Benedict Cumberbatch has come under fire for misguidedly using the word ‘coloured’ in an interview. Radhika Sanghani lists the other inappropriate terms that are still used colloquially today.
Benedict Cumberbatch is so well-loved that you can buy an entire outfitcovered with images of his face. He’s adored for his looks, his ability to play brooding characters (Sherlock), and the fact that he doesn’t seem to have the arrogance of other celebs – instead he just comes across as rather nice and well-bred.
Which is why it’s come as rather a shock that he made a massive faux pas, using the word “coloured” on television.
Cumberbatch was actually trying to talk about how awful racism is, when he made the error. In his own words, he was an “idiot” for using “outmoded terminology”.
This isn’t really something everyone can relate to. For instance, it would never occur to me to say ‘coloured’. I just didn’t grow up in a time when that word was considered the norm,or even vaguely acceptable.
What is understandable is having a bunch of inappropriate words in your repertoire. We all do. They hover on the tips of our tongues, mostly because we were taught them before understanding how offensive they could be.
But, try as we might, some still linger – even if we try our hardest not to use them.
Occasionally, they even slip out.
These words will doubtless be banished from our language in the future, in the way that many other outdated and potentially derogatory terms have been.
But, currently, they’re the words that many people struggle to fully eliminate from their vocabulary – even if they knew they shouldn’t really use them this way.
Sometimes it’s not the word itself that’s offensive, but the context in which it’s used.
Here are the nine words we’d like to see dropped. Today.
Once, this word meant ‘happy’ – think Victorian children dancing prettily around a maypole.
Now, the common word for ‘homosexual’ can also be used to mean ‘pathetic’. Many young people (this is often a millennial thing) still have a hangover from the playground and utter sentences such as ‘that’s so gay’ – meaning ‘that’s lame’.
Use this instead: C**p
‘Retard’ as a verb originally meant to ‘delay or hold back in terms of progress or development’.
But the noun is used as an offensive term used to describe a person with a mental disability, or to suggest that someone is being stupid.
Use this instead: Twit.
It’s OK to use the words ‘rape’ or ‘rapist’ in context. But the invented adjective ‘rapey’ is an unwelcome knock-on effect. Typically it’s used by people to describe someone who might look like a rapist (Myth buster: rapists look like anyone and everyone), is acting in a lecherous way, or a potentially sinister situation (“that alley is really rapey”).
It might sound harmless, but it can trivialise a serious crime.
Use this instead: Creepy.
As with ‘retard’ this term is often used to describe people with disabilities, in a derogatory way.
It was in the 1990s that it started to be employed as an insult, mostly to describe someone clumsy: such as ‘you spaz’ or ‘you’re so spastic.’
Such was the impact of this, that charity The Spastics Society changed its name to Scope in 1994, in an attempt say something more positive about disability.
Use this instead: Clumsy
‘Paedo’ is a shortened term for a ‘paedophile’ – but it’s also often used as a joke. For example, if a guy has a younger girlfriend. Or if someone takes their young nieces and nephews to the park.
Making light of such a horrendous offence is something that needs to stop.
Use this instead: Just don’t – unless you’re describing a real child sex offender.
This term was traditionally used to describe people who of mixed heritage, but its literal meaning is ‘half-pure’. That’s not cool. Avoid it, so you don’t come across as racially ignorant.
Use this instead: Mixed race.
This one might seem a bit outdated – hence safer. But it’s true meaning is little known. The seemingly harmless word for ‘idiot’ actually refers to someone with ‘cretinism’ – a congenital disease.
Use this instead: Stupid.
While ‘lesbian’ refers to a homosexual women, the word ‘dyke’ has crept up as an offensive synonym. It’s a way for people to describe someone, or something, that seems quite masculine. Think androgynous fashion choices and haircuts -‘dyke chic’.
Use this instead: If you want to comment that something seems to have masculine traits, just say that.
If you’re talking about a homosexual woman, she’s a lesbian.
Jose Mourinho calls himself the ‘special one’ and means it quite literally. But other people use the term, not to suggest that someone is extraordinary, but that they’ve done something so silly they seem to have special needs.
As with cretin, spastic and retard this is just another word that’s offensive to people with disabilities.
Use this instead: Anything that doesn’t have any relation to any kind of disability or mental illness.