We've been taught to let hurtful words roll off us since childhood—that's why the 'sticks and stones' jingle was drilled into our heads. But, hard as we may try, it's often easier said than done when it comes to letting words bounce off of us. They can actually hurt a lot. There are many words and phrases that still exist in our vocabulary that target certain communities—some you know, some you may not.
As much as people like to complain about the world becoming too PC, there's a time and a place for these words. And in a lot of cases, that time is not the 21st century, nor is the place anywhere you probably frequent.
1. "I got gypped!"
While the phrase seems harmless enough, the word 'gypped' is closely tied with the word 'Gypsy', which typically describes a person of Romani descent that lives on seasonal work and migrates from place to place often. These people have been discriminated against across the globe for hundreds of years, their history plagued with derogatory remarks, physical assault, and enslavement. While the discrimination they face today is much less harsh, they are still widely regarded with suspicion, and considered sly and cunning thieves who steal and manipulate before moving on to another town. Obviously, these are stereotypes that could not possibly apply to an entire population of people, but when we use the word 'gypped' when we feel we've been robbed, we're perpetuating that stereotype and strengthening the negative association.
2. "That's so gay." or "You're such a fag**t!"
It's incredibly hard to understand why these phrases are still used as common insults in today's society when it seems we've come so far on LGBTQ issues. Everyone seems to know they shouldn't be using these phrases... but they still do, because saying "that's not cool" could not possibly express their dislike for something or someone as strongly as these words do. Many argue that these phrases are harmless, saying, "Everybody knows we don't mean to be offensive." These words are hurtful, regardless of someone outside of the community's insistence that they aren't. Currently, these phrases are often used synonymously with the word "lame", but when homophobia was still running rampant throughout the country, it was considered one of the dirtiest insults you could throw. Gay people have been discriminated against (and still are), attacked verbally and physically, and sometimes been killed because of their sexuality. Consider that the next time you want to use their sexuality as a way to insult someone.
3. "That's so retarded."
The proper definition of retarded is "delay or hold back in terms of progress or development." With this in mind, it makes sense that the word was once primarily applied to people with intellectual disabilities. It was a word used in a purely scientific way when it originated. However, in recent decades the word has been warped into something spiteful, bitter, and deeply offensive to a community of people who often cannot even stand up for themselves. The fact that a word referring to people who are mentally handicapped became an insult is baffling enough, but that the word is still commonly used, often by little kids who pick it up from parents and siblings, is even more perplexing. This word can be hurtful to so many people with different unique disabilities, as well as their families and friends. Yes, they have special needs. No, that doesn't mean they are immune to your words. They know 'retarded' is an insult, and they know it's a word that somehow applies to them, too. You should probably steer clear of saying you're "mentally challenged" when you don't understand something, too.
4. "Don't be such a spaz."
This phrase is like number three's lesser known, also offensive little brother. Though it is less commonly considered derogatory in the U.S., some European nations consider it to be incredibly offensive. A BBC survey showed that the people of the U.K. ranked the word 'spastic' as the second most offensive term for disabled people, only beaten by the word 'retard'. The word is considered derogatory because of its association with people who suffer from cerebral palsy (once referred to as spastic paralysis) or other disabilities that affect motor coordination. Cerebral Palsy is characterized by difficulty walking, muscle spasms, paralysis, speech disorders, and other serious effects. By using this to insult your friends in moments of clumsiness or when they're using big gestures, you're directly insulting the thousands of people who suffer from this debilitating condition.
5. "Don't be an Indian giver!"
This is a phrase that has been thrown around on playgrounds for years, and only recently have people become aware of how offensive it may be to the Native American community. It's a term thrown around to describe a person who gives a gift to another and then wants to take it back. It originated in the 1700s and has made its way all the way into our 21st century dialogue. The existence of this term is likely due to a really bad case of ethnocentrism, where the white, European settlers viewed the culture of the Native Americans within terms of the culture they came from instead of as something completely unique. From journals left behind by these early settlers, many have concluded that they misinterpreted the Native Americans' form of bartering and trading as gift giving, because in their own culture they exchanged goods and services for money. Thus, Native Americans were labeled as lying, conniving thieves, and the derogatory term has followed them since, even centuries after. If you want to talk about giving something and then taking it back, look into the Trail of Tears, where Native Americans were forced off of the (already vastly reduced) tribal lands promised by the government to a barren wasteland on a journey that decimated their population.
6. "You're practically a midget."
This is problematic on so many levels. For one, being on the short side does not make anybody a "midget". Also, this term is wildly offensive to little people, so much so that some even compare it to the n-word. The word was popular in a time when little people were divided based on whether their features were considered "normal" enough to entertain those in the rest of society. So yes, at five feet tall, your friend is short. But there's no need to throw around a word that causes so much pain to a community you aren't a part of.
7. "Don't be so uppity."
This phrase is definitely lesser known when it comes to being offensive, though based on Google's suggestions, people have an idea that there might be something wrong with the word. For the most part, people use it to mean something a long the lines of 'snotty', but the racist origins of the word are hard to separate from our modern day use of it. During the Jim Crow era and particularly in the south, the word was used to describe African Americans who made an effort to climb up the socioeconomic latter. The idea was that they were trying to be something they were not, and that they should know their "place" in the world. While the word has seemingly shifted in meaning since then, critics of the word do not consider ignorance an excuse to use the word, nor are they particularly lenient with older, white southern men, who they believe likely learned the word from their ancestors, which would give them a better idea as to the true meaning of the word.
One look at any history book tells us the Irish had it hard with famine and discrimination, but who knew they were the ones who inspired the word 'hooligan'? The word is believed to have stemmed from the family name 'Houlihan', which supposedly belonged to an Irish family that was known for their overt drunkenness, crass behavior and disrespect for the police. Other stories say it is the product of anti-Irish propaganda that utilized an Irish thief named Houlihan and characterized him as a conniving, raucous drunkard. Somehow, it ended up being used against the Irish people as a whole, to describe them as lawless drunks, which is very stereotypical and unfair.
Words often travel through dark histories before they end up in our vocabulary. Sometimes, that's okay. But if your word of choice was once used to discriminate against and humiliate a group of people, or has been warped to insult another, it might be time to think about laying that word to rest.