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The Compliment Translator

I’ve spoken about compliments before. Receiving them, giving them out, the ultimate compliment, and so on and so forth. Compliments are important, not because they help raise self-esteem, but because when we receive just the right one, they make our day. I know how good it feels to receive a compliment, but I know the greater joy is in giving one to a woman who upon hearing it, smiles so deeply I can tell her face is going to stay like that for the rest of the day.

But the question remains, how do we give them out? There is an art in compliment giving, as I’ve said before, as Esquire once wrote an entire article about. One specific rule of thumb I apply is to be specific when giving out a compliment. I don’t like the umbrella types of compliments where I’m acknowledging everything about a woman. I mean, she could be fine with ashy elbows. Who knows? So, instead, if I see she’s wearing some flashy accessory, I acknowledge that accessory. If I like the way she’s walking, I might say something about her walk. Fly hat? “Fly hat.”

But as a lady friend of mine recently pointed out, sometimes specifics can do more harm than good. If a woman just got her hair done, and I’m complimenting her shirt, what’s that say?

With this logic applied, sometimes the umbrella compliments, ones like “Hey beautiful,” or “You’re pretty,” are our best bet. What’s left to figure out is what umbrella compliment do I apply? I’ve thought about this for a couple of weeks, and I finally have what I like to call  the compliment translator.

Below, a break down of the most general compliments men give and what they might mean.



“You’re cute,” is intended to be harmless. The only time a man says anything is cute is when he sees a baby, not a grown woman, but if he does say it to a grown woman, she usually looks younger than her years or, in some cases, she’s not grown at all. I honestly get the feeling R. Kelly called that girl he made that video with (allegedly!) cute, which is why I stay away from these words as much as I can.



I have never felt 100 percent comfortable letting these two words fly from my mouth. They sound, I don’t know, too feminine. Women call other women pretty. Men should never say it, but if they do, know this: A man says his mom or sister are pretty, so if they say a stranger is pretty, it’s not to say they want to do much beyond the compliment. Pretty is hollow and general.



Lately, I’ve met quite a few women who have met the “You’re sexy” compliment with a healthy dose of indifference and skepticism. As my lady friend told me (the same one who broke down the minuses of specific compliments), there are plenty of women men call sexy but aren’t attractive in the least bit. They’re just wearing a shirt with a deep v-neck or have on some tight jeans. She has a point. Another point I would like to make is strippers are sexy too, which is not to say all sexy women look like strippers, it’s just to say strippers get the same compliment, and that’s just a coincidence. Because I notice most are now seeing through the “You’re sexy” compliment, I am starting to say it less, and when I say less, I mean, only when I see her in her underwear.



Old people, men especially, have this thing where anything they think is really good, gets praised by repeating exactly what that thing is with emphasis (read louder). If they have a slice of pie, and they really like the slice of pie, they say, “NOW THAT’S A SLICE OF PIE!” If they see a good catch in a football game, they say, “NOW THAT’S A GOOD CATCH!” So when a fine woman walks by, one who catches the eye of everybody she passes, she will know who the oldest guy in the bunch is because all he’s going to say is, “THAT’S A WOMAN!”



I wonder when “fine” evolved from meaning just okay to WOW. Whoever thought of doing such a thing should be paid royalties every time another man uses it. I meet fine women often. I have no idea how women feel about being told they’re fine, but to me, this is the safest way to go. “You’re fine” could stand alone, with nothing more said, or it can be a gateway into a conversation. “You’re fine,” gives me room to make the next move or no move at all. Either way, she still knows exactly what I think. It’s direct, with no pretense. That’s why I say it.



A lot of men say this, few men actually mean it. Here’s how a woman can tell a man means it when he says, “You’re beautiful.” A beautiful woman makes a man stop what he’s doing, and asks his friends, “How do I look?” If no friends are around, the man looks for a reflection and gives himself a once-over. A beautiful woman makes a man stand up and say something to her not for the world to hear, just for her ears only. A beautiful woman makes a man tell stories about her off sight alone, like the one about the beautiful woman who kept walking past him and merely smiled and said “Thank you” when he told her she was beautiful, or the one about how he met this beautiful woman right here on his arm, the one he’s introducing to all his friends.

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  • Alana

    I feel like I just got alot of insight into the typical mans brain,thanx Mr.Cummings I needed this!

  • RtG

    This one made me laugh out loud. The first three are ON POINT! I hate when a man I’m not exclusively dating calls me sexy. It’s creepy. Calling me beautiful always works, though.

  • Ebbie

    This is good! Yes, I agree when a man say “you’re sexy”. He wants you and wants to get down. LOL! However, being told that you are a Woman. Yes, the older mature men recognize her from miles away. The not ready boys recognize her also but know not to step up to her because they aint ready. It takes a real, older man,and a mature man to recognize a woman. 🙂

  • SweeTeree

    @RTG I agree. What’s even worse is being called sexy by a total stranger. It’s totally creepy. Beautiful is the best compliment anyone could give b/c it usually it goes beyond the surface- complimenting both inner and outer beauty.

  • Sean C.

    What about “you’re sweet?”

  • B.P.

    This was far more cerebral and less crazy than I expected. You cleaned it up very well Jozen. And the translations are pretty much on point.

  • Obi Okere

    Interesting post…As a man I rarely go with surface compliments like “your pretty” or “your beautiful” unless I really mean it. Beautiful women get that compliment 20 times a day. I don’t want to be #21. I’m more likely to compliment the outfit and the components of the outfit that makes it look good.

    Obi Okere

  • B

    I love when a man compliments my glasses; I refuse to switch to contacts as a result.

    Great Post!

  • Sabrina

    I’m not sure why, but the last paragraph…”You’re Beautiful” really made me rethink the way men compliment me. I’m a model, so I hear different things from different men. I’ve only heard “you’re beautiful” from my Father, and maybe one other person I’ve been in a relationship with. This makes me wonder… Was I just “pretty” or “sexy” to the other guys I’ve dated? I’ve only heard them use those words…Should I only date guys who think I’m “beautiful” from now on? This post has got me thinking…

  • **inquiring mind**

    hmmm… while those related to appearances are welcomed, I always found the biggest compliment to be when a guy genuinely just wants to spend time with me, like just kick it on some homeboy type stuff. That ALWAYS makes me blush and feel really warm inside- far more than the typical “you’re hot/beautiful/gorgeous/blah blah blah” ever did… maybe this doesn’t really qualify considering everything listed is something said, but for me anyway actions speak far louder.

  • Frankie1882

    Thanks for the insight. Makes the last 2 compliments I got really nauseating.

    An ex said I was cute, he showed me a “celebrity” he thinks is cute, I gagged.

    This dude decided to pump my gas for me, and told me I was fine, and pretty, and how he loved “pretty big girls,” all in the same convo. I couldn’t get away fast enough, and I certainly didn’t give him my number.

  • Alisha

    Thanks for clearing the “sexy” compliment up. I’ve been saying for the longest that it really means the desire to have sex with someone. It’s even in the dictionary. Lol. A man or woman can have a sexy factor about them, but they can still be unattractive. Hence, why you see quite a few unattractive folks with mates. There has to be something else there besides the surface.

    I like the beautiful compliment the best though. It always brightens my day, even if I’m not interested in the guy who gave it.

  • dbaby11

    great post

  • Nix

    I think “you’re sweet” is like a pat on the head. It’s like saying “You’re CUTE, now please go away.”

  • Nix

    I love when a many geniunely compliments my eyes. So I refuse to go back to my glases as a result.

  • Tea

    “If they have a slice of pie, and they really like the slice of pie, they say, ‘NOW THAT’S A SLICE OF PIE!'”

    I can’t stop laughing because of this quote. Great post!

  • Meesha

    The worst is when you get a compliment like this; you are pretty…for a big girl
    I mean WTF? So big girls aren’t supposed to be pretty? lol

  • akreporter

    I have to agree with the other ladies, beautiful really does reign supreme, also I’ve always been told that “fine” referrs to the body and the body alone. So somebody could be fine (in the body) but not pretty or cute (in the face). Not to say that you can’t be both, but when someone says I’m fine, I tend to think of it just like I’m sexy. You get the picture. By the way Jozen do you ever join these discussions? Do you even read them or do you just post and run? LOL!

  • Esqin

    Great post, one compliment that got left out that I’m curious about is, “You’re gorgeous”. Does this fall into the same category as “you’re beautiful”?

  • christina


  • Meisha

    I love being called beautiful/gorgeous. It shines on my inner/outer beauty & just plain ole makes me feel good & feminine. I’ve been call sexy and always thought, ‘aww you just want some’ but kindly always accepted to compliment. There are so many women out there and so few compliments from our men. I’ve just learned to accept them as they come. But…. as Obi said, I hear it everyday even when I dont want to. Paying attention to little subtle details like a new outfit or shoes and compliment my inner/outer beauty makes me feel on top of the world. Loved this post.

  • physician assistant

    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!