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The State Department Wants You to Stop Using Offensive Phrases You Don’t Even Know Are Offensive

boy getting his mouth washed out with soap
Waterboysh, Flickr

It appears as if the State Department wants to wash out the mouths of the American people with a proverbial bar of soup for being so insensitive to the offensive nature of popular phrases like “hold down the fort” and “rule of thumb.”

In the latest edition of State magazine, Chief Diversity Officer John Robinson wrote an article explaining that several very common phrases that are freely kicked around in offices, factories and social establishments all across the country should be kept off the American tongue because they are racially and culturally insensitive.

Robinson explained in his article that the phrase “hold down the fort” could possibly offend the American Indian since “To ‘hold down the fort’ originally meant to watch and protect against the vicious Native American intruders. In the territories of the West, Army soldiers or settlers saw the ‘fort’ as their refuge from their perceived ‘enemy,’ the stereotypical ‘savage’ Native American tribes.”

How about the phrase “Going Dutch”? Robinson says that one is a no-no too, because it carries a negative stereotype that implies the Dutch are cheap.

As far as one of the most commonly used phrases in the American culture “rule of thumb,” Robinson says that it refers to an old-fashioned law that stated a husband could not beat his wife with a switch or a rod that was larger than the width of his thumb.

“If her bruises were not larger than the width of his thumb, the husband could not be brought to court to answer for his behavior because he had not violated the ‘rule of thumb.'” said Robinson.

Robinson also sides with disability advocates that believe the word “handicap” has negative connotations, since the meaning of the term refers to a disabled person and a beggar, who begged holding a cap in his hand because they could not secure gainful employment.

Robinson hopes that if people understand how some of these phrases could be offensive to other people, that society is more likely to make a more conscientious effort to have more respect for others.


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