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What incels are, and why you need to know about them

The language of the violent misogynist hate group in the depths of Reddit

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Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a three-part series within Thelonious Goerz’s weekly (Guy)necology column focusing on incels, their unique threat to women, and the mental health effects on the members of the hate groups.

In the depths of the internet, there are benign subcommunities on Reddit that explore and document a great deal of interesting subgroups. But there are more sinister and dangerous groups lurking and festering on Reddit too — namely, incels.

Incels, shorthand for involuntary celibates, are men who believe that they are slowly losing their grip in a female-dominated society. These men believe that they are being denied sex by women due to a variety of predetermined deficiencies, according to Natalie Wynn of Contrapoints, a YouTube channel that focuses on transgender issues and internet bigotry.

Incels use ideas of biological determinism, (un-)attractiveness, and race to justify their claims that women are denying them sex and relationships. This hatred of women isn’t confined to the internet, though; it often leads to violence in the real world, especially in the case of Elliot Rodger.

Rodger became famous in 2014 in the incel community when he shot six people in a shooting spree in Isla Vista, California. Rodger is so famous in the community of incels that he’s commonly referred to as “ER.” And according to one online incel dictionary, he’s commonly “known as ‘Saint Elliot’ and [was] made a martyr on incel forums.” Rodger also wrote a manifesto in which he blamed women rejecting him and refusing to sleep with him for his murderous acts.

But you still may be wondering what an incel is and what really makes them so dangerous. That is a complex question, but some of the most important things to understand are how incels use language, their focus on pseudo-biological determinism — specifically phrenology, which was used to justify racism — and how they use their pseudo-philosophy to justify their hate.

In these ways, incels grow and recirculate their hate on Reddit, and in turn, exemplify why misogyny is dangerous and how it leads to murder.

According to The New York Times, incels believe that the western world is becoming too female-dominated, and their position as males is being compromised. In response, they believe that women are more sexually promiscuous and are defying their biological code by being selective in their mates.

These incels exclusively use online forms of communication, which anonymizes their hate and can also make it more insidious. Namely, incels are active on the Reddit page r/braincels, which is currently quarantined for hateful content. The incel discussion there is supposedly more intellectual and less violent than (formerly, a website and forum that hosts some dangerous content and where incels shame and self-hate each other.

Crucially, incels’ ideology is corrosive and dangerous to them and others. Over these next few issues, my exploration of incels will focus on just how dangerous their beliefs are, how they pretend to victimize themselves, and illuminate the worldview they use to hate women.

This week, we look at incels’ use of language.

Incels have a unique language that is used to often demean and categorize people, according to r/braincels.

The language is esoteric and requires a certain amount of reading to decode; I believe that this further contributes to the way incels try to be subtle and avoid being seen for what they are — a hate group. Furthermore, all of this lingo, which sounds like a joke, is taken very seriously.

There is a significant component of rating and standardization in the way that incels talk about various people. For example, many incels will rate women or men on an out-of-10 scale based on attractiveness.

There are normies, people who are not incels and haven’t become “enlightened” that the world is controlled by women, as incels believe. There are specific names for men and women that are used to criticize and humiliate both.

For example, men who are not incels are referred to as “Chads.” Chads are men who are traditionally handsome and strong, in contrast to the incel, who is considered to be weak. According to the r/braincels, a Chad is a male who is an 8/10 and usually white.

On the flip side, there is different and extremely racialized language to refer to incels who cannot have access to women because of their race. Additionally, the way in which different races are categorized in the incel world are insidiously amalgamated from a multitude of racial caricatures. For example, black men who are Chads are known as “Tyrones,” according to r/braincels, and the Reddit group assumes that they also have the biggest penises.

Notably, incels have many memes that represent dark humor. There is a common Chad meme that shows an incel compared to a Chad. The incel is described as having a high IQ and the Chad is described as having low IQ. In this way, the incels portray themselves as misunderstood intellectuals that women are too superficial to appreciate.


As you might have guessed, this language is not exclusive to men. There is also language to describe women, such as “Stacys” and “Femoids.” Stacys are women who are attractive, according to r/braincels; femoid is a dehumanizing and derogatory term meant to imply that women are not completely human.

There are many other insidious uses of language like “cucks,” “alphas,” and “betas.” These refer to different people in the sexual hierarchy that the incels perceive as natural law. In the world of incels, you are either a Chad or an incel, and there is no in between.

According to Wynn’s analysis, these terms are used to dehumanize women and reduce them to mere objects of sexual desire, devoid of any feeling. The incels believe in a worldview that allows them to frame themselves as intellectuals, enlightened to the way the world is, but forced to live in perceived servitude.

Furthermore, there are terms like “roastie,” which twistedly refer to the incels’ misconception that female genitals become mutilated by way of promiscuous sex with many men, but not continued sex with the same man, according to Wynn’s analysis.

The entirety of the incel lexicon is used to demean and to subjugate not only everyone who isn’t an incel but also incels themselves. A huge part of the incel outlook on life is hopelessness and shame. We know language is powerful and in this case, this dehumanizing language serves to justify the incel’s hate of women and serve as a feedback loop to stoke further anger and hatred.

Reach columnist Thelonious Goerz at Twitter: @TheloniousGoerz

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