The 10 Offensive Phrases No One Is Telling You About


Unless you have a particularly mean streak, or you're in the middle of a bid for vengeance, you never knowingly want to offend people. It's human nature to actually do the opposite, and tread carefully to avoid making someone feel bad. After all, the consequences of that can be broken friendships, lost jobs, fights, or much worse.

But that doesn't mean we aren't all guilty of using the occasional phrase that, while seems harmless enough, is actually offensive to some people. Here are 10 phrases you should rethink.

You Have a Really Pretty Face

You can also say "your face is nice" if you're talking to a guy, but the outcomes is still the same. By specifically focusing on one part of the person's anatomy, namely their face, you appear to be steering clear of the rest of that person. So when you say, "you have a really pretty face" some people will finish the thought with "shame about the rest of you." Just round out the thought to something like "wow, you're really pretty." This is one of the few cases where specificity can hurt!

It's Fine (or It's Nice)

"How did you like that birthday present?"

"Oh, it's fine, thanks!"

Fine? That may mean something positive to you, but most people think of fine as "well, it's not awful, but I can't think of anything really positive to say about it." Nice is another term that fits into that "meh" category. It's just such a bland, non-committal phrase that means you haven't given it any thought. Even if someone asks how you're doing, saying fine could be taken as quite the opposite. Someone once told me "fine" means Feelings Inside Not Expressed. Maybe they were right.

I'm Going to the Toilet

Say that in Europe, people won't bat an eyelid. But for some reason, people in many parts of North America find it rude and inappropriate. The word toilet is just too coarse, and is a direct nod to something you're about to do that no one likes to talk about in civilized society. That's why words like restroom, bathroom, and washroom have become the norm. Have you ever rested in a restroom? How many times have you taken a bath in a friend's bathroom? We all know what is really going on; it's just a polite way to cover it up.

Being Gypped

The other variation is "don't let them gyp you," but it all boils down to the same thing. Being gypped means you're being ripped off or swindled. But the word gyp, or gypped, derives from "gypsy." Simply by using this phrase, you are using a broad and unfair stereotype. It's much better to say ripped off, swindled, cheated, or conned.

Let's Have a Quick Pow-Wow

It's a term used a lot in the business world (I've heard it twice today already), and it's simply a phrase that talks about having a meeting or get together. Of course, the word derives from Native American culture, and therefore some people find it offensive to use. Pow-wows are not a thing of the past; Native American events often feature them, and they can take months of preparation and planning. Sometimes, over a year of planning. So, for that reason alone, using the term pow-wow to describe a few people chatting about a project over a donut and coffee can be seen as insulting.

That Works on You

Other forms of this include "you can pull that off" or "I don't think anyone else could make that work." It's a backhanded compliment of someone's fashion choices, and basically means, "yeah, I'd never wear that, and most people I know wouldn't either." It could also boil down to "wow, that's ugly." You may be genuinely impressed with someone's choice of clothing, so avoid the slight, and say it outright; "you look amazing," or words to that effect, will do the trick.

Whatever I'm Supposed to Have Done…

There are two words in that sentence that will add fuel to any fire. They are "whatever" and "supposed," and they're an admission that you haven't really thought about your actions, or their consequences. I am guilty of this one, and I had no idea it was annoying until it was thrown back at me in an argument with someone. "Whatever?! How could they blatantly disregard what they did, that's insane?!!" Supposed to has the same problem. It implies you have no admission of any guilt or wrongdoing. You should be more straightforward, and reference the problem you both know you are talking about.

That's So Gay

Just stop.

Sold Down the River

If you say you've been "sold down the river" to someone, you are saying that you have been betrayed or stabbed in the back. You may rarely use it, but it's one you should dump from your lexicon. The phrase actually comes from early 19th century North America, and is a reference to the slave trade. The river pertains to the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, and they were used to transport slaves to Louisville to work in the cotton plantations. Literally being "sold down the river." Now you know the true import of such a phrase, does it really apply to a business deal or car purchase going awry?

Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Really? What's so offensive about that? After all, you see it on birthday cards and at football games all the time. Well, get ready for a shock. The phrase has its origins in the middle ages, coming from Germanic tribes fighting the Jews who would scream "Hep Hep Huraj;" loosely translated, it means "Jerusalem is fallen and we are on our way to paradise." Although now forgotten by most people, there may be some out there who know its true meaning. If they do, you could be in for quite a lecture.

Know any other common phrases that can be insulting? Please share in comments so that we are less likely to say the wrong thing!

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Guest's picture

Eenie-meenie-mynie-moe catch a TIGER by the toe....
Let's just say the original word was NOT TIGER...

Guest's picture
Kathleen S.

Great list of things NOT to say! :) I did not think about the "sold down the river" one. I've never used it but have heard it before. As for the powwow one, I have never heard that one. But I have heard this one "the lowest man on the totem pole." Not too fond of it. I'm native btw. Never hear about the highest man on the totem pole. Haha! :) Just kidding. Have a great day.

Guest's picture

I'm sorry, Paul, but I think you're really reaching with this one.

Guest's picture

I find some of these quite ridiculous. Using something from another culture doesn't automatically make it offensive or racist. Basically all of these can be seen as "minimizing" an event/idea in some way or another.

Guest's picture

Educated me on a couple of these. Thanks.

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