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4 Offensive Words That Started Out as the Polite Alternative

Euphemisms are words and phrases we use when we want to avoid saying something naughty or unpleasant to think about. For example, "choking the chicken," which on the surface sounds like a beautiful, natural act, is actually a description of something that is pretty disgusting.

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Unless you do it properly, in which case it's beautiful and disgusting.

But even though we use a euphemism so we don't have to say a naughty word, everyone understands that the euphemism means exactly what the word it replaced meant, and it quickly takes on all the same connotations, becoming just as offensive itself. Eventually many euphemisms become so offensive that they have to get replaced by new ones, a process that has been called the "euphemism treadmill" by people who went to better schools than you or me. The end result of this is a list of words that sound pretty offensive to our ears but were at one point perfect examples of sensitivity and political correctness.

#4. "Toilet"

OK, I'll admit it: "Toilet" isn't that offensive. But in North America, at least, it does sound a bit uncouth, getting a little too close and personal with the act you're going to be performing in there, and if you casually mention in conversation that you're going to the toilet, people will look at you funny.

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"Ohhhhh kay. I guess? Give 'em hell."

People have always been discreet about the language they use when discussing where we put our poops, and history is full of examples of turd-based euphemisms. "Chamber pot" is a pretty fancy term for a poop tin, the same way that "bog" is a pretty harmless-sounding name for a poop pit. "Commode," "privy," and "night soil" all have similar etymologies.

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"Aboveground manual turd removal! Hot, fresh aboveground manual turd removal!"

Every couple decades or so, a new word comes up to describe the place we leave our leavings. In some cases, like "water closet" or "toilet," we had to describe a physical device that was perhaps deserving of a new name. But even though we're now describing a device and a room that haven't changed in design or function for a century, that hasn't stopped the parade of increasingly delicate words that have been coined to describe it. Bathroom. Washroom. Restroom. Have you ever rested in a restroom? What the fuck, man? There's a line!

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Are ... are you eating in there?

How long will it be before "bathroom" sounds crass to our ears and we change it to "business room" or "pudding depository"?

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That's a serious suggestion, by the way. Make it happen, society.

#3. "Retarded"

A couple turns of the century ago, "idiot," "imbecile," and "moron" were specific, tightly defined scientific terms used to describe people with below-average intelligence. It wasn't until the 1970s or so that they were replaced by "mentally retarded," mainly because by that point "idiot," "imbecile," and "moron" had become generalized insults lobbed at anyone the speaker wanted to mock.

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"You, sir, have an IQ less than 50, but not below 35!"

But as you may have noticed, "retarded" isn't an acceptable term anymore either. Although it was originally a kinder way of describing someone with learning difficulties, the exact same process that led to "idiot," "imbecile," and "moron" becoming insults also caused "retarded" to become an insult. And when the label that people use to describe you is used as an insult when applied to anyone else, that's pretty god-damned insulting.

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"That guy's such a Dan."

Now we use terms like "mentally challenged," "learning disabled," or "special needs" to describe the same people, and we can only hope humanity has the wisdom to not turn those into insults as well.

We just probably shouldn't bet money on it.

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Chris Bucholz

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