Language is a truly amazing thing: hundreds of thousands of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections at our disposal to help us share knowledge, ideas, and information with one another. Language is super awesome because the words we use are so flexible: one word can have multiple definitions and those definitions constantly change with context, time, and especially phrasing. If you hear the words “cart” “before” and “horse” in a sentence you know it’s safe to assume the speaker is calling for patience as opposed to warning you about an un-steerable transportation method.
Such a volume of words means we have to assume some amount of responsibility. Sometimes things that were OK to say become not OK say. Sometimes they were never OK to say, and we just kept using them until we figured out we wanted to stop being jerks. And sometimes there are things that seem OK to say, but are in fact plain terrible.
Here’s the good news: we can stop using certain words and phrases and replace them with our almost infinite stock of synonyms and substitute expressions with little effort. Now keep in mind these are simply suggestions, not an attempt to infringe upon your freedom of speech. Just want to help you be a slightly better and less douche-baggy you. Here are the bugbears:
Retail locations that call their customers “guests.”
I love 7-Eleven, but unless their walls are the only immediate protection from a flash hurricane or zombie apocalypse, I don’t want to be their “guest.” I’m not there for the nuance or the experience. I’m there to exchange money for a Slurpee and possibly something covered in nacho cheese. Then I want to get the hell on about my business.
I know marketing gurus are cringing as they read this, but honestly, corporate double talk nonsense like this is condescending and borderline creepy. Don’t complicate this arrangement: You have stuff, people want that stuff, and they’ll pay you for that stuff.
It really is OK to call your customer a customer. It’s customary, actually.
“Anchor babies” in any context.
It should go without saying that national discourse being dominated by a pejorative aimed at children is never a good look. And here’s the thing: Unless your folks come from an indigenous tribe or were dragged here in bondage, somewhere along the line there was a baby — that is a brand new human being born to other human beings — that “anchored” your family to U.S. soil.
What you really want to say here is “babies,” “kids,” or “children” because … that’s what they are. If you want to be a little more specific for the sake of context, try: “children of undocumented immigrants who happened to be born in the United States.”
Course if that’s too wordy for you, just call them what the U.S. Constitution does: “citizens.”
There is nothing wrong with success. There is nothing wrong with enjoying success. However, let’s not act like those of us who “make it” do so strictly though our own acuity, will, and perseverance. Though those things are hugely important, no one’s journey is one of total solitude. All successful people get “help” of one form or another whether that be in the form of family, education, advice, or opportunity. Nothing wrong with reaping the fruits of your labor while acknowledging those who supported you along the way. Even Horatio Alger wasn’t Horatio Alger.
Seriously now. This is still being used. Aside from the slur, as a grown human being, you should be able to compliment your buddy’s shoes without putting your own fragility and insecurity on blast. If you can’t stop for the sake of decency, at least do it for your own dignity.
Any variation of “color-blind” in the context of race is the single biggest cop-out in English today. Maybe a well-intended cop-out, but a cop-out nonetheless. A big part of who we are as people are the experiences that shape us. Like it or not, race is still a big factor in determining those experiences for many of us.
“Color-blind” is simply a polite way of saying “I’m terrified of talking about race, so I’m just going to ignore the parts of you that make me uncomfortable.” If your intention is to say you treat people equally, try doing that without erasing big chunks of what make folks who they are. If you can’t do that comfortably, maybe don’t say anything until you figure out why that is.
Hi, Tech People,
Unless you’re developing some sort of super-villainy destructo-beam, what in the hell are you disrupting, exactly?
Hate to break it to you, but that “Tinder, but for Game of Thrones cosplayers” app may well be pretty cool. You might get loads of start-up capital. You may even turn a nifty profit. But helping folks turn their Comic-Con encounters into a chance for romance, does not a disruption make. What you’re doing, really, is starting a business. And we wish you luck.
The Rest of Humanity
“This is problematic.”
There’s a chance that you’ve read at least a few of these and thought “Yeah, that’s problematic.”
Hold up, friend.
“Problematic” was at one point a useful term used in certain (largely academic) circles to describe important things like racial oppression, economic inequality, and gender discrimination. Once the internet got a hold of it, “problematic” made its rounds as a buzzword, becoming a catch-all for anything dislikable or inconvenient.
Your fave? Problematic. Your fave’s fave? Problematic. Your bus is running late? Problematic. Starbucks slipped 2 percent into your non-fat chai latte? Problematic. Didn’t get enough sleep? Problematic. Slept in too late? Yup, that’s problematic too.
We have completely and utterly stripped the word of any and all relevance and thus, it’s time to put it away for a while and find something new.