or beta male [ bey-tuh ]
What does beta mean?
As they say, nice guys—and betas—finish last. Beta is a slang insult for or describing a man who is seen as passive, subservient, weak, and effeminate.
Where does beta come from?
Beta is the second letter in the Greek alphabet after alpha. Because of this, beta has been used in a variety of fields to refer to anything secondary. Beta particles (radiation) and a beta test (computing), for example, are the second in a sequence.
Like alpha, beta can be used to describe social hierarchies in animals. A beta wolf in a pack, for instance, is said to yield to the stronger, more aggressive alpha—who gets first dibs on food, territory, and mates.
Beta was established as an informal term for men seen as passive and weak in the 1990s. In 1999, Naomi Wolf, then an advisor to former Vice President Al Gore, reportedly characterized her boss as a beta male who needed to demonstrate more “top dog” qualities to win the White House.
Other notable figures viewed as betas around the time include the character Ross from Friends and Microsoft’s Bill Gates—but hey, would you trade Gates’ success and fortune to be viewed as a Conan the Barbarian? We didn’t think so.
Into the 2010s, beta continued to mock men seen as less sexually, socially, and financially successful than their alpha counterparts. But it also took on a more specialized slang sense in the 2010s in the online incel, or involuntary celibate, community, notorious for blaming women and more conventionally masculine men for their sexual failings. On message boards like Reddit, incels try to shame men who support feminism—or really don’t just exert their will over women at all times—as betas. They also sometimes refer to themselves as betas for their lack of sex and romantic relationships, though they pin this on so-called “slutty women who give themselves over to sports-loving bros.”
In the later 2010s and boosted by the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump, the alt-right community also started using beta and beta cuck to insult their political enemies. Here, betas are their progressive rivals politically “cuckolded” by feminists, immigrants, or racial minorities.
Examples of beta
Who uses beta?
More stereotypically macho men use beta to insult men they see as weak or passive.
If you don't instantly attack any guy that looks at your girl I am assuming you are a beta male that doesn't even love her
— Mitch Stumbo (@mitchstumbo) July 8, 2018
Online instances of beta take up special residence in male corners of the internet like Reddit and 4chan—the so-called manosphere. Is it just us, or does calling someone beta seem like a beta thing to do?
A strong woman does not want a beta male and women can read that sometimes almost instantly.
— Bartholomew Sebastian (@GuruBuddahXO) July 29, 2020
Beta is often used alongside cuck in the manosphere. The belief is that a beta male will attempt to get with women but end up friend-zoned in favor of an alpha male. This concept is extended to politics, where members of far-right communities accuse their political enemies of being subservient to minority groups.
This is not meant to be a formal definition of beta like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of beta that will help our users expand their word mastery.