25 Comments You Might Not Realize Are Offensive

by Teresa Newsome

Is there anything in all the world that spins you into a rage faster than someone who makes a clearly offensive comment? I can't even — especially if it's a backhanded compliment, or something like that. Luckily, most people (at least the ones I know) don't realize they are being offensive. We say things that are wrong, we express our curiosity, we put our opinions out there, and oops, we say things we will spend many sleepless, anxiety-ridden nights questioning.

Most know it's offensive to make racial slurs or sexist comments, but language is complex. It's as complex as our lives. That means that the things we say can easily be tinged with less obviously offensive subtext. The way we phrase things matters. And satisfying our own curiosity is not so important that we must interfere with someone else's happiness. That's why we have Google. It can answer many of your questions.

Of course, not all of these phrases are offensive to all people in all situations, and the point of this article is not to limit anyone's speech or curiosity. Rather, it's to encourage us all to think more before we speak, and recognize that we all come from different experiences and viewpoints.

Pro tip: When in doubt, say, "Is it OK if I ask you / talk about this subject?" People will usually let you know how they feel, and hopefully it happens before you plant your foot firmly in your mouth and say something you didn't realize was offensive. Nobody wants that.

1. "Once you stop trying, it'll happen."

That's not how science works for a lot of couples who are opting for fertility treatments because "not trying" them didn't work. Infertility issues are real, and they're not a punishment for those aggressively seeking a family.

2. "Why don't you have kids?"

Because I can't have kids, and it's actually a really painful topic that I try not to think about? Or because I don't want to, and you're implying that it's the role of all women to desire children? This one's loaded for a lot of reasons.

3. "You'll change your mind about having kids."

It's not all women's/people's natural instincts to have children. Saying "you'll change your mind" implies that once they're grown up, wiser, and more in touch with their lives, they'll realize they were supposed to multiply. Some people don't want kids, and they know it deep down.

4. "Which one's the man and which one's the woman in your relationship?"

That's not how queer relationships work. I'm a woman married to a woman, and there are no men anywhere. We don't have stereotypical divisions of labor. It's not like she lifts the heavy things and I cook the food. She doesn't want to be a man. I don't want her to be a man. That's kind of the point.

5. "This cake is giving me diabetes."

When you make jokes about how sweet foods are giving you diabetes, people who have diabetes do a giant internal eye roll. They're judging you, and rightfully so. Diabetes isn't a joke. It's a serious, and often life-threatening condition, and it's not something you can catch a case of because you had two donuts.

6. "Will your child know their real parents?"

If you say this to anyone who has ever adopted a child, be prepared, because them's fighting words. OK, they're probably not going to fight you, but they'll wish they could. Adoptive parents are real parents. They just are.

7. "I bet you have a great sense of smell and hearing since you lost your sight."

A friend of mine shared this offensive statement from the blind community. Just because she lost her sight doesn't mean she was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave her superhuman sensory abilities. Also, many people with vision or hearing loss don't like the terms "visually impaired" or "hearing impaired," because they do not feel impaired.

8. "It's a shame you don't want to get married and have kids."

[As said to a lesbian.] Gay marriage is legal. Many lesbians still have working reproductive systems. Being gay doesn't mean anyone's going to be deprived of grandchildren or weddings.

9. "They're in a better place."

When I asked around on Facebook for offensive things people say, an overwhelming number of people found this phrase to be depressing during times of loss, much like "It's God's will." Loved ones being around to love their families and live their lives might have been better for the grieving. And the fact that the same "god" many people turn to for comfort is the one that took their loved one is too much of a brain twist for dark times. Stick with "I'm sorry for your loss."

10. "You went to school for that?"

This one's for all the hairstylists, photographers, writers, massage therapists, and other professionals who are tired of hearing from other people about how they wasted their time in school. Just because you can dye your own hair with drugstore dye doesn't mean you should. Am I right?

11. "Stop focusing on the negative."

The depression community is highly offended when they're told to stop being negative. That's like saying, "Tell your brain to stop you from breathing." You can't. Hold your breath long enough, and you'll eventually pass out so your brain can start breathing again. The same goes for telling people with anxiety to calm down, or telling someone with ADHD to just focus harder. It implies that the person is simply not trying hard enough to control their mental state.

12. "I'll pray for you."

"I'll pray for you" is a nice thing to say to a lot of people in a lot of situations. For others, it's offensive. Why? Well, when people are upset and have real problems, they often need real support or concrete solutions, not just prayers. It can be seen as a nice way to get out of doing the real work of helping someone who needs it.

13. "You're not fat."

Yes, yes I am. Please do not try to redefine my identity. Please do not imply that being fat is something to be ashamed of.

14. "You don't need medication. You need a diet or lifestyle change."

No, I need medication. People don't have illnesses, especially mental illnesses and chronic pain conditions, as a result of not trying hard enough or not being smart enough to take care of themselves correctly. Plus, you don't know my body, or what I've tried. Are you going to pick up my pieces when I go off of my meds, switch to turmeric and fish oil, and then have a mental breakdown? Didn't think so. Don't tell me what I need.

15. "Are you pregnant?"

Unless you know someone's pregnant or the conversation is steering in that direction, never ask a person if they're pregnant. Just don't.

16. "No offense, but..."

Shut it down. Whatever you're about to say next, don't. Just shut the whole thing down.

17. "Do they all have the same father?"

Probably not a good idea to ask a person with more than one child if they have the same father, unless, you know, you're on that level with them. They could take it in several ways. First, you could sound like you're implying that having all your children with one other person is the "right" way to do it. It also has kind of a "are you a slut" vibe, which is way problematic. There are so many different types of families, and so many healthy ways to express your sexuality. All are valid.

18. "Well, you married the opposite sex, so you're not queer/bi anymore."

No. If a bisexual woman marries a heterosexual man, it doesn't mean she's not bisexual anymore. If you love woman and men, why would marrying a man make you not love women anymore? How does that work? It doesn't.

19. "I'm just a housewife."

Say you're a mechanic, and you're talking to another mechanic, but you don't know that the person you're talking to is a mechanic. You say, "I'm just a mechanic." You've just demeaned yourself, and that other person, who might be very proud of their career. This goes for so many things. Housewife. Writer. Teacher. Cashier. Nurse. Really, guys? You're not "just" anything. You're everything.

20. "You don't look sick."

There are so many illnesses, syndromes, diseases, and conditions that have no obvious outward symptoms. To say "You don't look sick" or "You don't act sick" can minimize the struggles of having a hidden illness. What exactly is it that sickness is supposed to look like? Pro tip: Don't tell someone who doesn't look sick that they shouldn't have close parking spaces because they don't need them. You have no idea what they're feeling like on the inside.

21. "You have such a pretty face."

"You have such a pretty face" is usually something people say to plus-sized individuals because they don't want to compliment their bodies. You can just say, "You're pretty." Being fat doesn't mean that someone isn't gorgeous. While we're on the subject, don't say, "I'm just worried about your health" in the context of weight loss unless you're that person's doctor, have carefully examined them, and know for certain that some weight loss would improve their health. Much of the time, that's not the case.

22. "You got gypped."

This is an incredibly offensive term. It stems from the idea that Gypsies were thieves and liars. Don't say it!

23. "Man up."

When you tell someone to "man up" you're reinforcing the idea that there's only one correct type of masculinity, and that people who deviate from that masculine ideal are weak, or less than. You can inspire strength without the gender stereotyping.

24. "Smile!"

It is not the responsibility of anyone, especially not women-identified people, to look happy or cheerful for you because you find it more pleasing. Gross.

25. "At least your cancer isn't one of the really bad types."

To someone who is in treatment for this terrifying disease, their probably isn't any good kind of cancer.

Pay attention to your words. Consider the people you're speaking them to. Open your mind to other's experiences. But most importantly, apologize when you make a mistake. We're all human.

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