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Soliciting opinions/interpretations

What does the word "plain" mean to you, when used in literature as a descriptor of a person's appearance? (edited to specify)

(Yes, there's a reason I'm asking. All will be made clear -- or at least I'll give it a good shot -- in a forthcoming blog post.)

[Edited again to remove "Sorry" boxes. See this news post for more.]


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
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Sep. 21st, 2009 08:45 pm (UTC)
In literature, like Jane Austen-y kind, I take it to mean ugly but not deformed, but of a high enough social status that people won't actually call the person ugly, at least not to his/her face.
Sep. 21st, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
Not pretty, but not homely either. For me, it connotes someone who fades into the background, so I guess it's somewhat linked to personality as well.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 21st, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC)
Appearance of person, or of a thing (e.g., a plain table)? I'd usuaslly just think something like 'unadorned' for either; for the former, probably someone unexceptional of appearance.
Sep. 21st, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
By "appearance," do you mean "looks"? In that case: not beautiful, not notably ugly. Just... plain. Medium. Non-descript. (My first mental image was the woman in the American Gothic painting, but upon viewing it I realize she's not really plain -- there's something striking about her.)
Sep. 21st, 2009 09:06 pm (UTC)
"Non-descript? I've never heard a woman called that unless she was a robbery suspect." - Shawn from Psych

Just had to share. :D
Sep. 21st, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
Unremarkable - forgettable. Blends into the surroundings both by looks and personality.
Sep. 21st, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
Doesn't stand out in a room full of ordinary-looking people, and doesn't want to.

Sep. 21st, 2009 09:27 pm (UTC)
I think it may differ between 20th/21st (trending toward "simple, undecorated") and 18th/19th (trending toward "unattractive, ugly") century literature. Hadn't thought about that before.

For me, a "plain" character (is usually female) registers as on the unattractive side of average; neither attractive nor monstrously ugly; with no particularly distinguishing features. (If the person had very distinguishing features, those would be invoked instead of "plain," my brain assumes.) Novels usually distinguish between the plain and the beautiful, not between the plain and the ugly.

A plain heroine is always marked by her "spirit" instead of her looks. Don't get me started on "spirited" heroines... not while I'm at work. ;-) And back to it I go...! :-)
Sep. 21st, 2009 09:29 pm (UTC)
When used for an inanimate object, I take it to mean unadorned and simple. No additions, nothing fancy, just a "basic model".

When used to describe a person (specifically a woman), I would take it to mean neither pretty nor ugly, just... there.
Sep. 21st, 2009 09:34 pm (UTC)
I agree with the majority opinion- a plain heroine is usually one who doesn't stand out in looks and is a little non-descript. I think that "plain" also suggests that the character doesn't think highly of their own appearance and chooses not to wear the kind of clothes or hairstyle that would stand out. She could probably be more attractive with nicer accessories, but doesn't have the kind of outgoing demeanor that makes people think of her as extremely attractive.

Plenty of famously seductive women (Anne Boleyn, Cleopatra) could have been perceived as plain if they had a less attention-getting personality and less desire to be beautiful.
Sep. 21st, 2009 09:40 pm (UTC)
For appearance of things (buildings, pieces of furniture): simple, unadorned or undecorated, underfurnished if it's a room

For the appearance of a person: I always imagine a person who blends in, who doesn't stand out, both in looks and demeanor when I see the word "plain" used to describe someone's appearance.
Sep. 21st, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
Ordinary. No facial feature, like brightly colored eyes or full lips or high cheek bones, that makes the person's face memorable.
Sep. 21st, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
Not reading other comments first, so sorry for duplication, but to me it means "no outstanding feature". It's a lot dependent on the time the story is set, but, generally, I'd think of a "plain woman" as being someone who kept themselves clean and reasonably dressed, of "average" numbers (height, weight), but didn't try to be "fancy". Little to no makeup, little to no hair-styling, not extroverted, somewhat introverted but not so painfully so to cause that to be the defining characteristic. She'd be describe as 'plain' if no other adjectives really apply, though I generally think that someone plain probably also lacks in self-confidence.

A plain person can undergo a makeover and become something more than plain. Make-up/wardrobe can make a huge difference with a plain person, but I think it's also something inside as well. A bit of extroversion, perhaps, the willingness to smile, to shine.

(Deleted comment)
Sep. 21st, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
Features that look ordinary. They don't stand out as beautiful, nor do they stand out as ugly. Usually goes with hair that is worn in a simple (not-fussy) style. For some reason, I associate plain with a face clear of make-up as well.

I would call Gwen from Torchwood plain.
Sep. 21st, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC)
An unremarkable person with no positive or negative features that are prominent. I usually pictured the character as pale with washed out coloring in the books I've read where it was a description of someone (and generally a white british woman).
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