The word “incel”

When I started the original support website in 1997, I chose the term “involuntary celibacy” to be more neutral than pejoratives like “lonely virgin”. Originally I used the abbreviation “invcel”. Someone on the mailing list (the original forum) suggested that “incel” would be easier to pronounce, so we had switched by 1999.

Since the incel forums became exclusively male, and trended towards misogyny, the world has come to use the term “incel” to refer to men who are angry at women because they can’t find someone to date or have sex with. Reclaiming the term for the original neutral meaning would be a hopeless cause.

There are many lonely people in this world, of all genders and orientations, who have difficulty finding partners, or who have little dating experience. They might still use the term “incel” or find other words for their situation.

Some of my collaborators have advised that we shouldn’t try to coin a simple new term for these dating difficulties. A clever new coinage might be adopted by angry incel men who want to escape the extra stigma created by the murders. There is no sense getting on the “euphemism treadmill” described at the end of this interesting article about my coining “incel”.

The incel community has developed long glossaries of terminology, often using the flexible suffix “cel”. Although this is linguistically impressive, I think research efforts should focus instead on reducing loneliness and preventing violence.


Alana is the founder of the Love Not Anger project, and the creator of the original "involuntary celibacy" support website in 1997. This post expresses her own views; she is not a mental-health professional or dating expert.

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