Rhiannon Harries: What is sexy? Well it isn't kitchen appliances, cars or 'that' word

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The Independent Online

Victoria's Secret, the American purveyor of scanty lingerie and male fantasies, has just put out a video on the net purporting to answer that question of our time: "What is sexy?" I know, a worry, isn't it? The terminally unimaginative need not fear, however: Brit model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and a couple of her fellow brand ambassadors are on hand to explain.

With all the charisma you might expect of a table leg, Rosie informs us that, this year, it's all about "bumshells". Don't worry, before you disappear into a spiral of insecurity-fuelled Googling as I did, that's actually "bombshells" in a west London-meets-NY drawl.

We then get a disparate list of body parts and personality traits belonging to female celebs that are judged to be superlatively sexy by persons unknown at Victoria's Secret. Cutie-pie country singer Taylor Swift bizarrely gets "sexiest hair" for her twee perm-a-like (if Kanye wants to tell her Beyoncé deserved it more, I'm with him on this one), while Ellen DeGeneres gets a condescending little pat for "sexiest sense of humour".

In two minutes 20 seconds, the word "sexy" or "sexiest" is repeated 22 times – so impoverished is the vocab, in fact, that people are included in the "sexiest" list, because they are "sexy". In fairness, it's hard to avoid the term under these circumstances, particularly given how regularly it now crops up. Cars are sexy, kitchen appliances are sexy. Even the odd sofa is considered deserving of the epithet.

At the root of it is the dubious modern coincidence between sex and consumer culture, but that's another can of worms; my problem is simply with the word itself. In the same way that ubiquitous adjectives such as "cool" and "edgy" limply fail to embody the quality to which they are supposed to refer, to describe something as "sexy" nowadays evokes not even a hint of seduction or sensuousness.

It was a combination of factors that really did for the word in my book. Paris Hilton, on whose tongue the English language goes to die, crystallised its inanity by making it one of her catchphrases. Then there were all those jowly male restaurant critics who began to take a far-too palpable pleasure in lustily describing a plate of offal as such. Cringe.

I think, however, what finally did for it was witnessing a major political scandal unfold around a "sexed-up" dossier and hearing everyone from Blair to Paxman comment, in all seriousness, upon just how "sexy" it really was. Perhaps the Victoria's Secret gals, experts as they are, ought to be the ones to judge?