Behind the Dictionary

Lexicographers Talk About Language

"Dadbod": A Word That Let Itself Go... All Over the Internet

It's a little early to know what the 2015 Word of the Year will be, but I'd say we have a contender: dadbod (or dad bod). After appearing in an essay by Mackenzie Pearson, this term went viral, then nuclear, then possibly intergalactic. Dadbod has become so commonly used that I wouldn't be surprised if, somewhere near the Mars Rover, the term is validating the flabby physiques of retired Martian warlords.

Dadbod has been around at least as long as 2009, based on the earliest mention in Urban Dictionary. As for what it is, this oft-quoted description by Pearson should be comforting to all guys on the schlub spectrum, regardless of their parental status: "The dad bod is a nice balance between a beer gut and working out. The dad bod says, 'I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.'" From there, the term set the Internet aflame, because the word touched a nerve (and because the Internet is the most flammable thing ever).

Like any newly popular word, dadbod has spawned variations. A Defamer article by Jordan Sargent coined an opposite term: "In the great American debate over which version of Chris Pratt—dadbod or rippedbod—is hotter, the winner is clear: of the just over 20,000 votes, 61 percent went to rippedbod, making dadbod something like the Walter Mondale of body types."

In Patheos, Reba Riley coined several humorous alternative: "While college girls may want the Dad Bod today, their tastes will inevitably change tomorrow. Next week they'll want the Merman Bod, The Genie Bod, or maybe even the Grandad Bod." This is all a set-up to a punchline pooch-lovers will appreciate: the dog bod. As Riley puts it, "The Dad Bod says, 'I drink beer and eat 8 slices of pizza'. The Dog Bod says, 'I will eat anything you drop on the floor.'"

But the most common variation used in the post-dadbod frenzy is mombod—though it hasn't been used quite as humorously. Mostly, mombod has a different purpose: pointing out the ludicrous body standards imposed on women, as opposed to the squishy celebration of imperfect male bodies embodied by dadbod. On The Daily Show, Kristen Schaal surgically skewered dadbodism by pointing out, "We're already obsessed with mom bods—or at least how fast moms can get rid of them."

As Schaal shows, the closest female equivalent to dadbod is the antonym momshell: a celebration of celebumoms who have lost their pregnancy weight in an inconceivably fast time. So women are praised for looking like they didn't give birth, while men are praised for looking like they could. As a hashtag, #mombod has also been used by women to celebrate and document the real bodies of mothers.

Like anything earnest, mombod has led to jokes too, like Heidi Butler tweeting: "I don't want #mombod to be a thing due to a general fear of someone telling me I have it." In a tweet, Laura Fitzpatrick coined a term that may soon fit my own corporeal form: "I'm over the #MomBod and #DadBod talk. When are we going to discuss #BurritoBod, AM I RIGHT?" Another tweeter coined an inevitable word for another non-intimidating body standard: "I'm ready for when grandmom bod starts being a thing." Aren't we all?

Bod has had several uses over the years that sound darn odd today. Since at least the 1920s, it's been a word for not just a body, but a person, as in "There were a lot of bods in the gazebo." A bod could also be a corpse, as in this 1933 use from Richard Strachey's Many Happy Returns: "The Red, the White and the Blue is unfurled and covers the dead bod, the corpse of a grocer given for England."

Green's Dictionary of Slang shows that bod started to take on a sexually appealing meaning in the 1940s, which might have something to do with its use in two common terms: beach bod and bikini bod (plus of course dadbod). The sexual meaning—and sexist purpose—of bod can be seen in recent headlines like "Courteney Cox Flaunts Toned Bikini Bod…" (Us Magazine) and "Jessica Simpson Shows Off Her Killer Bod in New Swimwear Promo" (Life & Style Weekly). With headlines like that, plus momshell nonsense, it's hard not to see bod as a double-edged sword that cuts women down while cutting men slack.

It's also hard not to see dadbod and its hoopla as deeply stupid. According to my secret decoder ring, a dadbod is simply the typical body of a dude. So what's the biggie? Dadbod feels unnecessary in the same way as normcore, a regrettable term for regular clothes as fashion items. What's next after dadbod? Normbod? Bodbod? Gag me with a bod.

Also, is it really news that many women (and men) are attracted to men with a less than perfect physique? And is it also news that—gasp!—many, many people are attracted to women who don't resemble giraffe-ish fembots? Media standards for women's bodies are unquestionably bonkers, but real people don't tend to be as Cuckoo for Supermodel Puffs. After all, if people weren't attracted to people with mombod, dadbod, and even catastrophebod, how would the majority of the world's couples happen? (I can hear Jerry Seinfeld's punchline in my head: Alcohol.)

Lexical interest aside, the dadbod hype is a good reminder that our various "news" sources and Internet outrage producers have little to do with actual life on Earth. Outside the mediaverse, most of us are just plain ol' bods (in the sense of people) with plain ol' bods (in the sense of bodies).

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Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore." Click here to read more articles by Mark Peters.

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Comments from our users:

Friday May 22nd 2015, 11:23 PM
Comment by: The Poet (Kellogg, IA)
Badbod goes without saying, modbod for those that change it, radbod for those that change to far,
Saturday May 23rd 2015, 6:40 PM
Comment by: Michael Lydon (New York, NY)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
What about sadbod, for those flabby guys who have stopped trying? Or ladbod for guys still trim in their 60s? Radbod for guys who look like weightlifters?
Tuesday May 26th 2015, 12:42 PM
Comment by: Wood F.
Finding it hard to believe that "dadbod" is really a thing, lexicographically. That tiny scrap by Mackenzie Pearson went globally viral? Wow, our standards are low.

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