Pop Culture

11 Common Phrases That Are Secretly Super Offensive

From "No Can Do" to "Basket Case" to "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo"...You'll never use these phrases again once you read their origins.

The Washington Redskins. That’s so gay. Sitting Indian style. The English language is full of hidden bigotry. Being 100 percent politically correct may also be 100 percent exhausting, but here are 11 small ways you can contribute to global lingual equality, at least where The English Language is concerned. Beware the following: 

1. Gypped

We use it to mean “got the bad side of an unfair deal” aka “cheated” but its actual point of reference is a slur against the Romani people, better known as Gypsies. Its closest and more obviously racist cousin is “Jewed.” “Gypped” made its way so far into our culture that it got a spot in the Oxford English Dictionary as far back as 1899. 

2.  Sold down the river

From the days of slavery. If a slave caused trouble, he or she would be literally sold further south down The Mississippi or Ohio Rivers. The farther south one was located geographically, the harsher typical plantation conditions were likely to be. Because cotton farming was much more prevalent in the south than in the north, males were significantly more likely to be “sold down the river” because they were valued for their physical strength over women. 

3. Basket case

This was originally a reference to a soldier from World War I who had lost all four limbs and thus was forced to survive “in a basket.” Now, the phrase refers to anyone who presents a psychological burden to others, or is in other ways unable to cope.

4. Uppity

Originally a reference in the American south for a black person who did not know his or her place. Even President Obama has used the phrase, we assume unknowing of its origin. Though it existed before its heavily racist applications, it is commonly considered racist and off-limits to those wishing not to offend.

5. Peanut Gallery

Once again, racist. It refers to the cheap seats in 19th century vaudeville. Patrons seated in this section were known for their unruly behavior and unsolicited criticism of the goings-on onstage. The theaters often served peanuts, and those in the “peanut gallery” were set to throw the shells towards the stage when confronted by a performer by whom they were not entertained. Typically, non-white patrons were limited to these sections. Though the origins of the phrase are most likely more classist than racist, it remains a contested turn of phrase.

6. Paddy Wagons

Paddy comes from “Patrick,” which, in the 1700s was a commonly used slur against the Irish. A “wagon” is a police vehicle used to remove a large number of individuals from a particular location. The “paddys” are drunk Irishmen.

7. Bugger

More commonly used by the British, “bugger” is in reference to Bulgarians who were accused of being sodomites in Medieval times. If you’re the type of person who likes to “use the loo” beware of the archaically racist implications of tossing a causal “bugger off” into polite conversation.

8. Eeenie Meenie Miney Mo

Yup. American south racist. Catch a “tiger” by his toe was originally catch a different word that ends in “er” but begins with an “n.” You know what I’m taking about.

9. Hooligan

An Irish drunk person derived from the Irish last name “Houlihan,” not to be confused by the popular chain restaurant.

10. No Can Do

Late 1800’s, early 1900’s phrase mocking the stereotype of a Chinese immigrant speaking.

11. Long time no see

Similar to “no can do” but against Native (Indigenous) Americans dating back to 1901. 

Read more about: Scout DurwoodPop Culture

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