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Old 09-26-2009, 04:07 PM
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Why Are Stupid-Looking People Stupid?

Recently I've read of studies where ordinary people were shown to beable to discern from simply looking at a person's photograph whether or not that person was gay/lesbian or whether their personality was aggressive or docile.

Is there any similar research whereby people have been shown to have the ability to assess a person's intelligence solely by their facial appearance? I've noticed that stupid-looking people, invariably, turn out to be rather dim.

I've noticed that there is a distinct facial appearance that is associated with being stupid, however it's not entirely clear to me whether this is due to their inherent facial structure or simply an observed facial expression.

Thanks.
Old 09-26-2009, 04:13 PM
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Ooooh damn!! I know exactly what you mean, and your wording is perfect. Lookin' forward to answers on this one.
Old 09-26-2009, 04:16 PM
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A company I used to work for had a deal with a local mental hospital to give their mentally retarded patients some work taking out trash, picking up debris, etc. It's not polite to stereotype, and some of these had obvious birth deformities, but ignoring that I'd say that people who are on the dim side of things are more liable to be mouth breathers and they generally don't have a more at-ease or pleasant and cheerful look that seems unwarranted to the situation. Constant facial expressions do seem to modify the muscles and lines in a person's face, which we can probably detect as well.
Old 09-26-2009, 04:24 PM
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Ah, physiognomy! One of Ayn Rand's favorite ways of determining someone's innate worth!

from: http://face-and-emotion.com/data...my/science.jsp
Quote:
are judgments based on physiognomy accurate? Yes and no. Certain patterns of facial features can be highly associated with psychological characteristics in special circumstances, such as diseases. Other features have a statistical relationship to psychological traits, but are often wrong in specific cases. Many stereotypes about what facial features reveal are not accurate. Still other physiognomic attributions are merely arbitrary and as fallacious as purely random judgments.
The site has more info about what physiognomy can and can't reveal.
Old 09-26-2009, 04:25 PM
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This is by no means definitive, but my dad said he learned (during mental health training in the 1960s, so take with a HUGE pinch of salt) that over the course of many years, the facial expressions made by people with complex emotional lives shape the muscles of their face; similarly those who are somewhat uncomprehending or placid tend to remain neutral and "flabby". Similarly, people with mental illnesses who pull "unusual" expressions over many years tend to shape their facial muscles to give them a similarly "unusual" look.
Old 09-26-2009, 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Sage Rat View Post
A company I used to work for had a deal with a local mental hospital to give their mentally retarded patients some work taking out trash, picking up debris, etc. It's not polite to stereotype, and some of these had obvious birth deformities, but ignoring that I'd say that people who are on the dim side of things are more liable to be mouth breathers and they generally don't have a more at-ease or pleasant and cheerful look that seems unwarranted to the situation.
Down syndrome in particular is associated with a number of physical abnormalities, including small chins, mongoloid-type eye folds, and flabby muscle tone. Seeing a lot of mentally retarded people with those characteristics, they become a common stereotype of stupidity or mental disability.
Old 09-26-2009, 05:58 PM
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I'm pretty sure that Surreal was referring to just plain old stupid people. Not people who have a low intelligence due to something like a birth defect.
Old 09-26-2009, 06:08 PM
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Isn't it a bit unfair to start a thread called "why are stupid-looking people stupid?" and then ask if what you just said is actually true?

I don't know of any research, but people love to make assumptions based on facial expression (intelligence, kindness, trustworthiness), but it's mostly unfair bunk. You're really just judging whether a person is attractive and whether they're at ease. Although, it's possible that the face can show if someone is in a state of concentration (or never is). So I dunno, would be interesting to find out. Of course, proper scientific research, being crappy as it is, would never tell us interesting subtleties like which nuances of expression can be interpreted which way (and there's probably a few nuances that are informative, and many more that are mere prejudice).

Last edited by Alex_Dubinsky; 09-26-2009 at 06:09 PM.
Old 09-26-2009, 08:53 PM
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I think that anyone who thinks that you can reliably tell the intelligence of someone by their physical appearance is just guilty of confirmation bias.
Old 09-26-2009, 11:03 PM
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These fellows don't look like Rhodes scholars, bless their hearts.

That's a pretty obvious example, but it was the first thing that came to mind.
Old 09-26-2009, 11:08 PM
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Originally Posted by jjimm View Post
This is by no means definitive, but my dad said he learned (during mental health training in the 1960s, so take with a HUGE pinch of salt) that over the course of many years, the facial expressions made by people with complex emotional lives shape the muscles of their face; similarly those who are somewhat uncomprehending or placid tend to remain neutral and "flabby". Similarly, people with mental illnesses who pull "unusual" expressions over many years tend to shape their facial muscles to give them a similarly "unusual" look.
I'm not gay, and thus don't have true "gaydar," but I swear: I see guys that have to be gay because they look like they've engaged in oral sex since their teens; there's a certain mouth formation that simply screams (at risk of being grotesque) "dick sucker." What's interesting is that I can't similarly identify women's facial features that identify them as enthusiastic participants.
Old 09-27-2009, 02:49 AM
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I’ve noticed that gay men who belittle and mock flamboyant, “Ross the Intern”-type homosexuals crack a lot of jokes to that exact effect. A gay guy I used to hang out with in my twenties used to incessantly mock Rex Reed and always cracked that “I swear, that guy’s got stretch marks on his mouth.”
Old 09-27-2009, 11:38 AM
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Just in case anyone here doubts that you can make accurate inferences about other people's personalities or sexual orientations simply by looking at their faces, here are a few studies that may be of interest:

http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19686297

http://sciencedirect.com/science...42762318cc3814

http://sciencedirect.com/science...fb3c366d097154

http://economist.com/sciencetech...ry_id=13226709

http://popline.org/docs/1101/106620.html

http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/cgi...stract/8/5/569

http://repositories.tdl.org/tdl/hand.../271?show=full

http://sciencedaily.com/releases...0805150808.htm

http://springerlink.com/content/h09nq1nt74361885/


I'm still searching for studies on the intelligence of people who have stupid-looking faces.
Old 09-27-2009, 12:31 PM
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Good links Surreal, thanks.
Old 09-27-2009, 12:42 PM
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Well, I've worked with mentally retarded and autistic children my whole adult career, and I say that in many cases you can gauge low intelligence by looking at a person's face.

My theory is that mentally retarded people or people of very low intelligence do not learn "facial posture" like typical people. Most of us spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. We practice facial expressions from a very early age. We are concerned with how we look to others. Mentally retarded people do not have this level of social awareness. They are either unconcerned with or unaware of how their expressions look to others, so they have that slack-jawed, wide-eyed look, or some other atypical facial expression.

Take all this with a grain of salt: it's just my personal theory and of course there are exceptions.
Old 09-27-2009, 04:47 PM
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Not a scientfic cite, but we do have a saying that at birth, you are given a face as gift, but after the age of 30, you are responsible for your own face. Because if you have certain expressions regularly, your muscles will set. Not only because you train facial expression, but because you unconsciously. Surely everybody has noticed people with hard lines on their mouth because they look angry, or with a sneering expression, with worry lines on their forehead. Similar, vacous expression when the brain is running on empty can set.

I'm not referring to retarded people, but just to people who are not used to think, to introspect their own soul, to care about anything beyond superficality, etc.

And yes, there's some confirmation bias - when I look at people on the subway, I don't go up to them and do an IQ test afterward. But I do get to know people at work or sport club or similar, and can thus compare first impressions with later knowledge.
Old 09-27-2009, 06:01 PM
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and we all know that nazis could tell that jewish people were of lower intelligence simply by their facial features

(though presumably one didn't need great intelligence to run international banking cartels aimed at destabilizing the german economy)
Old 09-27-2009, 06:14 PM
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One distinct subgroup of this is "hot but painfully stupid" women. For whatever reason, you can just tell that there's a deep vapidity behind those eyes.
Old 09-27-2009, 07:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Savannah View Post
These fellows don't look like Rhodes scholars, bless their hearts.

That's a pretty obvious example, but it was the first thing that came to mind.
Nor does this guy, but he could teach them! My guess is that apart from in cases of certain genetic or acquired diseases, "stupid-looking" people are no stupider on average than anyone else.
Old 09-27-2009, 07:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Balthisar View Post
I'm not gay, and thus don't have true "gaydar," but I swear: I see guys that have to be gay because they look like they've engaged in oral sex since their teens; there's a certain mouth formation that simply screams (at risk of being grotesque) "dick sucker." What's interesting is that I can't similarly identify women's facial features that identify them as enthusiastic participants.
I was waiting for someone to say something better than I can, but that's fucked up. You can't go down the street and think that the people passing by with peculiar mouths are all faggots.
Old 09-27-2009, 07:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Balthisar View Post
I'm not gay, and thus don't have true "gaydar," but I swear: I see guys that have to be gay because they look like they've engaged in oral sex since their teens; there's a certain mouth formation that simply screams (at risk of being grotesque) "dick sucker." What's interesting is that I can't similarly identify women's facial features that identify them as enthusiastic participants.
Without actual information on the sexual habits of the people involved, these supposed "observations" are completely worthless. In fact your second statement implies that you are unable to identify such habits at all, since there shouldn't be much of a difference in facial structure between males and females who engage in fellatio.
Old 09-27-2009, 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Alex_Dubinsky View Post
I was waiting for someone to say something better than I can, but that's fucked up. You can't go down the street and think that the people passing by with peculiar mouths are all faggots.
[Moderator note]

Alex, there's no need to phrase your comments using such derogatory and insulting terms. Don't do this again.

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Old 09-27-2009, 08:04 PM
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My one thought on this (without clouding the freshness of said thought by reading everyone else's replies) is that a brain that is busy thinking happens to cause certain facial muscles to activate. A brain that isn't thinking, doesn't.

Having said that. I tend to decide upon someone's level of intelligence by what they do and say rather than how they look.

But sometimes it's rather easy to pre-judge!
Old 09-27-2009, 08:14 PM
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Beaten! (the image. I should have known someone would post it first)
Old 09-27-2009, 08:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Pyper View Post
My theory is that mentally retarded people or people of very low intelligence do not learn "facial posture" like typical people. Most of us spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. We practice facial expressions from a very early age. We are concerned with how we look to others. Mentally retarded people do not have this level of social awareness. They are either unconcerned with or unaware of how their expressions look to others, so they have that slack-jawed, wide-eyed look, or some other atypical facial expression.
If what you're saying is true, and it sounds like a good point, then why would it apply only to the stupid? You think all smart (incl. geeky,etc) people spend so much time in front of mirrors?

Quote:
Alex, there's no need to phrase your comments using such derogatory and insulting terms.
Insulting to Balthisar? Yes, I'm sorry, there was no need to accuse you of homophobia. But even if you make your presumptions benignly, it can still be hurtful and unfair.
Old 09-27-2009, 09:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Surreal View Post
I've noticed that there is a distinct facial appearance that is associated with being stupid, however it's not entirely clear to me whether this is due to their inherent facial structure or simply an observed facial expression.
... or that looking [what our culture assumes to be] stupid induces behaviour to match.
Old 09-27-2009, 09:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Alex_Dubinsky View Post
If what you're saying is true, and it sounds like a good point, then why would it apply only to the stupid? You think all smart (incl. geeky,etc) people spend so much time in front of mirrors?
Even geeks look at themselves in the mirror with an eye for what other people see. I'm not talking about preening and posing, just a judgement of one's own appearance. Mentally retarded people don't have the skills of self-examination that typical people do.
Old 09-27-2009, 09:08 PM
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Originally Posted by jjimm View Post
This is by no means definitive, but my dad said he learned (during mental health training in the 1960s, so take with a HUGE pinch of salt) that over the course of many years, the facial expressions made by people with complex emotional lives shape the muscles of their face; similarly those who are somewhat uncomprehending or placid tend to remain neutral and "flabby". Similarly, people with mental illnesses who pull "unusual" expressions over many years tend to shape their facial muscles to give them a similarly "unusual" look.
This is vaguely related but according to Daniel Goleman in his book 'social intelligence', the reason that some older couples look like each other is because emotional rapport (which causes people to mimic each other's facial and physical expressions when communicating) causes similar facial muscles to strengthen and weaken in tandem over a period of years. He even said that when comparing photos of couples who became more and more physically similar in the face vs those who were less similar, the ones who were similar had happier marriages due to the higher quality of communication and rapport.

So its not an unrealistic possibility that lack of comprehension could lead to fewer facial expressions, which over time would be noticeable. But studies would be interesting.

Last edited by Wesley Clark; 09-27-2009 at 09:08 PM.
Old 09-27-2009, 09:31 PM
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I have always been able to infer a lot about a person's intelligence and personality by their face. I've rarely guessed wrong, and 99% of my friends are people I whose faces I looked at once, and I wanted to be their friend.

I find it disturbing and don't really understand how it is so..
Old 09-27-2009, 09:34 PM
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I had a bit of an abrupt awakening a month or so ago. There's a fellow I see at church who, based on his appearance, I had always assumed had some form of mental handicap. But this summer, I happened to be sitting at the same table as him at the church picnic, and in actual conversation, he seemed perfectly normal. And it's funny, but when I've seen him since, he hasn't looked unintelligent at all, which probably proves that it was all just confirmation bias in the first place.
Old 09-27-2009, 10:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Savannah View Post
These fellows don't look like Rhodes scholars, bless their hearts.

That's a pretty obvious example, but it was the first thing that came to mind.
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Originally Posted by Lobsang View Post
My one thought on this (without clouding the freshness of said thought by reading everyone else's replies) is that a brain that is busy thinking happens to cause certain facial muscles to activate. A brain that isn't thinking, doesn't.

Having said that. I tend to decide upon someone's level of intelligence by what they do and say rather than how they look.

But sometimes it's rather easy to pre-judge!
Who are they???

How did you both happen to have the same picture?
Old 09-27-2009, 10:40 PM
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Originally Posted by CT_Damsel View Post
Who are they???

How did you both happen to have the same picture?
Google Image search-hillbilly.

2nd picture.
Old 09-27-2009, 10:43 PM
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Originally Posted by runner pat View Post
Google Image search-hillbilly.

2nd picture.
That's how I found it. It actually turns up quite a lot on the internet.


ETA: The first time I ever saw it was on a website showcasing similarly handsome people.

Last edited by Lobsang; 09-27-2009 at 10:44 PM.
Old 09-27-2009, 11:11 PM
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That's how I found it. It actually turns up quite a lot on the internet.


ETA: The first time I ever saw it was on a website showcasing similarly handsome people.
Why am I certain I will have a nightmare tonight with banjo music in the background?
Old 09-28-2009, 12:41 AM
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Insulting to Balthisar? Yes, I'm sorry, there was no need to accuse you of homophobia. But even if you make your presumptions benignly, it can still be hurtful and unfair.
[Modding]

To clarify, I was referring not only to telling Balthisar that his attitude was "fucked up," but also to referring to gay males as "faggots," which is regarded by many (probably most) people as offensive. You could have just said "gay." You have an unfortunate habit of using derogatory terms in your posts, even when you don't intend to be offensive. Let's try to use less potentially inflammatory phrasing in the future.

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Old 09-28-2009, 10:32 AM
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and we all know that nazis could tell that jewish people were of lower intelligence simply by their facial features

(though presumably one didn't need great intelligence to run international banking cartels aimed at destabilizing the german economy)
1) Can I call Goodwin on this one?

2) The Nazis threw nasty stereotypes at the Jews by the shovelfull, with the certainness that if you apply everything, something will stick. Thus, the Jews were lazy and dumb, sucking on the German welfare system to the detriment of good German families, and at the same time, more industrious, clever, smart and tricky than the good honest Germans they defrauded, tricked and pushed out of the market with their insanly hard work.

3) The Nazis had a complex race chart with characteristics not only for Jews, but for Northern (including Aryan), Southern Europeans, Slavics and other races, based on not only eye and hair colour, but also on head shape and similar. (And there are many anecdotes, how the teacher at school teaching "race biology" calls one child forward to measure the head shape and size with forceps, and declare how intelligent this blond boy must be, it then turns out to be the Jew).

Of course, believers in ideology never let facts get in the way.
Old 09-28-2009, 10:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
To clarify, I was referring not only to telling Balthisar that his attitude was "fucked up..."
My attitude is "fucked up"; I'm simply reporting an observation. Certainly as with many observations, there may be some self-selected confirmation bias. It's not like I don't know gay people.
Old 09-28-2009, 11:38 AM
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There's a difference between facial features and facial expression.

Barring cases of deformity - which may hinder brain function as well, you can certainly tell a lot about a person from their expression.

Intellectual capacity? Probably not. That they are thoughtful? Certainly.

As for intelligent people with stupid looks:
Einstein, Lincoln, Poe, Stephen King,... (We don't see it in Einstein because we're familiar with his visage and equate it to genius, but in his time, he looked nuts)

The thing with all the above studies - there was no control. There were too many variables going in, any of which could have affected the outcome. Maybe gay men take better care of their skin, on average, than most...Maybe that military haircut says something about agression...

Other of the linked studies simply showed that people inferred information about people from their features without actually verifying their accuracy.

But its all really just a big duh moment. Hey that guy that always has a scowly expression is angry...
Old 09-28-2009, 12:41 PM
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Why am I certain I will have a nightmare tonight with banjo music in the background?
Don't play Fallout 3 expansion Pack - Point Lookout.

Some nightmare inducing hill-billies in that game. Not just because of how they look, but how difficult they are to kill.
Old 09-28-2009, 04:13 PM
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Right on! This guy looks like a total retard.

Last edited by Miller; 09-29-2009 at 08:33 PM.
Old 09-28-2009, 05:50 PM
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Thus, the Jews were lazy and dumb, sucking on the German welfare system to the detriment of good German families, and at the same time, more industrious, clever, smart and tricky than the good honest Germans they defrauded, tricked and pushed out of the market with their insanly hard work.
Wow, that totally sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before...recently? I know it wasn't about Jews....hmm....
Old 09-28-2009, 06:22 PM
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I think you can tell criminals by their faces. You'll often see pictures in the paper of both the accused and the victim, both pictures not mug shots but probably supplied by their families, perhaps even their yearbook photos, and it's easy to pick out which is which before you read the captions. A hint of a sneer or shifty eyes, the basic tells in a poker game.

Last edited by Never Say Dice; 09-28-2009 at 06:23 PM.
Old 09-28-2009, 08:40 PM
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Right on! This guy looks like a total retard.
That link had some kind of weird browser hijack.

Last edited by Miller; 09-29-2009 at 09:14 PM.
Old 09-28-2009, 10:01 PM
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Originally Posted by pan1 View Post
There's a difference between facial features and facial expression.
I can go along with that.

This is strictly my personal opinion, but when I see someone with their eyes in what appear to be a permanent half-shut mode, I get the impression of someone who doesn't pay attention much and is probably not a deep-thinker. And the ones whom I've interacted with have proven to be so.

On the other hand most of the people who I know who are average or above average intelligence have an "eyes wide open" facial expression.
Old 09-28-2009, 11:17 PM
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I always wait for someone to speak or do something stupid before I judge them. I have never looked at someone and said to myself, "that person looks stupid." Ever. However on many occasions I have thought and sometimes said "you do not look at dumb as you sound."
Old 09-29-2009, 12:50 AM
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My apologies - I haven't read the thread, as it is late and my eyes are blurry. I did, however, do a cursory search and saw that this Wiki article wasn't linked. Good read - talks about how minor physical anomalies often belie minor developmental disorders that can lead to lower intelligence.
Old 09-29-2009, 12:53 AM
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I have a game I play with people's faces. I look for people in jobs that don't seem to require intellect, or who otherwise "look stupid". I try to imagine that I had just been introduced to them as a university professor. Could I imagine that physiology as a highly qualified academic?

It's amazing what effect that mental transition can have. Sometimes I can almost see their faces re-arranging themselves from "stupid" to "eccentric individual". I would contend that there is NO arrangement of facial features that unambiguously say "dumb as a box of rocks"; your "lights on but no-one's home" expression is someone else's "thinking deeply and not paying attention to YOU" expression.
Old 09-29-2009, 03:20 AM
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runner pat and lobsang, since both of you Googled for "hillbilly" to find your impressive photo, do you have any evidence that these particular men are actually mountain men or have they just been labelled as being "hillbillies" by various people owning websites?

I ask because the term hillbilly is, according to some dictionaries, often used to refer to the men living in the Appalachian areas of the Southeastern United States. It is an offensive term because it belittles people based upon their being from a certain region of the country. It perpetuates a myth about Southern men -- (especially those from near the research center of the triangle area of North Carolina).
Old 09-29-2009, 05:10 AM
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That link had some kind of weird browser hijack.
Uh oh, did it? I clicked on it (and found out, to my annoyance, that someone had already posted a link to that exact same person earlier in the thread!), but I didn't see anything happen. What was "supposed to" happen? Did I avoid it, or did something subtle happen?
Old 09-29-2009, 05:42 AM
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That link had some kind of weird browser hijack.
I wish I'd seen your post before I clicked on that link. Yes, there seems to be an internet worm there. To anyone who clicked it, scan your machine.
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