Words matter. Hate-mongering bigots often deliberately choose a particular word to hurt or express their own vile prejudices. But even the most well-intentioned people may inadvertently use an expression with deeply unpleasant origins.
Understanding why these terms could be offensive can help us all make better choices.
Here are just five common words or phrases that we should've dropped years ago. In fact, they should have never come into common use at all.
This goes back to 14th century India, where the thuggee were a gang of professional thieves and assassins. They were effectively wiped out in the 1800s by British colonial rule.
Whether deliberate or not, the modern-day application of this word has swayed towards people of colour, especially by right-wing commentators. Indeed, some high-profile Black activists and writers have gone so far as to suggest that thug has become a replacement for the n-word.
Another term favoured by the current incumbent of the White House was a slur against Irish immigrants to the US. It could have been based on the perception that high numbers of Irish were arrested for drunk and disorderly behaviour, or it may have evolved from 1863's horrific draft riots in New York. Either way, it's awful.
What to say instead:
Police vehicle (obviously…)
No can do
This came from making fun of pidgin English especially as spoken by Chinese immigrants. Likewise, "long time no see" was an English mockery of a Native American greeting.
What to say instead:
I'm sorry, I'm not able to complete your request at this time.
Hello, mate. Haven't seen you in ages!
I rather fondly remember how the Goblin king taught Mr Uppity to mend his rude, boastful, selfish and arrogant ways. Sadly though, this term was first used by Southerners (i.e., Americans from the likes of Georgia and Alabama) to describe the enslaved who they regarded as insolent and didn't "know their place" in the class system – which could arguably have been any Black person who spoke up against abuse and racism.
Incidentally, a friend recently shared a tweet that really made me think. It's why I'm making an effort to say the enslaved rather than slaves. This is it.
Today it means to be betrayed, conned or cheated, but this phrase has its appalling origins in Kentucky's slave trade. If their overlords deemed an enslaved person to be uppity or to have misbehaved, they would be transported down to Mississippi, where conditions were even more brutal. Indeed, it could be regarded as a death sentence.
There are loads more. Too many.
Look, I'm a far from perfect person in no position to judge or preach. I just feel we have to do better. We have to be better. Making an effort to be aware and mindful of our language is just one small step we can all take.
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