Grandpa! You Can’t Say That!

When I was a kid, I distinctly remember saying “Grandpa! You can’t say that!” whenever my grandfather would say something a little…dated. It wasn’t that he was a bad person, just that he came from a time when certain remarks (about race, gender, ability, etc) weren’t considered inappropriate by his social groups. But they had “become” inappropriate to my ears (I’m not trying to excuse anything he’d said, just trying to explain that to him, there was nothing wrong with the words he used).

The thing is, I know there are things we say today that future children will scoff at. They’ll tell me “you can’t say that!” and I’m trying to keep my mind open so that if it happens, I can learn from it.

But I want to get a head start on that now. I’m trying to figure out the words and phrases that’ll become socially unacceptable to use in the future so I can stop using them now. And of course, if I think something will be inappropriate in the future, that’s a pretty strong indicator it is inappropriate already. I’ll also note this goes far deeper than just the words I choose to use: there are entire mindsets that go behind these words as well, and I want to steer my mind well away from them.

So here’s my candidate list of things I shouldn’t say (which I’ve already been in process of removing from my language), in no particular order:

  • “Third World” From Wikipedia, “The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO, or the Communist Bloc.” This seems like a pretty good candidate for not saying. The “third world” seems to describe a destitute world unworthy of discussion; total othering. Try suggestions from this article instead?

  • “You guys” Using ‘guys’ as a generic plural word for a bunch of people of any gender. There are numerous problems describing a group of mix-gendered people as ‘guys’ but I think there’s also a problem of describing a group of all male people as ‘guys’ because it reinforces male as the norm. Even a statement like “the guys on the Khan Academy iOS dev team,” while true we all identify as male, using the term “guys” reinforces the idea that we should be all guys. Try “folks,” “team,” “comrades,” or simply “people” instead?

  • “That’s crazy!” I’ve linked to this great post by Ash Furrow before about using words associated with mental illness to describe something unbelievable. This is pretty problematic and unempathetic language. Try “ridiculous,” “outrageous,” or “magical” instead?

These are the ones which immediately sprang to mind and which I’m already trying to remove from my lexicon. They may not be widely socially unacceptable yet, but I’m pretty sure they will be soon enough (this is a good thing!).

What’s on your list? What do you think your grandchildren would scold you for saying that you say now?

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