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omega male

noun [countable]

a man who chooses not to have a powerful or important role in a social or professional situation

'While the alpha male wants to dominate and the beta male just wants to get by, the omega male has either opted out or, if he used to try, given up.'

Slate18th March, 2010

Society is perpetually preoccupied with evaluating the stereotypical qualities, roles and aspirations of men and women, and where there's a preoccupation, there's likely to be new language. It's therefore no surprise then that during the course of BuzzWord we've looked at a range of words which reflect this theme, from the metrosexual (the man in touch with his feminine side), or the security mom (a US mum preoccupied with terrorist threats), through to the denture venturer (an older person who gives up work in order to travel), or the quirkyalone (a person who prefers to stay single until the right partner comes along). And yet another addition to this group of expressions is the term omega male, a chap identified by his lack of enthusiasm for the conventional idea that men always aspire to being the most dominant influence in the home or workplace.

the omega male is a fun-loving but non-aspirational individual who is reluctant to 'grow up' by embracing classic social imperatives like marriage, family and holding down a regular job

The omega male is a man who, defying all male stereotypes, doesn't have the desire to be the most outstanding performer or to take the lead in a particular situation. Typical omega male traits include an intense interest in a particular hobby, which consequently draws his time and energies away from the conventionally 'important' things in life, like work or romantic relationships. The omega male is a fun-loving but non-aspirational individual who is reluctant to 'grow up' by embracing classic social imperatives like marriage, family and holding down a regular job.

The characteristic omega male traits have been brought to life in the 2010 film Greenberg, a comedy drama featuring US actor Ben Stiller in the title role. Roger Greenberg is a guy who is 'having trouble being a man', a failed musician turned carpenter who, refusing to conform to society's expectations, struggles to start a relationship and find a path in life he is comfortable with.

Though the label omega male has negative overtones, arguably functioning as a kind of euphemism for reference to a 'slacker', a recent article in Canada's Globe and Mail puts a positive spin on the concept in relation to parenthood, pointing out that:

'… the much-maligned qualities that qualify men as "omega males" – an apparent absence of testosterone, a childlike affinity for fun, a surplus of disposable time – are exactly the qualities that can transform men into remarkable fathers.'

Globe and Mail 17th June 2011

Background – omega male

The expression omega male has popped up during the last couple of years as a way of referring to the direct antithesis of the alpha male, a strong, successful man who likes to be in charge of others.

Though these terms have only come into popular use relatively recently, they have been used in anthropology for some time, and originate from the domain of ethology (the study of animal behaviour), where they are used to describe how members of a particular animal species interact to form a distinct, recognizable social group. The alpha is the individual with the highest rank, who is usually the first to eat and the first to mate. Its subordinates correspondingly fall into four other categories, described in descending order of importance as beta, gamma, delta and omega. These terms are taken from the Greek alphabet, alpha being the first letter, beta, gamma and delta the second, third and fourth, and omega the last – hence the figurative extensions of alpha and omega as references to the most and least important members of a hierarchy.

The use of such a nomenclature is not confined to the male species – there's also some evidence for corresponding use of alpha female and expressions such as alpha mom (a dominant women in a group of mothers) and alpha girl.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 22nd August 2011.

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