Perception is reality. Your words have an impact. If you’re anything like me, you spend an astounding amount of time thinking about the implications of both aforementioned points. I hope you, too, realize that being human means your words have the ability to lift someone up or to tear them down. Your words have the power to tell someone, “this is home; you are safe here.”
Let me start with a brief anecdotal story: I was in New York, leading a training on negotiating your salary. The group seemed engaged and it was all going swimmingly! I said things to them like “as a rule of thumb, you should never name a salary number you’re expecting.” I amped that group up with so many salary secrets — score!
After the presentation, a nice individual came over to me and said “did you know that ‘rule of thumb’ has a negative connotation?” My face got red hot and I felt like I was boiling in hot water. The participant went on (very politely) to say that the etymology of the word was derived from British Common Law in which men were permitted to hit women with a rod that was no larger than the width of the man’s thumb. Etymologists, historians, and other subject matter experts still debate the legitimacy of the background for the phrase and whether the awful etymology permeates today’s society. Nonetheless, I’ve thought twice before using that word.
And so begins a quick walk through of the words that have a connotation that could be less than welcoming. These are, of course, based on tone, and a lot of other factors. Disclaimer: I’m not an etymologist. I’m just here to promote inclusivity through words.
I came across an article entitled 5 Accidentally Transphobic Phrases Allies Use and I used to say “preferred pronoun” for years. The “preferred” part of this phrase implies that the pronoun that person uses is simply a preference (like preferring an apple over an orange) rather than it being part of their identity. Simple fix: just ask “what’s your pronoun?”
If you’re new to the idea of pronouns, this is referring to the concept that each individual has a series of pronouns (she/her, they/them, he/him, ze/zir, etc.) that can work in place of the individual’s name.
Instead of “Zula went to the store”, you’d say “they went to the store.”
More debate surrounds this word, too. There’s talk of it being related to “hand in cap,” a horse on a racetrack that was given an advantage to equalize chances, or even a lottery barter game. Either way, this word is being phased out of normal usage in today’s society. Opt for something more inclusive such as “accessible.” See more on this topic here.
Guys and girls
By now, you might be thinking I’m a little overly sensitive about language, but keep in mind: words have so much power.
Words shape thoughts and thoughts shape how we see the world. First, visualize a person who represents the term “guy.” I’m envisioning a 21 year old male in a gray shirt. Now, visualize the term “girl.” I’m picturing an eight year old female child in a pink dress. Grown ass women (including myself) are referred to as “girls” quite frequently. It drives me bonkers. This is culturally normalized and pervasive language that shows that in some way, I am an eight year old girl and I am less than you.
Transgender vs. Transgendered
As “transgender” is an adjective describing a person, the usage of transgendered does not fit, although some people insist upon using it as a verb. It is quite reminiscent of when people of color were called “colored.”
Piqued my interest
This one is less of a meaning related note, and more of a usage note. I’ve read a few cover letters that said the company “peeked their interest” and I cringed. You are not taking a quick glance at your interest, you are excited about something you’re interested in!
Alright, ya’ll. It’s not all bah humbug with words over here. I want to share a couple of words and phrases I adore:
Sous le pavés la plage
Under the pavement, the beach. This was born out of the French social Revolution in 1968. This was a famous piece of graffiti in France that protestors used to show one could escape from a regimented life.
This word comes from the latin root of boiling up and it is synonymous with being vivacious. I love it because it has this idea of being so alive that you’re boiling over with enthusiasm.