Although it’s next to impossible to never offend anyone, I do try to avoid potentially offensive words and phrases, whether they bother me personally or not. Most offensive language is easy to identify, such as racial slurs and curse words, but occasionally I uncover an offensive phrase that truly surprises me.
Here are three examples of phrases that I used to say frequently, before I discovered that they offended some people:
- “That sucks.” I never thought much about the word “sucks” and often used it when commiserating with friends, “Oh, I’m sorry! That sucks!” Imagine my mortification, then, when a former colleague explained that for people in her generation, the word “sucks” still had strong sexual connotations. Now I usually stick with the safer “That’s too bad” or “That stinks.”
- “No problem” in the place of “You’re welcome.” I had no idea that this was such a bothersome phrase to so many people, but apparently it’s a common pet peeve. Linguistically, I actually think “No problem” makes more sense—like “de nada” in Spanish (literally “it is nothing”)—but once I realized that it bothered people, I decided to stop using the phrase. “You’re welcome” is always appropriate and “Happy to!” or “My pleasure!” are both acceptable alternatives.
- “Does that make sense?” when explaining something uncomplicated. I knew that qualifying my ideas with this empty question was a bad habit, but I was thinking only in terms of how the question subtly undermined my authority. I’ve learned, however, that asking that question unnecessarily also risks offending listeners. It implies that I don’t think they’re savvy enough to grasp whatever simple thing I’m saying. When you are explaining a complex idea or set of instructions, check understanding by asking “What questions do you have?”
What other potentially offensive phrases have you discovered?
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