useful and benevolent coinage. According to Urban Dictionary, this is one of the oldest usages of smexy, dating from 2004.
Within Urban Dictionary, smexy has another, sneakier usage: it’s a way of sneaking “sexy” into chatrooms and other online forums that don’t allow the word. Part of me is concerned about predators stalking kids’ chatrooms. The subversive in me, however, applauds the cleverness of young people figuring out how to voice their opinions around an overly-authoritarian Internet restriction.
The Smexy Life Cycle
I’m no etymologist, but in my amateur opinion, a neologism like “smexy” generally goes through several stages:
1. No one over the age of 14 uses it.
2. No one over the age of 24 uses it.
3. As soon as someone over the age of 24 uses it, the word suffers a massive loss of popularity
among its original users.
4. CBS Evening News does a folksy human-interest piece about it.
5. A struggling country music artist pens a novelty song around it. It hits the Top 40, catalyzing
the artist’s career and ensuring that the world remains firmly ensconced in the American
vocabulary. Wherever there’s a digital music library, there you shall find smexy. It’ll be in Dick
So there you have it – smexy isn’t likely to go anywhere any time soon, especially once Nashville gets a hold of it. I bet it sounds even worse when sung than it does inside my head. Go ahead – try a verse of “Smexy Back” in a Justin Timberlake voice. Justin might call it a vocabulary malfunction.
Maybe smexy is an acquired taste, like Miles Fisher’s cover of the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.” The first time I watched it on YouTube in 2010, I loved the Texan actor/singer’s homage to American Psycho, but didn’t care much for the ‘80s-style electronica of the song. After repeated viewings, the song started to grow on me, and I eventually took the video up on its offer of a free download. A year and a half later, I can listen to the original or the Thousandaire remix four times in a row and enjoy it more each time.
I hope smexy grows on me like that. I love sexy and I love smart, so I want to wish them a long and happy marriage. Their baby’s going through an awkward phase, but maybe she’ll grow out of it.
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