my staff found me bound and gagged after a robbery, bringing pies to work, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My staff found me bound and gagged after a robbery

I’m a 32-year-old woman who was recently made manager of a small financial firm. Being fairly young, I’ve had to overcome skepticism and sexism from my staff, but after three months I’ve established a reputation for being efficient, fair, and a bit stern. It’s worked, I’m respected, and we all get along very well.

Several mornings a week, I arrive very early for some alone time. Last Thursday, I arrived at 7 a.m., (we open at 10), and was “greeted” by a couple of thugs who demanded money, bank cards, etc. Thankfully, I wasn’t hurt, but they had a roll of duct tape and left me in a closet thoroughly taped and gagged. I struggled for nearly 3 hours but couldn’t get free. When staff members began to arrive, they heard me moaning and found me still helplessly all taped up. I was more embarrassed than relieved. The efficient boss felt like a chump.

Of course, everyone has been sympathetic and supportive, but I’ve felt like every ounce of my dignity, pride, bearing has evaporated. Having my staff see me bound and gagged was extremely humiliating. Now I go through the motions of being the same competent manager, but I’ve lost my sense of authority and don’t know if I can continue. How do I regain that sense of leadership I worked so hard to attain?

Put yourself in their shoes — if you found your manager the way they found you, would it affect their authority and leadership? You’d feel sympathy and concern, presumably, but it’s pretty unlikely that you’d think of them as less of a manager after that. The same is likely true with your staff. They didn’t witness you flubbing a presentation or losing your cool or being dressed down by your own manager (all things that could potentially affect their perception of your competence and authority); they saw you caught up in a crime, something that could have happened to anyone but happened to happen to you.

It’s understandable that you’re shaken — who wouldn’t be? — but that doesn’t need to shake your sense of competence. Try acting “as if” for a while — as if it never happened, as if you didn’t feel embarrassed — and give yourself some time to see that they’re responding to you just as they were before.

2. Was the tone of my employee’s email inappropriate?

I am a manager of a small office. One of the first line supervisors who reports to me sent me an email stating “I should have been cc’d on this email. Why did you cc Sam?” Am I strange for feeling that the tone of his email is inappropriate? I could not imagine telling my boss whom she should cc on an email.

It reads as pretty aggressive to me, but it’s possible that it was meant purely inquisitively — like “I was surprised/confused that Sam was cc’d and wondering if there’s some additional context I don’t know about.” And of course, that’s one of the problems with email — things that aren’t intended as aggressive/rude/harsh can end up sounding that way without additional context.

One option is to respond, “Come by when you have a minute and we can discuss it” — which then gets you a face-to-face conversation where you can better judge tone and intent. Or you can answer directly now (“Sorry about that, I thought Sam was taking the lead on the project”) and bring it up in person later (“I might have misinterpreted, but your email yesterday sounded frustrated”). Either way, though, it’s worth probing into whether there’s something going on — which could be anything from a poorly worded but genuine attempt to resolve her confusion to being at the end of her rope because you never loop her in to things she needs to be involved in, despite her repeated requests, to outright insubordination. You’ll only find out if you talk.

3. My married coworkers are having an affair with each other

My coworkers (both married) are in a relationship. Most of us could care less, but quite often it’s thrust into our faces. It’s as if they don’t care if anyone knows. For the type of job we do, periodically we have to stay at hotels overnight and employees are assigned individual rooms. They go directly to the same room, not caring who knows. We are very uncomfortable with this situation because most people know their respective spouses, and the female has a history of being intimate with her male coworkers. I am absolutely for MYOB but it’s very difficult since we have a front and center view of this soap opera. What do you suggest?

I would suggest you ignore since it doesn’t involve you. What other options are there?

You should also leave the woman’s sexual history out of it, as it’s not at all relevant. Would you feel differently about the situation if she had no known dating history? If so, why?

And I’d also suggest not referring to a woman as “the female,” which is typically only used as a noun when you’re talking about animals, so unless this situation is actually part of a wildlife documentary and your coworkers are lions or giraffes, it’s not appropriate here.

4. Bringing in pies for Pi day

About three months ago, I started my first professional job. I’ve already gained a good reputation in my team as a smart, solid worker, and also I’m known as a bit of a science/math nerd. I’ve kept my nerdiness to a minimum, so as not to annoy people, but I occasionally enjoy sharing my love of things science-related.

This coming Friday (3/14) is Pi day, after the first three digits of the number pi (3.14). I also happen to be seated in cubicle #314. I was considering bringing out one or two pies on Friday afternoon and sharing them with my team in recognition of the day.​ Is this an appropriate thing to do, or is there a chance it could back-fire and it would be better to just keep this to myself?

My office culture is a fairly normal one on the slightly more casual side of the spectrum. Bringing in food is unusual but not unheard of, but I’m wondering if my specific reason would be seen as weird.

Pie is awesome, being passionate about things is awesome, and sharing both those things with others is awesome. Go for it.

5. Will a background checker contact my current employer?

I interviewed for a position recently. They emailed saying they want to do a background check. When I filled out the background check online, it didn’t indicate that they would be contacting my current employer.

I was told they were going to do background checks on all of the finalists. Do background checks usually contact your current employer? I don’t want my current employer to know I’m looking until I have an offer. This is a third party background checker, and when I filled out the information, I didn’t see anywhere where it said they will be calling my current employer. I’m very worried that they’re going to call my current employer and it will put my current job in jeopardy.

This is not something you have to speculate on and worry about — you can just ask them! Contact them and say, “It occurred to me that I wasn’t clear from the form you filled out whether you’ll be contacting my current employer. They don’t know that I’m looking and I need to keep my search discreet until I accept an offer. Will that conflict with the background check you’re doing?”

{ 523 comments… read them below }

    1. S*

      I agree! Your staff won’t think less of you.
      I worked as a bank teller for 4 years (my first job out of college) and I can tell you that if this happened to my manager I would not think less of him or her.

  1. Anonymous*

    If you are absolutely for MYOB then what are you doing judging them and writing this letter?

    1. Emily K*

      Yep – sounds like LW thinks MYOB is like the 4th Amendment – no searches allowed, but everything in “plain sight” is fair game.

  2. Jessa*

    Also regarding the manager that was attacked, they might want to contact victim services in their area and find someone to talk to (whether peer or professional.) It’s not unusual to have symptoms of being scared, feeling bad about yourself because it happened to you, being nervous of other people and how they treat you etc. You were a victim of a violent crime, it’s not at all wrong to ask for help and a neutral party who is not involved is a good pick.

    Trauma from being a victim of a violent crime can range from nothing to a few days of feeling scared/anxious or upset to PTSD (mild or severe.) You’ve been hurt you need to take care of yourself.

    It may or may not also help you to discuss security with your office (more lighting, mirrors so you can see areas that aren’t as visible, etc.)

    But it’s also okay to just sit people down and say “Awful happened to me, I want you to all know I’m going to be okay and I’d really like it if you don’t all go overprotective and crazy about it. Thanks.” (Or whatever you want them to do.) It’s okay to clear the air. If you feel like talking that is. It’s also okay to say “sorry don’t want to talk about it, I’m dealing, thank you for your concern.”

    1. Sara M*

      This. I think talking to a professional would be a great idea. It may prevent further mental health problems down the road.

      Think of it like a sprained ankle… you have to wrap it up and treat it gently for a little while. If you try to walk on it and ignore the pain, you’ll cause more damage. Your mental health works just like your physical health in this way. A good ankle-doctor (i.e. trained mental health practitioner) may be able to help you a lot more than you think.

      Ankle-doctor totally sounds like a thing, doesn’t it. :)

      1. LisaLyn*

        I want to just add my voice to this. I’ve seen victims of crime think that because they weren’t physically harmed in some major way that they should be able to handle it on their own, but there are so many emotions that can be brought up by being in a terrible situation like that. You can even go to your general practitioner and ask for a referral.

        OP, I am so sorry that happened to you!

        1. JM*

          I agree with all of the above. Even if it’s not a professional and just an informal group/someone who has been in a similar situation. I think they would be able to give more meaning to the feelings you’re having because they have also dealt with it.

        2. CTO*

          An employee assistance program, if you have one, would also be a good place to start. There’s no reason to feel embarrassed about reaching out for a bit of short-term help. If it helps you return to the confident manager you’d like to be, then it’s a great way to take care of yourself while minimizing the impact on your team.

          1. nonegiven*

            After the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, my BIL was required by his agency to go to counseling because he had worked in the building nearly 10 years before.

    2. Jen*

      I was going to suggest that as well. A friend of mine had a similar situation with her husband. She and him ran a small health practice and he was in later one day and was robbed and beaten. He had a really hard time dealing with it (as anyone would) and he finally went to see someone and my friend said it made a world of difference.

      You’ve been through a traumatic experience and it in no way diminishes your authority but it would be extremely hard for almost anyone to figure out where and how to file this experience in your brain. Talking to someone who can work you through it would be so valuable.

      1. Loose Seal*

        I would also recommend that you — or your HR — remind your employees of EAP (if you have it) for them if it turns out they need it. You absolutely need to take care of your own mental health needs but they may also have feelings of victimization since this happened at their workplace and they may not think that it’s appropriate for them to express that since it didn’t happen directly to them.

        Many years ago when I worked at a bank, we were robbed by someone passing a note through to the teller, no weapons seen. The teller involved was just fine afterwards. The person in the bank that was greatest affected? A customer service rep who was off the day of the robbery. She tried to continue to work afterward but it was too much for her nerves. She quit after a couple of weeks.

        In our case, the bank had resources they offered the teller — time off, counseling paid for, etc. — but no one thought to offer it to the customer service rep since she wasn’t directly involved.

    3. Windchime*

      Yes, this. I was a victim of a violent crime (bad guy broke into my house, grabbed me and screamed at me, terrorized my child but nobody was seriously hurt physically). Even though I was not injured, I was terrorized and was shaken, embarrassed, mad, and afraid for a long time. Please see someone about this; it’s something I wish I had done because I suffered over it longer than necessary.

  3. EngineerGirl*

    And I’d also suggest not referring to a woman as “the female,” which is typically only used as a noun when you’re talking about animals, so unless this situation is actually part of a wildlife documentary and your coworkers are lions or giraffes, it’s not appropriate here.

    I dunno, they sure are acting like they are in rut – getting it on with complete oblivion to the surroundings. There are undertones of sex based issues here. No one should be forced to put up with others antics in the office. It’s really a lack of discretion that’s the issue.
    Hard to MYOB when it’s in your face.

    1. HM in Atlanta*

      Yeah, but the OP didn’t refer to her other coworker as “the male” and talk about his sexual history. Using “the female” terminology in conversational English is a way of getting around calling her “it”.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        She called some of the others males so I’m not so sure she’s being one sided as it appears. At one assignment we had a women go through 5 men in less than 1 year and it really was disruptive. FWIW the men lost respect in the teams eyes too. We just wanted to to our work – not be part of a soap opera.

        1. Tinker*

          Actually, the response kind of covers this — the issue is using “male” or “female” as a noun, rather than as an adjective. So, to say “male/female coworkers” is one thing, “the male/female” another.

          I do get the impression that this is a relatively recent observation, and varies a lot by subculture (has a different meaning in the US military for instance, or so I gather). The problem arises particularly from cases (pick-up artists being one, but also other purveyors of biotruthiness) where that language is used to dehumanize the people being so addressed.

          1. fposte*

            I hear it in frat culture too–definitely “a female” as a depersonalizing noun where they wouldn’t use “a male” for a man.

            1. Vicki*

              But the OP _did_ use “males” to refer to the men, (“her male coworkers”).

              I read the letter as “the female [half of this annoying pair] has a history of [doing this sort of thing] with her male coworkers [and it’s caused us a lot of disturbance in the past and we’re sooo tired of it]…

              1. Melissa*

                “the issue is using “male” or “female” as a noun, rather than as an adjective. So, to say “male coworkers” is one thing, “the female” another.” <- Tinker said this above.

          2. Anonymous*

            Right, and it’s easy to surmise that the dehumanization is the case here. It does not come across as a military setting and the OP made the distinction of using ‘male coworker’ for the involved men. It…comes across like the OP is using the term “female” because she can’t say “slut.” Even if it was subconscious.

            Of course, I also understand that sometimes people make poor word choices that don’t reflect their actual beliefs. But in this context, it’s hard not to give it a side eye.

          3. Poohbear McGriddles*

            This sort of scenario could definitely take place in the military. Men and women (or males and females, as they would be called in the military) regularly sent on short deployments happens all the time. Of course the military has rules against it, because it can be very disruptive. I’m not sure the same holds true for sales reps in Peoria.
            Although if it’s being “thrust in your face”, you’re way too close to the action!

        2. Anyonymous*

          My problem with this response, and with the original letter, is that it positions the woman as the problem and ignores her partners. The men are also having sex here. If you wish to judge the choices adults make with their bodies in their personal lives you should be judging both parties. Or, you could just stop caring about what other people do with their bodies in their personal time.

          1. Chinook*

            I agree that this is a case for MYOB but I disagree that a person who sleeps with one person in the office is the same as someone who seems to be working there way through their coworkers. The latter is probably going to cause more issues than the former in the office as they may be leaving a trail of broken relationships and experience-partners that still have to deal with each other, creating a soap opera affect.

            1. Julie*

              I think it’s important to note that no one is compelled to get into a relationship with anyone else, so the men who decide to participate in a relationship or affair with a coworker (whether that person has had relationships with other people in the office or not) are equally responsible for the “soap opera” environment that may be created.

              1. Jen in RO*

                Obviously, but this particular letter was about one woman and one man, not the other coworkers.

    2. Anonymous*

      Also depends on what field OP is in, as I’m a biologist, and will use female in place of woman, or male in place of man. It’s not derogatory it’s just a description of sex, which can also be used a verb in my field.

      1. De*

        I am a Biologist as well, and no, I would not call a woman “a female” or “the female” (or a man “the/a male”) as a noun unless speaking in a highly technical biological context. Not in everyday conversation.

      2. A Dispatcher*

        I am constantly referring to parties as the “male half” and “female half” as part of my job, but it doesn’t bleed over into my regular speech patterns. I guess ymmv though

          1. A Dispatcher*

            True, it often becomes shortened to just male and female during transmissions, but the understanding is that it is meant as an adjective. And I think I am one of the few people who thinks that is how OP meant it, as an adjective (the female coworker).

            1. Vicki*

              Of course, I’m speaking as someone who is annoyed by the increasing (mis)use of “woman” as an adjective. “The woman astronaut. The woman lawyer. The woman co-worker.”

              How did we become so unwilling to use the word female?

              1. Stemmie*

                I think the thing is that if the LW is already focusing their attention on “the female” and her antics vs. the “male coworkers” who are apparently haplessly subject to her disruption, the letter already belies a bias that appears enhanced by the LW’s word choice. Really, I think we, the offended parties, are simply objecting to the overall bias.

                And FWIW, while working as a biologist, I rarely heard my labmates use “male/female” as nouns or adjectives for humans, unless they were making a joke or complaining. We would also talk about “boy mice” and “girl mice” now and then, because science is fun and so are words. (I also enjoy the wrong use of woman/man as adjective – just ask my man spouse.)

      3. Ellie H.*

        To my mind it’s pretty subjective whether or not people register it as derogatory. I’m not in any kind of scientific field but I probably say “female” and “male” with some frequency and while I realize it’s not the most common thing to say it really does not register to me as at all derogatory. I use it in the plural more often than in the singular (for example “Females tend to spend more time talking on the phone” is a sentence I remember saying recently) but I would definitely use it in the singular without really noticing.

        1. Naomi*

          I think that’s actually an example of why some people find it offensive–people often call women “females” when they are making generalizations like that.

    3. ConstructionHR*

      Funny (odd), I’ve heard members of one cultural group repeatedly refer to women as ‘females’. It has always grated on me for some reason, now I know why.

      1. Jill of All Trades*

        I’ve seen it used that way in British fiction and it grates on me; however, it’s used with a totally neutral tone.

      2. ClaireS*

        I had this same realization a while ago. I never understood why “female” grated on me until I realized the subtle dehumanizing aspect of it. Obviously is some contexts it’s appropriate as per comments above. But overall, it grates on me as much as “ladies” and “gals.” No one gets tongue tied with “man” or “men” lets all get over ourselves and talk about “women.”

        I realize this is a minor irritation and I never make a big deal of it but I appreciate Allison calling it out.

        1. LisaLyn*

          I have had the same experience. It always bugged me and then I started to realize that those who use it tend to skew to the sexist (or worse) side of the spectrum … I’m really glad to see this discussion here.

          1. Emily K*

            Yes…I frequently see it used by Mens’ Rights Activists in discussions of how “the father” should have the right to demand or veto whether “the female” gets an abortion. When I see that language used, it’s a reliable clue to “Don’t Even Engage.” Their language reveals that their prejudices run too deep to be reasoned with.

            1. VintageLydia*


              I give it a pass when they use “female” and “male” in the same way but it almost never is. It’s always “the man/men/father/husband/etc” and “the female/females.”

        2. Mouse*

          “Ladies” and “gals” also bugs me, but I struggle to put my finger on why.

          I guess because terms like that unnecessarily identify all the recipients as men or women?

      3. themmases*

        I don’t think the OP really did this, but I also notice writers saying “female” and “male” more in letters reaching for (what the writer must believe is) heightened formality. People in these letters always “state” or “express” things, they never just say them, and the writer sounds shocked!– scandalized, really– at whatever is going on. Things just aren’t proper in these letters. The writer uses and abuses SAT words so you’ll know they’re a fellow professional whose version of events must be taken seriously, unlike their gum chewing coworker.

        Sometimes the people who write these letters are clearly wrong and they’re writing this way to be defensive. They know, maybe only subconsciously, that something about the situation makes them look bad, and their letter is the stylistic equivalent of “I don’t like drama.”

        Sometimes people are just inexperienced or not great writers.

        OP3 seems like a well-meaning person who is rightly embarrassed to know so much about their coworkers’ personal lives, but still has a touch of unexamined sexism going on. A little of column A, a little of column B, really.

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          I agree that there’s a trend of trying-to-be-formal writing going wrong or sounding stiff or even less smart. I understand the impulse, though. As anyone who read the last open thread knows, I regularly start off job application emails with “Greetings, Ms. SoandSo” – which *lit’rally* makes me sound like an alien.

          I shan’t continue further with such parlance, but I oft acquiesce to the pressures for speech akin to that of the intelligentsia… and I can see how it makes you sound dumb real quick.

      4. saf*

        I also find it derogatory – probably because it reads to me as either very clinical, or like something a cop would say.

    4. Mike C.*

      When I hear “the female” or “females”, I think of Quark from Deep Space Nine.

      And when you sound like Quark, something is wrong.

      1. Alex*

        Haha! I think of Sir Mixalot – when it comes to females, Cosmo ain’t got nothin’ to do with his selection.

      2. Jessa*

        Exactly. We were binge watching our newly arrived Enterprise discs, and the Ferengi there did it too. “Females,” as a collective noun for persons they believed should be enslaved.

    5. Emily K*

      The only observable fact the LW states is that they go to the same hotel room together without concealing it. There’s no indication that they’re making out or even holding hands in public. It’s hard to tell how much of the scandal is really what the “couple” is doing in public and how much of it is the gossip their coworkers are exchanging about what they imagine is happening behind closed doors. To say they’re like animals because they go to a private room together is a bit much. Heck, if that truly is the only observable inappropriate thing they’re doing, and the woman involved has a reputation as being someone who sleeps around the office (whether true or not), it’s even possible they’re not even really having an affair and everyone just assumes they are because “Bob and Slutty Sally spend a lot of time behind closed doors together.”

    6. Hooptie*

      I actually laughed when I read ‘female’. All I could think of was that the OP wanted to say something much, much, worse and went the way of extreme naming so as not to be disrespectful.

      I agree with EngineerGirl that this can be horribly disruptive to a work environment.

      My company is a little ‘lax’ on decorum (let’s just say that the CEO and the CME have been getting it on for years, and the CEO’s wife knows all about it and still comes into the worksite to teach classes, etc.).

      So people get to thinking that this is ok, and it starts to go down through the ranks.

      My old department used to make arrangements for off-site meetings, etc. A couple of years ago I had a resort call me because a male employee called them to cancel a female employee’s room at a meeting since she would be staying with him (they were boinking of course).

      Bless their hearts, the resort called me to make sure this was ok since they had been working with me from day 1. I honestly didn’t know if this was ok, so I had to call the female employee to make sure that this is what she wanted. So uncomfortable.

      You may think, “This isn’t a big deal, since Hooptie knew they were boinking.” But it was. There was another husband and another wife in the picture, and a bunch of scenarios could have happened, such as:
      -the employees having the affair get in a fight, she breaks up with him, but he calls to cancel her room (without her knowledge) in the hopes that she’ll change her mind and stay with him
      -the husband of the female employee calls to cancel to try to expose the affair/embarrass them/whatever.

      I will note that the husband DID end up calling our HQ and went ballistic since these two were in a reporting as well as a sexual relationship once he found out about the affair. Not pleasant.

      We have another person who is slowly working her way through a department and it is majorly uncomfortable for everyone.

      Finally, many years ago, I worked in a factory between high school and college. One of my female co-workers was sleeping with another male co-worker. Note that she had just gotten married a few months prior.

      I was working with her on a two person line in a far corner of this huge building late on second shift one night. We were taping electrical harnesses, and I ran out of tape. I reached over to the supply bin, looked up, and saw her husband standing there. With a rifle. I peed my pants…literally. They managed to get the shagging employees in a conference room, called the cops, and got the husband calmed down before he shot anyone.

      This was in the early 90s, and our facility did not have air conditioning so during the summer they would leave the 20 or so doors along the sides of the building open for air circulation.

      Now, the shaggers did end up getting married (miserably).

      But I have no respect for those who not only have affairs at work, but are blatant about it. You don’t shit where you eat. It can be dangerous. I had nightmares for months and am terrified of guns now.

        1. Hooptie*

          I honestly think that the husband wasn’t going to shoot anyone – he was in emotional turmoil and just wanted to scare them more than anything. But yeah, my reaction to and perception on people sleeping with their co-workers is a little skewed.

  4. Geegee*

    I loved the response to question #3. It really irritates me when people refer to a woman as a “female”. Yes, biologically she is a female but a female what? Female dog? Female horse? Female lion?

    1. amaranth16*

      1. I am so sorry this happened to you. It sounds absolutely traumatizing. I hope you are getting whatever support you need.
      3. Yes, MYOB. Writing a letter does not seem like M-ing YOB. Also, AMEN to Alison’s point about “females.” Its use as a noun to refer to women is literally dehumanizing.
      4. I am totally stealing your idea. Because math is cool, pie is delicious, and my coworkers are nerds like me. You sound like a fun person.

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          Haha Amaranth16, I assumed you were saying “I am so sorry this happened to you” in sarcastic response to Geegee saying that they were irritated.

      1. Jamie*

        Its use as a noun to refer to women is literally dehumanizing.

        I am not trying to be argumentative because I’m genuinely trying to understand this. But I don’t understand how this word can be dehumanizing. For that to happen wouldn’t someone have to feel dehumanized because of it’s use? Does this happen?

        I guess I just can’t imagine any woman feeling dehumanized because she was referred to (or heard another woman) referred to as a female. I get not liking it, I get judging the person who used it if the context was deliberately rude…but you can’t strip someone of their humanity by using a word. And if you could, I would certainly think it would be one with a lot stronger negative implications than this one.

        As was mentioned the military use male and female as designations, as do police.

        Maybe I don’t understand how some of you are using dehumanizing in this context. Because I just don’t understand how this word could have that kind of power over anyone.

        1. VintageLydia*

          But nearly every time I here people use “female” to refer to women, they nearly always use things like “man” or “father” or “guy” to refer to men. “Female” is near clinical, and othering. As I said elsewhere, when it’s used in equal measure (like in the military where “male” is used as a descriptor for men as often as “female” is for women) it doesn’t bother me at all. But far too often I hear it used as a more polite way to say “bitches.”

          1. Jamie*

            I totally get that, and it’s really rude and yes, if someone were using it that way I’d pick up on that and make some very harsh judgements about who they are based on this.

            And I am truly not trying to be pedantic, because I absolutely understand why it’s offensive used in the context you describe…but my problem is with referring to it as dehumanizing.

            Offensive, asshatty, sh!tty, absolutely…but if someone truly would feel dehumanized because someone used this word …I guess I just don’t understand how someone else and the words they use could have that kind of power over anyone’s psyche.

            And I’m not being a pollyanna saying sticks and stones, I do understand the very real and brutal psychological damage that people suffer from bullying, verbal abuse, etc. And how certain racial slurs have tremendous power because of the history and that they’re symbols of a time when certain groups were acted upon by the government(s) as if they were not human…I understand a powerful visceral reaction to those triggers being flipped.

            I guess I just don’t see how this word can possibly rise to that level where it has the power to dehumanize anyone. Just like b!tch – it’s not nice and I won’t like you if you call me that intending to insult me, but it’s not going to affect how I feel about myself or trigger deep anger about institutional oppression.

            To quote Jon Stewart, “if we amplify everything we hear nothing.” Imo if we use language like dehumanize for things that are offensive then we’re lumping it in with the things really used to dehumanize groups of people in a systemic and horrifying way and that can dilute the reactions to real hate speech.

            I guess I just see this differently – it’s not my hill to die on and perhaps my feelings aren’t the norm on this.

            1. HM in Atlanta*

              Two thoughts
              1: Here’s an example of how I saw this language used last week at a car wash – to employeees by supervisor – ” Guys, if you’ll just group up over here. The female can wait over there.” “The female” was the only female employee. She was doing the same job as at least two of the guys.

              2: When a person uses the terminology this way, he/she is communicating how they view the other party. He/she views “the female” as lesser, and that’s how it’s dehumanizing.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t think most people are saying they feel dehumanized by it, but rather that the intent is a dehumanizing one. I’m not going to feel dehumanized by some jerk’s words, but I could certainly consider the words themselves to be rooted in that perspective.

              1. A Cita*

                Yes, exactly. I was going to respond with this. “Dehumanizing” is not about the effect it has on an individual in this case (although it can in other cases), but refers to the intent of the user.

                Sort of basic language sign: signifier/signified.

              2. TheSnarkyB*

                I agree, I think it’s that it’s a “dehumanizing word” just like something might be a “degrading word,” but might not make someone feel completely degraded or 100% non-human. Just like the n*word is “dehumanizing,” the intent is to treat people as if they are not human, or to trigger all of those historical meanings behind it, which primarily include being treated as property.
                I can see how this one might be hard to understand if this is the first time it’s being brought up, but maybe look out for other uses of it in the coming days/weeks and see if the dehumanizing part stands out to you. Or also, there might be a synonym that resonates with you. IMHO, using “female” as a stand alone noun for women is dehumanizing, yes, but maybe also – othering? alienating? (These aren’t good synonyms but you get my point + other commenters, feel free to pitch in.)

                1. Mpls*

                  By using the adjective, you are reducing her to that one characteristic. It makes her “other”, maybe?

            3. Forrest*

              Couldn’t be argue that about any word that we shouldn’t say? Like, we its not ok to say retard because its degrading. Can’t we apply the same logic that the word female can be dehumanizing?

            4. Anonymous*

              To me, it’s not dehumanizing. It’s a way of saying “bitch” or “slut” without actually saying those words. Similar to how “thug” has become a stand-in for the n-word…though IMO the n-word actually IS dehumanizing, whereas “bitch” and “slut” are more ‘run-of-the-mill’ slurs – definitely not good things by any stretch of the imagination, but not as laden with awful historical context for literal dehumanization (slaves were considered not human beings). Yes, “bitch” also means “female dog” which is dehumanizing in the same sense as “female” (which takes someone to their biological parts), but there’s less societal context that makes it literally feel that way.

              1. nyxalinth*

                This was the feeling i got from their words. “I can’t say I think she’s a ho without people jumping on me” sort of thing. Maybe s/he isn’t even aware of it. But they got jumped on anyway, because people weren’t fooled.

                Yet another person, unfortunately, who fails to see it takes two to tango. If there wasn’t the man involved with the woman, it would be an entirely different thing going on (don’t make me say it!).

                I never get that mindset. Flip it around, and you have how some men complain a woman is ‘easy’ for having sex with him. Well, if she didn’t, you’d be having a good time all alone, now wouldn’t you? Can’t have it both ways.

        2. Another Emily*

          The male police officer or the female flight lieutenant are not dehumanizing. In this case “male” and “female” are used correctly as adjectives.

          When “male” or “female” are used incorrectly as nouns, this is done (purposefully or not) to dehumanize the person to whom it refers. They are no longer a police officer or a flight lieutenant, they are now just “the male” or “the female”, and not the male or female person. It is used to verbally take personhood away.

          Now, I use male and female both as examples here but I have only ever observed the dehumanizing usage with “female”. In our still patriarchal society, it is more likely to observe women being dehumanized. So regard the use of “female” (and “male”) as a noun with extreme suspicion, and do not do it yourself.

          1. Another Emily*

            Sorry Jamie, I replied to your comment without seeing if there were other replies first. I didn’t mean to dog pile.

          2. fposte*

            I would also say that it’s the asymmetry that raises my eyebrows. Generally people who use “female” as a noun for reasons of professional jargon also use “male” as a noun, and even if that’s a personal preference I don’t care as long as the language is even-handed. It’s when one sex is treated with the perpetrator/specimen term and the other isn’t that’s a problem.

        3. Bluefish*

          Ditto, Jamie. I’ve heard this talked about before, and I also don’t understand it. The term female to me doesn’t bring up any sort of reaction for me (definitely not negative). When I hear/read the word, I equate it to the same thing as using the word woman. Now I’m a little paranoid I that have use this term and come cross as inferring something I don’t mean :O

        4. KellyK*

          I don’t think calling a word “dehumanizing” has as much to do with the power it might have over someone who hears it as it has to do with what’s stated or implied. Referring to a human using clinical, impersonal language that’s generally used for animals–especially when you emphasize it by referring to women as “the female” and not referring to men as “the male”–implies that the person you’re talking about is less-than.

          It’s not that I would feel stripped of my humanity if someone referred to me that way. It’s more that I would question whether they actually see me as a person.

  5. PEBCAK*

    #3 has no reason to assume the spouses aren’t aware of this. Grown adults can make their own arrangements.

      1. Jessa*

        @EngineerGirl, there may be an element of them unconsciously wanting people to see them interacting. People sometimes like that. Being noticed etc. It’s not a good idea, but people do it anyway.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But how are they shoving it in the coworkers’ faces? By going to the same hotel room? The coworkers can ignore that if they choose to.

        And really, what other option is there other than to mind their own business anyway?

    1. vvondervvoman*

      This. I still haven’t told my boss and one of my co-workers about my second partner. I don’t make any effort to hide it, but basically, if my husband isn’t staying with me on a business trip, then my partner is. They just haven’t noticed yet and they’ve never gotten the chance to meet 2nd partner because of the overlapping schedules.

      But if they saw him coming into my hotel room and thought I was having some torrid love affair? They’d be so way off-base it’s laughable.

      1. Anonymous*

        Why would it be laughable? It’s not any of their business, but it is the obvious assumption to make, since the vast majority of people are not poly.

        1. vvondervvoman*

          I meant laughable to me, more than anything. But that’s the problem with assumptions. And while we’re assuming, since the couple from the OP’s scenario are acting like it’s no big deal, then I would assume it’s no big deal before assuming cheating was happening.

          1. Jamie*

            We all tend to filter situations and our judgements, or lack of, based on our personal experiences.

            But because the vast majority of people are not poly or in open relationships it makes sense that most people would see this situation and assume it’s cheating.

            Whether they care or not, that’s another matter. I personally wouldn’t – I don’t have the energy or interest to worry about other people’s love lives…so unless it was affecting work I would MYOB. But I would assume that somewhere there were a couple of spouses being lied to, because statistically that’s the most likely.

            The general default for all kinds of things isn’t always because that’s what’s deemed “correct” but that’s the most likely scenario because of numbers and there’s no judgement involved.

            1. fposte*

              And I sure wouldn’t be delighted with this; I really don’t want to worry about talking to somebody’s spouse, and I think it’s crummy of people to make other people complicit. But “crummy” doesn’t mean “rises to the level of justifying a professional intervention.” I think it’s crummy the way some people talk to their parents, too, but I’m not going to professionally interfere in that either.

            2. vvondervvoman*

              True, but if I saw a co-worker go into another co-worker’s hotel room, would I assume they’re even having sex? No, probably not.

              So if I were to continue my example, if my boss sees my 2nd partner come in my hotel room, what exactly tells her that an intimate relationship is there? It could be a friend who lives in the city I’m visiting, for all she knows!

              Maybe the OP has seen other things that make it definitive, but from what they’ve shared, it sounds like someone who is potentially/probably sexist being super alarmed at the possibility of married people having sex.

            3. Diana*

              Maybe I’m just sensitive, but I would absolutely care if I knew my co-workers were betraying those they had made vows to (especially if I knew their spouses), just as I would be horrified to find that many people I knew and liked were complicit in keeping the secret of my spouse cheating on me.

      2. Zillah*

        Sure, I agree with that… but whether or not they’re having an affair, I do think that it’s generally a good idea to keep inner-office romances more quiet and private.

        1. Joey*

          I don’t think anyone’s arguing that point, its more about whether its appropriate for you to be the romance police.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            Then keep it discreet! You can’t shove it in peoples faces and then complain about office police. I don’t want to see it. But if you do it in front of me I get to comment on it.

            1. Joey*

              So would it be appropriate for co workers to tell you to keep your relationships discreet because they don’t approve of what you’re doing?

            2. Stacy*

              The theme that the possible affair is being shoved in their coworkers faces keeps coming up. I don’t see that either, anymore than when I notice that a coworker uses their left hand when they write or use scissors. Does that mean they are shoving their left-handedness in my face? And if so, why do I really care, beyond making sure we aren’t seated at a table together trying to cut shapes out of construction paper in such a way that we keep colliding elbows?

          2. Zillah*

            Oh, I absolutely agree, and I think that in almost every situation, it’s pretty inappropriate for someone to appoint themselves the romance police.

    2. Jessa*

      Exactly. My issue with this is that it seems that “the female” oh I hate that construction, however, is the one to blame, while the guy gets off totally free here. I just don’t like it.

      The issue, if there is one, is PDA on office trips. Doesn’t matter who the people are, whether their spouses know (whether they ARE spouses,) or not. It’s not an appropriate place to be carrying on. IF and only IF it really impacts the business purposes of the trip, management can make clear that no matter who you are with (and they don’t care really,) this needs not to happen on business trips.

  6. PEBCAK*

    #1 This is a serious trauma you’ve been through, and I urge you to consider whether you need to speak with a professional. Short-term therapy (8 session or so) may really help you put this behind you in the most constructive way.

    1. Kerr*

      +1. I’m so sorry this happened to you, OP. It may have been “just” a robbery, but it was still a serious, traumatic experience for you, probably compounded by the issues you said you’d been dealing with at work before any of this happened. Unlike inanimate bank cards and cash, you get to deal with a bunch of internal reactions to said trauma. If it helps, I strongly doubt that your employees have internalized this in the same way – they were probably shocked and felt bad for you (who wouldn’t?), but didn’t therefore doubt your competence or authority as a manager.

    2. Jeff*

      +1 (many times)

      As someone who has gone through pretty serious trauma, I can’t second this enough. Speaking to a professional will be really helpful You can do it privately, and psychologists will keep everything confidential. Having a chance to talk through this incident and process it will help you regain that lost confidence.

    3. ArtsNerd*

      Seconded. I had a much more minor (but still scary) experience with a “peeping tom,” and it affected me for weeks afterward. Was so happy to be able to talk it through with a counselor.

      It also takes time to feel normal again. Don’t beat yourself up for having a longer reaction to this than you expected!

    4. Stephanie*

      Agreed. Your police department might have a social worker on staff (or similar person) specifically for trauma victims. DC Police had one who contacted me after a mugging.

    5. PEBCAK*

      AAM, do you know if such a thing is covered by worker’s comp? Would this count as an on-the-job “injury” if she required mental health care afterwards?

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        If the OP’s employer has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), she can get access to counseling free of charge, and confidentially. I used my company’s EAP a couple years ago to line up some counseling for my stepdaughter.

    6. Jen RO*

      Definitely try to get some counseling. If it makes you feel better, OP, I would have also felt more embarrassed than relieved, and my confidence would be at an all time low. I hope you manage to get over this successfully.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      I was robbed once. NO where near what OP went through. The guy took the money and ran. Much simplier scenario.

      What happened next really surprised me. First there was total fear. At first I could not even calm myself to sit in a chair. After a few hours, I calmed down enough to sit down. By then it was 2 AM. I had absolutely no desire for sleep- my entire body was at level orange.

      I totally lost my ability to trust anyone, temporarily. I did not trust my parents’ judgement when they said the house was locked up. I had to walk around and check the locks myself.

      Once I got away from being afraid of my own shadow- I moved to anger. I did not know I could become so angry with another person. Had they caught the guy, I would not have been able to go to see a lineup. I was that angry. Honestly, I was ashamed of my anger. That level of anger, in my mind, made me no different than the thief. To be that angry, I felt was wrong.

      So I started doing a little reading. Crime victims go through stages. Here’s where it gets murky. You can be in two stages at one time. Or you can move to the next stage and then go back to the previous stage.
      What was helpful was learning about the emotions and learning that the emotions are pretty normal for anyone who has suffered a crime. Yes, embarassment is totally normal, OP. Don’t feed into it. Ignore your own embarassment and do what you need to do to help yourself.

      The truth, the REAL truth is that your coworkers think you are heroic. You went through all that and you still show up for work. They are in awe. They are saying to themselves, “I don’t know if I would be able to keep showing up.”
      Your strength as a leader has not been lessened, but rather it has been RAISED. You will find that out in a while.
      Yes, when the dust settles your view of the world around you is going to change. And that is okay.

      As you reknit, please consider getting security pendants for everyone to wear around their necks. The way the pendants work is two fold: the pendant acts as a deteriant. (Yes, this is effective.) If something does happen the pendant silently signals a near by police station that there is a problem, after you press the button. Government agencies use these and so do some retailers. They are effective.
      Put the pendant on at home. Wear it into work. At night keep it on to go back out to your car.

      1. Zillah*

        The truth, the REAL truth is that your coworkers think you are heroic. You went through all that and you still show up for work. They are in awe. They are saying to themselves, “I don’t know if I would be able to keep showing up.”
        Your strength as a leader has not been lessened, but rather it has been RAISED. You will find that out in a while.

        +10. This exactly.

        OP, if your coworkers are looking down on you at all for this, they are terrible people. I mean, if Jane and Tim are by the water cooler saying, “Wow, finding the OP tied up and gagged in the closet really makes me respect her less, I don’t think I should listen to her anymore,” they are awful.

        There aren’t a lot of those sorts of people, though. I’m sure many of your coworkers feel bad for you, but that’s okay – it just means that they’re human beings who care that something awful happened to someone they know and respect. It shouldn’t affect your authority over them.

        I also agree that it might be a good idea to seek out counseling.

        1. H. Vane*

          “I mean, if Jane and Tim are by the water cooler saying, “Wow, finding the OP tied up and gagged in the closet really makes me respect her less, I don’t think I should listen to her anymore,” they are awful.”

          No one normal would actually do this. This is not a normal human response to finding out that someone you respect was attacked. OP, please remember that what happened to you does not change the fundamentals of who you are. Your coworkers respect you. They most likely are concerned for you and wondering if there’s anything they can do to help. If there is anything you need, don’t be afraid to ask.

          Please talk to someone like a therapist. There is no shame in itm and I think you could likely use help returning to your normal state of mind. I know I would.

        2. TL*

          Seconding this. I would be sympathetic towards the person, but I would definitely have a lot more respect for them – especially since it sounds like you’ve handled this like a rock star. I don’t know if I would have been composed enough to be embarrassed after being bound and gagged for three hours, let alone after having walked in on a robbery.

          Definitely see if you can find someone to talk to, though. Even if all they tell you is that you’re fine and seem to be handling this really well, it can be really validating to talk to a professional.

      2. AnonAthon*

        That’s exactly what I thought too. If my manager went through something that terrifying, and then proceeded as usual the next day? I would be crazy impressed. (That said, you’d be very much within your rights to take some time off too. I doubt anyone would judge you for that!)

        1. Joey*

          Impressed at returning to work so quickly, maybe, but I think most people would also feel sympathy which the op may not like.

          1. RubyJackson*

            I’m feeling that maybe the OP isn’t having much sympathy for herself. She sounds like a strong, independent person who now feels like she failed or found out she was vulnerable in some way she never knew. I think maybe she’s being too hard on herself and projecting her own feelings onto her subordinates.

            In any case, I support the majority in the suggestion that she talk with someone about the trauma she went through and wish her speedy recovery from these feelings.

    8. Meg Murry*

      Yes, OP, talk to someone about your feelings and fears, and then talk to your manager about what can be done to increase security. If you have an EAP, remind your employees that its confidential and encourage them to use it as well. Its very likely some of your employees may also start to fear for their safety at work (especially if others sometimes come in early or stay late) and it would be best if you and your supervisor discussed how to keep everyone feeling safe as well as actually safe. For instance, at my last office, we had a policy that when it was down to the last 2 people in the office, you would give a 15 minute (or more) heads up that you were planning to leave, so the other person had a chance to wrap up and leave with you rather than be left suddenly alone at the office.

  7. Amanda*

    #4, can I work in your office?! I’m not science-minded at all, but Pi Day is always worth celebrating and I would totally support it!

      1. PiRAwesome*

        Square or round, pi are awesome. It’s a no-brainer, bring in pie, OP!

        Mole Day is the trickier one… My (non-geeky/mathy/sciencey) office humors my nerdy background and celebrates with pie then, too.

    1. Laura*

      We had a Pi Day pie party at a job I had a few years ago. Maybe one guy was a geek, but everyone appreciated teh pie:) There ended up being like 6 different pies to choose from, and the two brought by the manager were squares.

    2. Anonymous*

      I love pie, a little too much. But I am going to have to dissent here a little bit. If the office culture is anti-math, you will end up explaining it to everyone, and it won’t be fun. As a new employee, you don’t get to control the culture…but you will have more of a voice in that with time. Me, I’m breaking out my Pi cookie cutter tonight!!

  8. Dry White Whine*

    That’s awesome. Bring on the Pi’s! I always wear my ‘These are not the droids you are looking for’ t-shirt on May 4th

  9. Stephanie*

    #3 – Maybe the spouses do know. Short of it truly interfering with your work, I’d leave it alone.

    #4 – Go for it. Only thing I’d caution is to not turn it into a regular thing. No one takes the office baker seriously either as a baker (“Oh, this cake you made tastes like the one I bought from Safeway the other night!”) or as a colleague (“She likes to entertain! She can be the permanent office party planner!”).

    1. Cat*

      I don’t think that’s true. Plenty of people bring delicious baked goods into the office, and plenty of them also still get respect from their colleagues.

      1. LisaLyn*

        Yes, but sadly it is something that we women do have to be mindful of. It really depends on the office culture.

          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, that does change things (unfortunately).

            I had a male coworker who brought baked goods into work all the time. People just viewed it as a personality quirk instead of turning him into the office mom.

      2. Colette*

        In the OP’s office, this isn’t something people normally do – so doing it once is fine, but doing it repeatedly will probably end with the others in the office expecting it more often.

        1. De Minimis*

          I agree, be wary, it’s kind and thoughtful but I’ve seen situations where people get to where they expect someone to bake things all the time.

        2. Lalou*

          A particularly sexist coworker of mine seems to find it hilarious to ask me at least every week where his flapjacks/brownies/cupcakes are because last year I baked too much and brought the leftovers into the office. I am now apparently his personal chef. This same guy also calls me a secretary because I’m the only woman in my office (I have a technical role which is in no way secretarial), and enjoys calling me by the wrong name because he finds it funny when I don’t like it. So yeah, no more baked goods in the office from me.

          1. LisaLyn*

            Ugh, sorry you are working with such a jerk. It’s so sad that in some situations, you can’t even do something nice without bringing on a bunch of harassment.

            1. Lalou*

              Yeah. I really do love baking so its a shame that I can’t occasionally share what I make at work because I am now too much of a “confusing a mix of girly and intelligent” – Genuine, direct quote from the jerk. Because us women cannot be both? I just don’t want to engage any more. I’ve only scratched the surface of his jerkiness here too. My partner now gets queues at his desk when coworkers get wind that anything I’ve made has come into work with him, so none of it is wasted at least!

              1. TheSnarkyB*

                Oohh I smell a lawsuit brewing and I hope you make lots of money :)
                (Sadly, yes I know that’s not how these things usually work out but a girl can dream, right?)

          2. Joey*

            Good comebacks work particularly well with these idiots.
            “Nice, John. What does your mother think of the way you talk to women.”

            1. louise*

              You’d think that would work, but instead it cements the idea that all women are just like his mom. And people who say things like that in the first place might have mad respect for their mother, but it’s not a well-rounded respect for their mother as a human, it’s usually just respect for her mom-ness.

      3. Stephanie*

        I agree it depends on the office. I was speaking from personal experience. I also worked in a job that was majority male and am a young female (and it was a technical field). That particular job really favored people being SMEs (and cared a lot less about interpersonal skills). Being known as the “girl who brings in those really good snickerdoodles” was doing me no professional favors. And colleagues almost began to expect me to bring in cookies after a while (versus expecting me to be a kickass teapot design researcher).

        1. Jamie*

          I agree it really depends on the individual office.

          When I was starting my career if I had done this with any regularity I’d have cemented myself as the office mom – and as “the girl” amongst all male management it would have hurt me.

          Now? I can bring in a batch of kolachkis and it doesn’t hurt my reputation one little bit – it just means I made too many and they don’t freeze well after they’ve been baked so …here.

          Now I’ve worked with someone who bakes for everyone’s birthday and knows their favorite treats…that will usually get you put into office mom territory no matter what your position.

          1. Stephanie*

            Kolaches! I grew up in Texas, where they’re really common (lots of Czech ancestry in Central Texas). I assumed this was the case everywhere else. Not so much–people had no clue what I was talking about.

            Problem at that job was that I was having some performance issues as well and that just cemented the whole perception of “this girl is not that competent.”

            1. Jamie*

              We had confusion on an open thread about this before! You’re thinking of the yummy Czech pastry – which are delicious.

              I’m referring to the Polish cookie which is sometimes bow shaped, but more deliciously round with fruit filling/topping and powdered sugar.

              Spelling gets butchered when translated to English so sometimes my kolachkis are labeled kolaches – but they are totally different but equally good.

              (Just between us, mine have a serious work advantage. My family recipe is regional and there is a serious (!) divide in the Polish community over which style is better. Several co-workers hail from within 10 miles of where my family came from in Poland – although they are immigrants themselves and I was born here – so bringing in authentic regional cookies at Christmas time, done properly…generates a lot of good will and sometimes I need all the good will I can get.)

            2. louise*

              Ugh, yes, I organized a pi day at my job. Had great cooperation from so many that a back up pie I brought stayed in the freezer…and then left with me the day I was fired. I had no idea they all thought I was incompetent~made me wish I hadn’t bothered to organize that party!

    2. LMW*

      On the other hand, at a previous job (not my first job or even first job within the company) I brought in homemade baked goods all the time and it was a great way to get to know people I didn’t work with all the time and, through chatting with them over baked goods, we’d often transition to work discussions and I was pulled into projects I wouldn’t have known about and actually got a little career boost from baked goods (because coworkers found out that even though I was working on Y, I had experience in X). It really depends on the environment and the totality of your professional reputation.

    3. MissD*

      Agreed on #4. Bring in the baked goods in nice and cool and a good ice breaker and all that, but being that OP is young and female, I wouldn’t make it a habit all the time either.

          1. Stephanie*

            Because it’s just so uncommon that a male coworker would be the one bringing in cookies all the time. Baking’s definitely been socialized as a female thing.

          2. TL*

            It is something that should probably be phrased as “if the OP is young and female, there is a higher risk…”

      1. AB*

        I am young and female, I work in a mostly male office (there are over 150 people in our facility and only 25 women). I bring in baked goods all the time. I love to bake. In fact, this morning I brought in a couple loaves of banana bread.

        I don’t think anyone in our office looks down on me or respects me less because I like to cook. As a matter of fact, we have several office events that give people an opportunity to show off their chef skills (office cook outs, cook offs, and pot lucks). There is always an overwhelming response from everyone and generally the guys participate in these events with equal proportion to their numbers (We had a bake off a few months ago, there were 25 entries, only 4 of which were women, and the winner was a guy with a fantastic bread pudding and hard sauce)

    4. Wren*

      I understand the notion of the risk of women becoming the office mom/party planner, but why do you say no one takes the office baker seriously as a baker and their efforts will always gets equated with a supermarket cake?? I don’t understand where you’re coming from with this at all.

  10. Sandrine*


    I read “and the female has a history of being intimate with her male coworkers.” as avoiding to repeat the word “coworker” twice in the same sentence o_o .

    1. EJ*

      So did I. Maybe the OP didn’t say ‘the woman’ (or something else) here because that would have been an awkward sentence.

      I think the reaction here is a bit extreme. And yes, I’m ‘a female’.

      1. IndieGir*

        I completely agree, both with Sandrine’s assessment of the sentence structure (I would have done the same) and your assessment that the reaction here is a bit extreme. (For the record, I’m “a female” too). Sometimes it seems like we’re just looking for ways to get offended.

        I have a lot more sympathy for LW #3’s situation because I’ve been in an office where two folks were having a terribly disruptive affair. It can become impossible to MYOB when the PDAs are blatant and occur during working hours. I recall on several occasions not being able to get information I needed to do my job from one of the parties b/c the other was in there for hours whispering sweet nothings and stealing kisses.

        And yes, it does make a difference if one of the parties, male OR female, has gone through a number of liaisons at the office. It spreads the tension to everyone who has to interact with them.

        Ironically enough, in these situations the only ones who are not embarrassed at all are the miscreants!

        1. A Dispatcher*

          ” I recall on several occasions not being able to get information I needed to do my job from one of the parties b/c the other was in there for hours whispering sweet nothings and stealing kisses.”

          The thing is though, that behavior would be disruptive and inappropriate regardless of whether it was an affair or not. I understand that behavior may be more likely with an affair due to the fact that the couple has less of an opportunity to interact with each other outside of work than they otherwise would, but that doesn’t change the fact that is the in-office behavior and not the nature of the relationship that is the problem.

          1. Artemesia*

            The OP could of course knock on the door and request the information. Unless it were my boss I would not have hesitated to interrupt after half an hour or so, or if this were a common event. A coworker does not get to hang his tie on the door.

            1. IndieGir*

              Actually, it was my boss. And actually, she would yell at me if I tried to interrupt them, even if only briefly. And then she would also yell at me later for not getting her things on time, when I couldn’t b/c I needed info from her. And she’d yell at me if I were “disrespectful” to her inamorata, which generally meant me being reluctant to drop things that were on a tight deadline to work on something for him that was due much later. And then she’d yell at me for missing the deadline for the first things . . . she was a horrible boss in so many ways, and my whole management style has been based on not being like her. I may make mistakes as a boss, but at least they are not as grossly unfair as hers were!

              One small triumph, however — years later, her resume came across my desk for one of my open positions. I’m sure you can guess what I did with that!

          2. IndieGir*

            True, it would be just as disruptive if there were no affair. But I can’t say in my 20 years working in offices that I’ve ever had anyone else engage in this sort of time-monopolizing behavior. I can’t even think of an example. If you had folks doing that who weren’t having an affair, I’d love the hear the story b/c it’s probably a doozy.

            I’d also say in my 20 year career there have been others who were suspected were having an affair but were not disruptive, and when folks gossiped to me about them, I told the gossipers to MYOB. The point being, even if those others WERE having an affair, they were keeping it their own business and not, through their poor behavior, making it mine.

          3. Emily K*

            Reminds me of the letter that Alison’s niece answered, about the boss whose girlfriend (not an employee of the company) would come by the office and sit on his lap and coo in his ear!

        2. LMW*

          I once had my work thrown into total disarray by an office affair. I was an editorial assistant, and one of the editors I supported was having an affair with an editor on the other side of the building, and so was never in his office and didn’t actually do any work. Didn’t even mail out contracts or email authors about late manuscripts. Didn’t touch the manuscripts that came in. It was dismal and it took us a year to get his line back on schedule.

          Apparently, I was the only one who didn’t know about the affair. It was not a gossipy office environment, which was lovely, except no one wanted to butt into their personal lives enough to tell them to get some work done. They spent all their time locked up in her office, while I was scrambling around trying to get his projects done. Somehow neither of them got fired (not for the affair, for the fact that they weren’t actually working at all) and they both moved to another state, with her husband I think, where I hope for their future coworkers sakes that they all worked at different companies.

          An affair between coworkers doesn’t bother me. Using business resources (offices or hotel rooms) to conduct an affair and not getting work done really does.

        3. TheSnarkyB*

          Right, but as other people have pointed out, the OP here didn’t indicate in any way that it’s getting in the way of their own work. Nor did they indicate that it’s creating a sexualized office environment. Whenever posters make these things clear, Alison is very careful to focus on the work-related portion primarily and the personal effect on the OP secondarily. In this case, there’s no stated effect on work or sexualized environment, and it’s none of the OP’s business.

          1. Hooptie*

            You know what though? Even though I respect what your saying, I wonder how many of these situations started innocently then evolved into ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’. Maybe the boss making out in her office started with sharing a hotel room, seeing that she got away with that, then it escalated. We just don’t know.

            I shared a couple of examples further in the thread, but I can tell you of another one where it started with sitting next to each other at lunch, went from there to holding hands in the hallways, to making out at the picnic table at the park across the street (right next to an elementary school – we got calls from concerned parents), to having to get maintenance to unlock a conference room door. We thought someone fell asleep in there….nope…it was full out nasty sex in a room that everyone used. God, did it stink for days.

            My point is that it may be innocent and may not be ‘hurting’ anyone, so MYOB. But there is always potential that it will get to the point that it does affect people’s work (sometimes you’re confronted with a rifle at work – see my other post). It is better to keep personal stuff discreet at work, especially affairs. I don’t want to know, so don’t be public about it.

          1. Anln*

            I think we overdo the offensive thing. I never looked at the term the op used “female” as anything other than describing who was who.

            Maybe if we stopped pointing out what people should be offended about people wouldnt be offended all the time.

            I am curious as to how many people really and truely think of this stuff daily on their own. Like daily. Like every word they read or hear.

            Or only when someone points out that they “should” be offended.
            Got much more stuff going on in my life to look that deeply into that stuff.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’ve always found this use of females grating. No one told me to be offended by it. (Nor am I offended; I just think it’s the wrong usage and often for gross reasons.)

    2. Anonicorn*

      I read it more as “here are the facts” without noticing OP had written “the female” until people commented on it. I don’t think it was an active decision to dehumanize women, though I do understand how it could come off like that.

        1. Jamie*

          I don’t like the use of female in this context grammatically and there are some uses where it’s intended to be dismissive and that’s wrong…but dehumanizing?

          I think that’s a huge leap – words matter, but if this usage has the power to dehumanize anyone I think that says more about them then the person who spoke incorrectly.

          1. VintageLydia*

            As Another English Major said below, it’s often used in place of “bitch” or “bitches” and nearly always makes out women to be an entirely different (and usually inferior) species.

              1. Anonymous*

                It’s very common actually. And not a big leap. Both dehumanize and turn women into Not Human.

                I’ve heard it quite a bit. Generally from people who want to say B* but who want to also feel put upon that they aren’t supposed to say that because it’s dehumanizing, “That B*, excuse me, ‘female'” is how I’ve most often heard it.

                1. Joey*

                  Female just doesn’t quite have the zing that bitch does. I just can’t imagine anyone saying “stop being a female” or “she’s such a female” or “what a female” or “that effing female” or nearly everywhere else I hear bitch.

                2. TL*

                  @Joey: Well, when I say dagnabit! or cottonpickin’! it doesn’t have the same effect as dropping an f-bomb. But the intention is generally the same.

                  It’s a replacement in that the person talking is saying that person is no longer worthy of being acknowledged as a woman, and has instead become a b*- or simply a female.

                3. Another English Major*

                  The only men I’ve heard use female as a noun are the kind that think all women are bitches/hos/sluts.

                  I don’t mean that those men are using female to refer to one person who is “being a total bitch/female.” I mean these are men who just refer to all women as bitches and switch to using female when being called out on it. For example, they would normally say something like “bitches take forever to get ready,” but will say “FE-MALES take forever…” instead. Their tone always comes off as annoyed that they’re “not allowed” to use bitches to describe all women and they spit out the word females with disdain. I saw this a lot more when I was college-aged, but it did happen quite often.

          2. H. Vane*

            You know, I completely agree with Jamie. Yeah, the word choice was not ideal, but I doubt that it was intended to be direspectful or sexist. It looks way more like kind of botched formality to me.

          3. Tinker*

            From my perspective, it’s not so much a matter that I would feel dehumanized or offended as much as that certain uses of language raise my eyebrows a little because I’ve often heard them as a sign of worse to come. In other words, the issue is that it potentially reflects poorly on the speaker, not necessarily that it causes an emotional impact on the spoken-to.

            Because I’m human and imperfect, this sort of usage can sometimes also get on my nerves a bit. Which probably does say something about me, but, y’know, so be it.

            In this case, I do think it’s fair to warn someone who may not be aware of how they’re coming across that their use of language in combination with the subject matter can have implications that they might not have intended. If they’re using a similar style when they discuss this thing around the office (which, ideally, they ought not to be, but — human, imperfect), it might be falling in an unfortunate way on ears around there also.

    3. Anonymous*

      Yes, but that sounds like it should be read in a David Attenborough voice.

      Which is why people are pointing out that it is dehumanizing. It doesn’t have to be intentional to be dehumanizing.

    4. A Cita*

      But if that were the case, the single use would appear in the first instance, as is typical for standard grammar:

      “..and the female coworker has a history of being intimate with the males.”

      And reading that switch offers a lot of clarity. See how awkward that sounds? Unnatural? Often it takes a switch in sentence structure to reveal the inherent biases in the writing.

      1. Anonymous*

        How’s this: “the male coworker has a history of being intimate with the females”

        Equally unnatural? Yes.

        Now try: “the male coworker has a history of being intimate with the women”

        Hmm… doesn’t sound any more unnatural than the OP’s sentence to me.

        1. Anonymous*

          Same anon as above. I think I completely missed the point – I didn’t notice exactly how the sentence was used in the OP until re-reading.

  11. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


    Fly your geek flag high. Geeks are cool now.

    That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

  12. Apple22Over7*

    #4 definitely go for it! In my experience, most people enjoy free pie and aren’t too bothered about why the pie is free, just that it is. And if this also gives you a chance to celebrate your geekdom and share the with others – great!

    1. Nikki T*

      Yes, all I saw was “free pie.” I don’t even like pie that much and I think it’s a nice idea.

  13. Anne 3*

    # 1: Oh my god, that would shake me up pretty badly. It seems like you’re dealing with this well, overall, though it might be useful to talk to a professional like some people have suggested. It sounds like you might be projecting your fears (not being respected by your staff, having your capabilities questioned by them) onto your employees, when in all likelihood the way they regarded was not affected by this incident. I’ve worked in a bank branch before, if something like this had happened to one of my managers I would be sympathetic like your staff, and I think I’d respect them more for handling the aftermath professionally like you did.

    1. Ann Furthermore*

      I know — I’d be completely wrecked if something like that happened to me too. I’m sorry you had to go through that, OP.

      I also agree with the others here who have suggested getting some counseling. What happened to you was a scary thing, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for some help to get through it.

      If you’re worried about how your staff is perceiving you, or if this is affecting their view of you, I don’t think you need to be. But maybe one thing you could do is talk to your managers, and/or facilities people, and suggest reviewing/upgrading/beefing up the security, saying that what happened to you is an opportunity for some lessons to be learned, and prevent or greatly reduce the risk of it happening to anyone else. You might find it empowering to take control of the situation and try to have something beneficial come from it, and that might make you feel less like you’re just a quivering mass of goo.

    2. fposte*

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing about the projection–was this perhaps something you were already anxious about before the event? I’d hate to think that you’d feel obliged to resist indications of concern for your well-being right now.

      I’ll also note that unless this email was hanging around, which I don’t think it would have been, this is *extremely* recent–today is your second morning in the office since that morning. Your brain is still in the early stages of figuring all this out. Cut yourself a bit of a break.

  14. Anne 3*

    # 3: I feel like you’re going to get a lot of harsh reactions to this based on the problematic language you used, but it might be helpful to focus on how much this actually affects your working life.

    I get that it may be uncomfortable when you know their respective spouses, but ultimately, you don’t know their lives and you don’t know what arrangements they may have. It doesn’t sound like their affair is directly interfering with work (i.e. going up to a hotel room together after a conference, on their own time). Try to take a step back and set aside your personal opinion of the situation, and evaluate if it actually negatively affects your work. Ultimately, you can’t make them change, and if it doesn’t affect your work, you have to let it go.

    1. LisaLyn*

      Yeah, I have some sympathy for OP3, because I think I would just feel a little bit as though TMI was being forced on me about the coworkers in question, if that makes sense. I can see how it would feel like it being this out in the open is a bit much. And it is. It’s totally a bit much, but if it’s not having an effect on your work, OP3, I don’t think there’s much to be done.

      1. the gold digger*

        TMI was being forced on me about the coworkers in question

        Especially if you know the spouses – then you have to feel (or I would feel) uncomfortable around them, knowing that they are being cheated on. I would feel complicit and would be more than annoyed that I was being drawn into the lying.

        1. Anonsie*

          I feel the same way. While I wouldn’t do anything and I don’t feel it’s appropriate to do anything… It’s a rock and a hard place situation, because it does not feel good to interact with someone’s spouse with the rest of that in the back of your mind. It does feel complicit, like you’re participating in hiding it. And sure, maybe they have arrangements, but maybe they don’t. I shouldn’t need to know anything about any of that.

          I still feel guilty, years later, about when I was put in this situation. I don’t know how it ended up but I always wonder if, when either party found out (the side girlfriend had no idea the guy was married with children, either), they wondered why so very many people kept something so important from them, and how betrayed by everyone I would feel if it were me.

          1. fposte*

            Totally agree, and I think this one of those situations where Alison would have said something very different to the object of the letter (I know I would have). But this OP isn’t the person who has the power to stop any of this, and I think some people are reading “MYOB” as a moral call when it’s really just a pragmatic one.

    2. bearing*

      I wonder if some of the roots of the discomfort are from concern that one might inadvertently get caught in the middle between deceiver and deceived. Even if it’s terribly unlikely that (a) a coworker’s spouse is unaware and (b) someday the spouse will call or show up and ask, “Where’s Jane?” so that the op has to make a split second decision about how to answer, the situation sort of introduces a mental sense of dramatic tension, with a “what will I do if…?” coming to mind every time there is a reminder of the situation. It isn’t hard to imagine how resentful feelings would bubble up and how repeated events that are a reminder of this unresolved mental conflict can feel like it is “in your face.”

  15. Sophia*

    #2 As a uninvolved third party, the boss’ email doesn’t sound aggressive to me. Just seems straight forward

    1. Jen in RO*

      To me it does sound aggressive – I guess it has to do with the type of communication we’re used to.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        It sounds like the sort of response a previous boss of mine would make, who was always very direct (sometimes to the point of being blunt).

    2. Aunt Vixen*

      I’d agree with you more if it had been a boss’s e-mail – but it came from someone who reports to the OP, not the other way around. That kind of tone from a direct report does sound a bit snippy.

      1. LisaLyn*

        Yes, I agree. I think the emailer should have been a little more, “Hey, I wasn’t copied on this. I thought I was the lead … am I wrong?” If that is really the problem here. I think the OP needs to address this with the person.

      1. H. Vane*

        That’s amazing! Pie for everyone!

        I once volunteered to bring pies to math class for pie day. My mom was not pleased when I told her at 8 PM on 3/13. I got lots of pie-making practice that night.

  16. Elysian*

    #3 – Linguistics aside, isn’t there some actual advice for OP 3? Other than the hotel room incident, the OP didn’t mention specific things that these individuals are doing that brings their sexual events into the workplace? Are they making out in the copy room or something? If they’re talking or physically doing something in the workplace I think OP is within his or her rights to address that it isn’t appropriate to do that in the workplace.

    If its just innuendo, and its making everyone uncomfortable, I think the OP should be able to say something. I’m not sure how I would phrase it, though.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This. What should OP do if she is seeing constant reminders all day long?
      It is one thing to ignore a couple of instances, it is another thing to have to deal with lovey-dovey 15 times a day.

      If two spouses worked together all day it would be expected that their behavior is professional. No bedroom jokes.
      Heck, even couples at family functions dial back this stuff out of respect for other people.

      I can’t see why this couple would be any different. They need to quit fawning over each other at work.

      I guess the question is how often does OP see these behaviors?

      1. VintageLydia USA*

        The only example the OP provided was going up together to a hotel room after work, and the LW is a coworker, not the boss. Other than complain to her manager (who probably already knows) what else *can* she do?

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Exactly. If they are behaving genuinely inappropriately (in ways that would feel inappropriate if they were married to each other, or uninvolved), then sure, there’s something to be done (by a manager).

          But if the “constant reminders” are that they come in together in the morning, sit together at lunch, laugh too hard at each other’s jokes, and use each other to bounce ideas off of? Those aren’t actually reminders – they just feel like it if you’re already unhappy about the situation.

          1. Emily K*

            I wonder a lot about what exactly the evidence is, too. I dated a coworker for a long time off-and-on. My closest friends at work always knew when we were off or back on based on whether we were doing the things you mention: going to lunch together, spending more time in each other’s offices (with the door open, discussing work), or attending the same office social events when we’re together vs splitting them up and only one of us attending each event when we’re on the outs.

            But the coworkers who didn’t know us well enough to have ever been told that we had romantic interest in each other had no idea. One coworker who I mentioned the relationship to several months in was even surprised and said she knew we were close friends because she saw us together a lot, but it never struck her as a romantic relationship because there was never any romantic/PDA sort of behavior.

            This could be the case here, that there was one or two clues that tipped people off to their affair long ago, it became common gossip, and now everyone is reading the additional context into completely work-appropriate behavior.

    2. Positivity Boy*

      What would the other answer even be, though? If they’re fawning over each other at work and it’s distracting, sure, OP could mention it to them or their manager as a matter of productivity. But based on the example given and the overall tone of the letter, it just sounds like OP is uncomfortable knowing this is occurring and wants it to stop completely, which is a) not really the OP’s business and b) something completely out of the control of anyone who works in that office, including the OP.

    3. TL*

      Innuendo in speech: “Wow, guys, that’s not really appropriate for the workplace.”

      Innuendo in lingering looks or inappropriate touching – the manager should handle that.

      1. Elysian*

        I think there are (or should be) other options, depending on what the couple is doing. The OP didn’t provide many examples of how this couple’s bedroom life is coming into the workplace. But if the OP is walking in on them when they’re touching in ways that are inappropriate for just-friends, or if the coworkers are having a loud conversation about their bedroom activities, or if they’re having a lover’s quarrel in the office, I think those are all situations that could merit a comment – from either a coworker or a manager.

        The OP has already proven they’re kind of sensitive to this relationship, so he/she should be careful not to jump on things that are annoying but innocuous, like laughing too hard at jokes. There’s nothing about the shared hotel room situation that merits a response from a coworker (though a manager might have something to say about it, if there’s a company policy, or if the manager wants to stop paying for an unused room.) But if the OP is walking in on them kissing (or more) in the workplace, I think a “Hey guys, we’re at work, knock it off.” is entirely appropriate. But, like I said, I don’t think we have enough information without knowing what the coworkers are doing that appears to be rubbing their relationship in everyone else’s face.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        MYOB is quite inappropriate, in my book. The coworkers are acting in a way that is not normal in business, and upsetting to the rest of the team. The reason it is happening is that the coworkers are being indiscreet and doing it in their faces. Sorry – when you do anything in front of anyone else then you lose all rights to MYOB.

        Hard as it might be, the best method would be to go to the two and say – “Hey, when you do this in front of us you involve us in it – I’m not comfortable with that”. If she gets “MYOB” then the appropriate response is to “Please then, don’t let me see it so it isn’t my business”.

        Really – I’m getting tired of people thinking they can do anything they want (and affecting others). It’s a selfish attitude of “Me and my wants and to hell with you!” The couple has the full ability to keep it out of the public arena. They need to do so.

        1. Joey*

          Whoa there. When you do anything in front of anyone you lose all right to MYOB? Does that mean people have the right to tell me how to live my life? Does that mean you’re in the right for telling me my choices are wrong? Does that mean that the only way I can ever expect to not be preached to is for everyone to approve of everything I do in public?

          1. Hooptie*

            No but you don’t mix business with pleasure in a way that involves something that for most people is private, and expect others to turn a blind eye to it or not to be grossed out. Call it assimilation or conformity or whatever you will but there are social norms that have to be considered – and for many of us this is a social norm that shouldn’t be challenged.

            1. fposte*

              Sure, but there’s a big leap from “I’m unhappy that people are doing that in a way that I’m aware of” to “and therefore I don’t have to keep my opinion to myself” and “work should intervene.”

              I mean, realistically speaking, sure, the couple in question has no grounds for complaint if people comment to them or tell their spouses that Bob and Sally just went into their shared room upstairs, and I think that may be more what EG meant. But that’s not the same thing as saying that it’s absolutely allowed to comment publicly on anything that you see in public; that’s license to food police total strangers, harass passersby, and criticize the parenting of every small child you see. I think that hurts civilization rather than helping it.

              1. Hooptie*

                I should have said, “Social norms in the workplace.” Where did I say I would tell someone else how to parent their kid or that I would police strangers?

                I also never, ever said that everyone has to behave the way I think they should and I’m not happy that what I did say is being misrepresented that way. What I am talking about is behavior in the workplace which relates to several very negative experiences in my past. That is my perception and how I see it. Twist it however you want, but I stand by my opinion that sexual relationships should be separate from the workplace, whether the involved parties are married to others or not.

            2. EngineerGirl*

              This is what I meant.

              And maybe I’m sensitive to it because I’ve had to deal with it before. And I know that the boundaries in this sort of thing don’t stop at the bedroom door. It leaks into the business.

              This falls into the same category as getting drunk at a business function, a co-worker that tells TMI, etc.

            3. Joey*

              Well in business you really don’t have any standing to tell co workers what social norms they need to follow, do you? So unless you’re the boss I don’t see how its appropriate to tell co workers how they should act.

              1. Hooptie*

                Joey, I love how you play the devil’s advocate, if for no other reason that I have to think a bit.

                There is a level of appropriate and acceptable behavior and it is the boss’ job to say when it becomes inappropriate based on the culture of the workplace.

                As a co-worker, it is my prerogative to do the following:
                1 – let my co-workers know if something bothers me and ask that they don’t do it in front of me
                2 – if I am still uncomfortable go to HR or the boss and ask them to address it.
                3 – if I don’t get the response I want or that works for me, it is then my decision if I want to stay in that environment or if I want to work elsewhere.

                I find it very hard to believe, however, that most professionals would opt to allow open flaunting of an affair between two co-workers that are married to other people. I’ve been in the middle or affected by these situations several times and it is NOT comfortable and in fact one affair escalated to a dangerous situation.

              2. Joey*

                Of course you have every perogative to complain, but I would bet the majority of bosses would find it unreasonable, petty, and totally unrelated to your ability to do your job if the only evidence you had of inappropriate workplace behavior was two married co workers sharing a hotel room.

                You could make the same argument if you opposed biracial or gay relationships (or any other non tradition) that you’re uncomfortable being exposed to it, no?

                1. Hooptie*

                  It’s not the same argument at all, though. I don’t have any problem with any ‘kind’ of romantic relationship (unless it is illegal like bestiality or with minor children). I would have a problem with PDAs at work between two men, or a woman and her stuffed bear.

                  But we’re going off an assumption that it has escalated past walking into the same hotel room. I have to say that I highly doubt that the OP would have written into AAM without more than that happening; the hotel room was just the example she used.

                2. Joey*

                  See and I can easily see how two married co workers who frequently talk and once shared a hotel room can easily become “an affair that’s thrust in our faces all the time at work.” That kind of gossip has a funny way of making every interaction at work, even normally benign ones seem salacious.

  17. Ann Furthermore*

    #4: Here’s the dorky Halloween joke that I tell at least one person every year:

    What do you get when you divide a jack-o-lantern’s circumference by it’s diameter?

    Pumpkin Pi!

  18. Ann Furthermore*

    #2: Start by assuming that it was just a poorly worded email. Could be that your employee was cranking through emails, shot off the reply to this one quickly, and kept going.

    Communicating via IM or email can be easily misinterpreted because you don’t have the face-to-face contact or hear the verbal inflection to help you read people’s reactions to or feelings about something. If someone pings me on an IM and says, “Can I ask you a question?” and I just respond with “sure,” what I mean is, “Sure, you can ask me a question, that’s what I’m here for, what do you need?” But my one-word reply might read as, “Well I suppose so, even though you’re bugging me,” and visualizing an accompanying eyeroll.

    You should definitely ask, like Alison suggested, and clear the air and get things out in the open. That’s the only way to find out if there’s something else going on. And make it a face-to-face discussion too, so you don’t miss any of that nonverbal communication. People sometimes revert to discussing issues via email or IM because they want to avoid a confrontation. I find myself wanting to do this too. But sometimes talking with someone in person is the best and easiest way to clear something up.

  19. Melissa*

    #4 Bring in the pie!!! When my son (who is a “Pi nerd”) was in middle school, he wanted to celebrate Pi day. We made homemade pizzas and used the pepperoni to form the shape of the pi symbol on each pizza. Then I delivered it to the class. I realize your co-workers are not middle schoolers, but the kids loved it. Go for it!

  20. FiveNine*

    I understand the response to #3 and how tiring the reflection of sexism is — but come on. Every single aspect of the response is focused on potential sexism and none of it addresses the 100 percent impropriety of the sexual relationship forced upon coworkers and in working conditions.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      I think we need more information than the OP gave as to what exactly it being “thrust in their faces” is. The one example we are given (the hotel rooms) sounds like something done after-hours and is not something interfering with any actual work being done. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to know they are rooming together, just as it may be uncomfortable if you see another coworker sneaking a blow-up doll into their room for fun. It doesn’t make it any of your business. If the couple is being inappropriate toward each other during actual work time, that is different. However, that would be the case regardless of whether either party was married.

      I think the main problem is that the OP made the letter/issue all about the extramarital aspect of the relationship, rather than focusing on the possibly sexually charged atmosphere and/or inappropriate relationship-type behavior in the workplace.

      1. A Cita*

        Now I’m envisioning my coworkers sneaking a blow up doll into their rooms late at night after one too many rum punches.

    2. Anonymous*

      The sexual relationship isn’t forced upon coworkers. That’s a very different thing.

      But without other explanations of what happen that are impacting work what advise is there to give?

      If they are making out in the conference room when a meeting is supposed to be held that’s a different thing, but going into someone’s hotel room? Don’t care.

    3. Jax*

      It sounds like the only response for coworkers is to look the other way, and that bothers me.

      The entire office is supposed to ignore the dancing purple elephant in the room because they *might* be in an open relationship and MYOB? Come on. Infidelity, new romance, 2 people becoming best buds who talk all the time…the response is the same! We’re all expected to maintain a level of professionalism at work. If a couple (whatever the relationship) is causing problems for the rest of the office, that needs to be addressed.

      1. VintageLydia*

        By the manager, not a coworker. If they are as obvious about it as the OP says, then the manager knows and for whatever reason decided not to do anything about it. If the manager doesn’t know, the OP can give her a heads up, but after that point what is the OP supposed to do? Absolutely nothing else they can do would be be appropriate or professional.

      2. some1*

        If this was just about the LW being a witness to infidelity because discomfort than she wouldn’t have brought up the woman’s sexual history.

        1. EmilyG*

          Exactly! It’s the sense of preoccupation with these other people, in the absence of any (stated) reason to be so interested, plus the possibly unintended contemptuousness of saying “the female” and the intended contemptuousness of saying she has a history, that makes me think we’re hearing from the office creep.

      3. Joey*

        Is your uncomfortableness with someone else’s relationships a real problem though? Does that mean every relationship that makes you uncomfortable need to be fixed?

        1. Emily K*

          The issue though is the LW doesn’t state any problems that are being caused at work, other than everyone being really uncomfortable with what they presume the couple is up to after-hours. We don’t have any indication that they’re behaving inappropriately at work or falling short of any of their job duties.

          This is pretty much Alison’s standard advice about any coworker complaint, whether it involves coworkers having an affair or a coworker who seems to slack off and get away with it or a coworker who seems to receive unfairly preferential treatment etc etc: “Does this impact your ability to do your job? If so, bring it up with your manager in terms of what you can’t get done because of the other person’s actions and what you should do about it. If not, MYOB.”

      4. V.V.*

        Thank you Elysian and Jax.

        Frankly when I read the letter, it seemed like how HR always insists on their depictions. Devoid of emotions, coldly clinical, and just the facts please. Anything else, and you are interjecting an opinion.

        Anyway I guess I am old-fashioned, or Lord knows what, I- am- a- behind- closed- doors kind of gal thanks to my fairly conservative upbringing I s’pose. (I am sure my choice of words in that sentence alone is plenty of fodder for those who want to argue semantics / sexism / religiousity. Have at it!)

        No family member of my parents’ generation EVER made PDsA with spouses or S.O.s, not even in front of family (weddings are the only exceptions, I can think of actually). Just in case it would make someone uncomfortable.

        I do my best to follow those rules, since I was taught it was disrespectful to do otherwise. I am sorry that I feel that carries over to the workplace, and probably even more so than at home.

        I would also like to point out the co-worker said “We” are uncomfortable.

        Whatever it is that this couple is doing, more people than just the OP took notice.

        1. Anonymous*

          Or the OP is assuming that other people are taking notice.

          I don’t think it is disrespectful of others to show affection in public. It does make me uncomfortable (and a little sad) but it doesn’t disrespect me. Unless they are on my lap when they are doing it, it isn’t my business, that’s why I have a neck, so I can turn and look away.

          But there is nothing that says they are doing any PDAs.

          1. V.V.*

            Fair enough, I suppose though I am reading it from my perspective as “that co-worker” the one who is foolish enough to bring concerns to management (because management says that is what they are there for) when the other workers won’t because they fear the retaliation that management assures us will not happen.

            And it does. To me… and 10 fold, because I am the only one speaking up. Grrr.

            “Gee V. V. you are the only one complaining, you must be the only one with a problem.”

            So many times I have said “I” when I should have been saying “we” in my misguided attempts to solve problems that no one else wanted to take responsibility for addressing.

            Neither here nor there, I am just taking the OP’s word that it is in fact a “we”, that there is in fact something to complain about, and that our OP #3 just happens to be the one on the grenade this time around.

        2. fposte*

          I don’t think it’s necessarily that the OP isn’t allowed to have her opinions about the co-worker. But what would you have her do? It’s not interfering with the OP’s productivity, and it’s really not work appropriate to say that you disapprove of her personal life and would ask not to be exposed to it.

          This isn’t the same as the OP who couldn’t talk to her boss because he was wrapped around his girlfriend. That’s a situation where it was genuinely blocking the OP from doing her work. Here it’s not.

      5. Sadsack*

        What problems are they causing for the rest of the office? Sounds like none from the original post.

    4. A Bug!*

      The LW writes that the coworkers are thrusting their affair in the LW’s face. But that’s a pretty subjective statement. The only objective example we have is their sharing a hotel room, which is pretty small potatoes and not something the LW should be getting bothered about.

      It’s certainly possible that the LW has left out relevant information that would merit action on LW’s part. But on the content of the letter, my inference is that the LW, being aware that these coworkers are carrying on an affair, is hyper-sensitive to their interactions. I further infer that none of this would be an issue if it weren’t for the fact that it’s an affair and not just a regular office romance. For that reason, the best advice is MYOB.

      If the LW has a personal relationship with either of the coworkers’ spouses, of course, there’s an additional issue to be addressed there, but that’s a question for a different type of advice blog than this one. (I recommend Caroyln Hax.)

  21. Aimles*

    #2. I’m the OP above. I spoke to the supervisor who reports to me last week-I generally try to deal with things right away. I told him I’d like to speak to him about the email and he was much less aggressive in person, which is part of his MO. There’s more to the story that would be too much to reveal here, but given the context and timing he shouldn’t have been cc’d. I also explained to him that while I may try to cc him on things he’d be interested in I’ll never be 100%.

    That being said #1 really puts things in perspective. Getting tied up vs my employee who has monthly low to moderate dramatics. For what it’s worth, they won’t think less of you–it may contribute to a workaholic persona–wouldn’t stop coming in early until this happened. All that aside I can’t imagine what you’re going through and am sorry for what you went through.

    1. LisaLyn*

      Glad things worked out with the supervisor. It is really hard to detect tone from email.

    2. Anon for This*

      I work with someone like your employee. The short, blunt, questionable response to an email and then when you talk to the person face to face they have a much milder persona. I don’t know why this person does that, but I have observed that it tends to be when she (perceives) she is put in a position of weakness. She snips and snaps on email, but almost always reverses herself if you give her enough time. It’s maddening. I have learned to let the style roll off my back (but I’m a peer; not a supervisor. Being a supervisor of someone that does this is a different story. Then again – as the supervisor you have the ability to point out to your employee how their response comes across.) But glad it worked out.

      1. Cassie*

        Ditto – I have a coworker who responds to emails (or lack of emails) in a similar tone, like “why wasn’t I…?” It would be good for the OP to talk to the supervisor about the tone of the email (if the OP hadn’t already) and how it can be interpreted in a bad way.

  22. David*

    I’ll admit that sometimes I read these posts quickly and jump down to the comments without having a firm grasp of what the original post was about. Therefore, I had a fleeting impression that there was an affair going on between two married co-workers where the OP walked in on one of them bound and gagged.

    I’ve got to start reading these more carefully.

    1. Evan*

      Or, from the title, OP was bringing pies in to work while wearing ropes and a gag, when coworkers unexpectedly appeared…

      1. Editor*

        The OP brought pies into work and a female took them into her hotel room, and people had to bind and gag her to get their share of the pie.

  23. Anne*

    #1 – Oh my gosh, I am so sorry that happened to you. It was not your fault at all, and ANYONE would feel like they had lost some control after an ordeal like that. I hope you have some good sources of support.

  24. Del*

    #3 – What soap opera? You’ve given us no information on how details of this are “thrust in your face” – okay, so they go to the same hotel room. Are they throwing out absurd PDA while they’re on the job? Are they making blatantly inappropriate references to each other as lovers in conversation with the rest of you? Are they asking coworkers to cover for them to their spouses?

    Until/unless they do something like the above, they are not “thrusting it in your face.” The fact that this is going on may make you uncomfortable, but it is not being thrust in your face and you would do well to mind your own business like you claim to prefer.

    1. Sadsack*

      Agreed – I wonder if OP would be so upset about the way her coworkers act in public if they were both single. If they are not acting unprofessionally in the office or at business events, then it really is not impacting anyone else at work.

  25. ali*

    My company’s longest standing tradition is Pi Day. Last year we ended up with more pie than we knew what to do with! This year it falls on a Friday when most people work from home, but I know lots of people who are going into the office just for pie. Why not do it? Start a new tradition at your workplace!

  26. Jubilance*

    #3 – 2 things:
    * The phrase is “I COULDN’T care less”. If you could care less, as you stated in your letter, then you would do so, correct? Sorry but this one grinds my gears cause so many people get it wrong all the time.
    * Alison thank you for correcting the LW’s use of the word “female” in that context. That’s another one that grinds my gears and I correct people who do it. It’s rude & strips women of their humanity, because a female human is a woman (or a girl but since we’re talking about adults woman applies). I don’t understand why people are so hellbent on referring to women as females but it must stop.

      1. Lalou*

        Exactly! This has always bothered me because saying “I could care less” just doesn’t make sense to me when I actually could NOT care any less.

    1. fposte*

      “Could care less” isn’t wrong–it’s a colloquialism that comes in variants. I get that people have strong preferences for the one they know, but it’s like the “singular y’all is wrong” thing in the recent thread–as clearly demonstrated, in many places it’s not wrong.

      1. JustKatie*

        I get linguistic variants (total descriptivist here), but this one doesn’t make sense when stated as “could care less”. There’s nothing inherently ungrammatical about y’all or ain’t or many other terms, they’re just only used by certain people, and judged by others to be improper- but actually follow a regular grammar when used. “Could care less” is more like a malpropism. AND IT GRINDS MY GEARS EVERY TIME!

        1. fposte*

          My point was actually that “y’all” for singular doesn’t logically follow but still isn’t wrong. You can privately think it’s wrong, but it’s not something that it’s valid to correct, any more than “could care less” is valid to correct.

          We all have the right to privately grind our gears, of course :-).

          1. A Cita*

            We all have the right to privately grind our gears, of course :-)

            Just presumably not with our married coworkers. :)

        2. Cat*

          Think of it in a sarcastic tone as something like “I could care less but it would be really, really hard and I don’t want to expend the effort.”

          1. Loose Seal*

            Cat, that is exactly what I say after I’ve misspoken “could care less” to my husband and he calls me on it! It’s kind of fun to see how long you can keep it going. “I could care less if my favorite TV show wasn’t on. But right now I’m really spending all my cares on trying to figure out how Moriarty survived!”

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Off-topic: Jubilance, do you know that we’re having a Twin Cities meetup? Tomorrow, March 11, 6:00 p.m. at the Dunn Brothers on Lake Street and the River Road. Would be great if you could come!

  27. OliviaNOPE*

    Interesting that Allison (and others) picked up the problematic use of female in question #3, but no one has brought up the racialized language (“thug”) used in question #1.

    1. Positivity Boy*

      Honestly, I didn’t even realize “thug” has a racial connotation. I think more of big mafia guys with baseball bats when I hear that word, but maybe there’s implications I’m not aware of?

      1. De Minimis*

        It’s something where people are starting to say it is racialized due to one recent case [that “loud music” shooting in Florida] but prior to that I’m not sure that it was.

          1. fposte*

            I did remember the whole “thug life” thing after I posted. It’s interesting, because it really wasn’t racialized when I was young, but I can see that it might be more so now. (Though I actually haven’t seen it as the most popular insult for the president, but that might depend on where one is hanging out.)

            On the other hand, “youths” seems to be dropping out of fashion as the dog-whistle term for a group of minorities.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Yeah, there are definitely implications. I’m sure not everyone who uses it intends to describe a Black boy (or young man) who dresses or acts in a way that make them uncomfortable – but enough do that it’s worth noting (and not using, IMO).

        For example: When Richard Sherman (a Black football player) gave an aggressive post-game interview, the internet exploded calling him a “thug.” It’s pretty hard to imagine if, say, Rob Gronkowski (a similarly aggressive, White football blowhard) had given that interview that people would have called him a thug. They may have been equally disgusted or offended by his words and behavior, but I’d be surprised if he was condemned in the same way.

        1. Zillah*

          Hmm. Is that really about the word “thug” in particular, though? I feel like that’s a larger problem of people being quicker to ascribe negative characteristics to black men than to white men in general. I can see people being quicker to call a black man any number of negative adjectives than a white man, but that doesn’t mean that all of those adjectives are racialized.

          (I’m not arguing – I’m genuinely asking. I have never really seen the word ‘thug’ being racialized in the way you’re talking about – I associate it more with the mafia.)

          1. fposte*

            I can’t speak about you and your life, of course, but I think that many of us who are saying we haven’t caught that have had the luxury of not having to.

            In that sense there is a certain similarity to “females”–I think as a woman I’m likelier to have noticed the asymmetrical use and associated context of that term than a man would.

        2. Positivity Boy*

          But the context here isn’t that OP racially profiled people who weren’t acting in a thug-like manner…they actually physically attacked her and stole from her, which is the definition of the word “thug”. Whether they were black or not, they were literally thugs.

          If I call a homosexual person “gay,” that doesn’t make it an offensive description just because other people use that word offensively. That person is literally gay, in the sense that the word actually means. In this case, these people were literally thugs, in the sense that the word means.

          It’s not the same as something like “gypped” where the word itself exists because a term for a certain group was given a negative meaning. The etymology of “thug” isn’t inherently racist (as far as I know).

          1. Anonymous*

            But since “thug” is used to bring up images of black criminals, it’s not a good term. Use the word “criminals” or “crooks” or “assailants.”

            The problem is that the term thug has been tied to black men to make them seem like criminals, and so when it’s used to describe criminals, it leads to assumptions about race.

            1. Positivity Boy*

              I guess that’s my point, though…”thug” doesn’t bring up images or lead me to associate the criminal in question as being black, which is why this is very confusing for me.

              1. Contessa*

                Exactly, I don’t picture a race, either. In this case, I pictured some guys with masks on their faces, and race wasn’t even a factor. I still have no clue or image in my head as to their race. The word “thug” only tells me that someone acted thuggishly–coarsely, aggressively, and violently. It says nothing to me about that person’s race.

                1. a black man*

                  Look, I don’t know much about the discrimination that transgender people, or people with developmental disabilities face. I’m ignorant of those things.

                  But if several of those people tell me that they find certain terms offensive I don’t respond with “Well, I don’t think of the word that way.” I believe what they told me – that the term can carry meaning other than what i intended – and try to improve my language if I can.

                  But hey, go ahead and continue to disbelieve what you’re hearing about “thug” from at least a few people…

                2. Dan*

                  Yes, but there are a lot of special sensitive snowflakes out there, so we have to be extra careful what words we use to describe everything so that no one within earshot will be offended. :-/

                3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  Reply to a black man:

                  Yes. The example we use a lot (when doing racial justice workshops/etc.) is: If I stepped on your foot and you said “ouch,” I wouldn’t say: “C’mon, stop being so sensitive, that didn’t hurt. I’m so tired of people who claim having their feet stepped on is painful. It’s only painful if you allow it to be painful.” I’d say “I’m sorry,” and I’d try to avoid stepping on your foot. It’s just not that hard.

                4. Loose Seal*

                  @ a black man: I appreciate you saying that. There have been many times in the comments on this blog that I’ve seen the things I’m guilty of saying through the lens of someone else’s eyes. It doesn’t mean that I felt that way when saying the word but knowing how it potentially could affect others changes the way I see the word. And if I choose to use it in the future, I’m doing so knowing the entire weight of the word.

                  @Dan: You may think there are a lot of special snowflakes but I, for one, am appreciative that people take the time to explain why certain words might be offensive. I don’t want to hurt someone if I can avoid it. If I say something that hurts someone, I want them to tell me so I can apologize, learn from the mistake, and move on.

                5. A Cita*

                  Reply to Loose Seal: Well said!

                  Reply to a black man: Thank you to you and OliviaNope and everyone else who took the time to explain this. I hadn’t heard of this connotation, but I’m glad I now have.

                6. Contessa*

                  To a black man,

                  I never said that I disbelieved anyone, just that when I hear the word “thug,” it says nothing to me about the race of the person being described, only his or her actions, attitude, bearing, etc. I don’t disbelieve you when you say it conjures up the image of a black person. I don’t know why you’d lie about that, so I do believe that really is what the word means to you.

                  That point that I’m making, though, is that the word “thug” is not broadly understood to be racial. You and I would likely agree that the n-word is a racial slur. I think we would not agree that “thug” is a racial slur. In fact, if you just say “thug” to me, I would need context to know how to respond. In this case, I got “violent criminal” (as not all criminals are violent). But if you told me that you’re a huge hockey fan (like I am), I would immediately think, “Matt Cooke,” who is a white guy.

                7. Anonymous*

                  @Contessa – I don’t see how you can reconcile these two statements:

                  “I think we would not agree that “thug” is a racial slur.”
                  “I never said that I disbelieved anyone,”

                  Thug is not always a slur. Nigger isn’t either (though it is much much more often than thug is). But thug is a slur often enough in the US now that some of us avoid it and wish more people would avoid it. If you don’t want to agree/believe that, that’s your choice.

                8. Contessa*

                  a black man,

                  I can reconcile them because they are both true. I really never did say that I disbelieved anyone. If I did, please copy and paste the quote so I can see what you are referring to. I also do think that we would not agree on how often “thug” is a racial slur, because it is fairly obvious that we DON’T agree. I don’t disbelieve that you feel the way you say you feel, I just think that you (or maybe not you, but other people) may be reading more into people’s words than they mean. For example, if you only heard me use “thug” to describe a black criminal in one conversation, you may not know that I also use it to describe a white criminal in other conversations.

                  Can it be a racist code word sometimes? Sure, it probably is. But a word _sometimes_ being used in a racist manner isn’t (IMO, anyway) a reason to ban it from everyone’s language. I don’t like the idea that random racists get to co-opt words that are useful for precision (i.e. to distinguish between violent and non-violent criminals, while also describing the attitude and bearing of the particular violent criminal) and that are terms of art (I need “thug” to discuss hockey. There is no alternative; both “enforcer” and “tough guy” are more neutral and do not adequately express my dislike of Matt Cooke). If someone cannot tell if I am using it as a racial slur, they are free to ask me to elaborate, and my answer will always be the same: nope, not racial at all.

                  I will revisit this opinion when (if) “thug” becomes used PRIMARILY for racial purposes. At that point it is a slur, and I don’t talk like that. But as long as it has an accepted, non-racial-slur, precise meaning that I need to convey, I’m going to use it. If that makes me an awful person, so be it.

                9. a black man*

                  @contessa – nice sleight of hand, shifting from ‘we would not agree that “thug” is a racial slur’ to ‘ we would not agree on how often “thug” is a racial slur’ by adding the word “often.” Well played.

                10. Contessa*

                  a black man,

                  I was not trying to use “sleight of hand,” I was trying to re-state my position using the context of your comment. Let me lay it out for you:

                  I don’t think “thug,” in and of itself, is a racial slur. I agree that it is _sometimes_ USED AS a slur, or even used racially. I suspect you believe it is used more often in that manner than I do. But, on its own without context, it is not a racial slur.

                  Is that more clear? I’m really not trying to play games.

                11. Omne*

                  Sorry but I have been using the word thug for about 40+ years now. When I hear it I actually picture a Mafia muscle type who needs a shave and has no neck. I also immediately associate with it with Thugee, the original source. Am I going to stop using it because some people have very recently tried to co-opt it as a racial insult? Nope. Groups try to co-opt words all the time and I’m not going to take on the false responsibility of trying to be aware of every time it happens and changing my behavior.

                  If a consensus is reached where the definition is broadly accepted then I will reconsider the usage. In this case there isn’t such a consensus contrary to what some may claim. English speakers all over the world use it to describe a type of person/behavior that has nothing to do with color. I have friends in Russia that use it regularly that, as far as I know, have actually never met a black person ( seriously, get far enough east and you can wander in a city of 2 million for weeks and you might see one or two ).

            2. LMW*

              I don’t think “criminal,” “crook” or “assailant” has the same meaning as thug (separate from any racial implications, which I’ll admit I haven’t heard before either). I’ve described my white, suburban juvenile delinquent cousin as a thug (overly muscled, aggressive in people’s personal space, crass, petty criminal etc.)

        3. Hooptie*

          Maybe it’s a regional thing, or that we don’t have a very diverse population out here in the boonies, but when I hear ‘thug’, I think of a young man in a hoodie and his pants hanging down who acts like a tough guy, may be a bully, etc. Race isn’t even a part of the picture for me. We have a few white thugs here, though I tend to think of them as punks just as often.

          1. a black man*

            Your comment about punk and thug supports the argument that thug has racist connotations – “punk” tends more white than “thug.”

    2. fposte*

      Wow, is this generational? I’ve never heard “thug” as racial either, save for its Indian origins.

      1. Jamie*

        That’s what I was wondering – because thug doesn’t have racial connotations to me either.

        It’s a potentially dangerous criminal, for me. Frank Nitti and Al Capone were thugs.

        IMO the people who did this to the OP were definitely thugs and their race is irrelevant.

        And OP – I’m so sorry you went through this, I can’t even imagine how traumatic that must’ve been.

      2. Tinker*

        I think it is, to an extent — or at least it’s a relatively new usage.

        I’m aware of it because I used to moderate an online forum that for various reasons attracted folks who were often a bit young (say 18-22ish) and were very into telling the truth that other people are too cowardly to address. The rule against explicit expressions of racism reduced the number of outright white power folks… but not to zero.

        Where I saw “thug” used was mostly with regard to the outrage of women dating them (this being attributed to “females being more attracted to aggressive males” or similar, hence incidentally how I’m familiar with that usage). It was said in a way where the racial implication was a bit vague (the misogynist implication was… not an implication), but there would sometimes be elaboration on the point that made it clear that said implication was at least sometimes intended.

        I think it comes originally from one of the “dark enlightenment” groups — the folks who are pushing the latest incarnation of putting a pseudoscientific gloss over various forms of bigotry.

        My thought offhand is that I wouldn’t think this usage had overwhelmed the use of “thug” to refer to someone who was actually committing a genuine crime by use of physical intimidation, but I may be wrong about that. Although at this point I probably would also avoid using the word anyway, just because of the association I now have with it.

        1. fposte*

          “were very into telling the truth that other people are too cowardly to address.”

          Oh, boy, is that perfectly evocative!

        2. Prickly Pear*

          Late to the game, but I became aware of ‘thug’ having a double meaning when I started reading a lot of real estate blogs. “I used to shop there, but then the thugs started going there”, usually followed by a mention of ‘ghetto’ stores. Now I’m not the most sensitive of people, but I do pick up on (not subtle) subtext.

      3. A Cita*

        Yes! I specifically think of thug as Indian origin, but my third language is Hindi, so that may be why.

      4. Zed*

        It might be generational in that Tupac popularized the phrase “thug life” in the early nineties. I am thirty-ish, and to me “thug” is a very racialized term. (I am also from a large city in the Northeast US, so geography may be an influence.)

        1. De Minimis*

          It may well be geographical, I’m in my early 40s, and remember that, but I don’t recall it really catching on to where it became a common association with the word.
          But I live in a different part of the country.

      5. themmases*

        I don’t think it’s generational, but it is a more recent usage (which is probably why many people in this thread don’t read it that way).

        One way racist people from being labeled that way– other than examining their evil opinions, which would apparently be unthinkable– is to use weasel words like “urban” and “thug”.

        Much like with “female” used as a noun, you’ll often not like the opinions you hear after someone says “thug”. But, also much like with “female”, racist weasel words are not noticed by lots of people who would never intend them that way– that’s the whole point. Once people do notice, they tend to want to stop using those words though.

        1. De Minimis*

          And relating back to regionalism, some of it may be that where I live, people are less hesitant to be openly prejudiced and don’t feel the need to use racist weasel words!

    3. Poohbear McGriddles*

      I know thug is the new N-word supposedly, but that normally comes up when it is used to describe how someone looks (e.g., dreadlocks and neck tattoos).
      In the OP’s case, she was describing people who had committed a horrible crime. Perhaps she should have called them ruffians or rapscallions, but thug works in this scenario quite well.

      1. Dan*

        “Rapscallions” is sometimes used as an offensive term to refer to people to listen to Eminem and like green unions. So be careful there.

        1. fposte*

          Your typo made that a lot more political than I think you intended :-).

          “Oh, you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the onion…”

    4. Stacy*

      OP #1 was bound, gagged, and confined in a closet by strangers committing a crime (or multiple crimes) in her workplace a few days ago. OP #3 has some information about a couple of coworkers that it sounds like he or she has made some deductions and/or assumptions about, and…what, wishes (s)he didn’t have that information? Wishes the coworkers would magically make different choices? Doesn’t really care or want to judge, but does want to write in for advice and have it discussed by strangers on the internet?

      Seems appropriate for the different letters to be responded to in different manners to me. Sometimes treating people fairly means different amounts of leeway for some things, and that can be entirely appropriate. Cutting OP #1 a bit of slack regarding that particular word choice and its connotations seems entirely reasonable right now.

    5. Joey*

      Gangsta, yes. Thug? I’m not so sure. If thug isn’t pc what’s the acceptable, race neutral equivalent? I’m struggling to think of one.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          C’mon, this is easy. “A couple of men,” “a couple of people,” “a couple of scary looking dudes,” “a couple of burglars,” “a couple of large men,” etc.

          OP: I don’t mean to criticize what you wrote. Something traumatic happened to you, and that’s awful. I hope you can find your way back to the peace and security it sounds like you had at your work prior to your assault. My jumping into this language conversation is not about you in particular – it’s about the language in general. I hope I (and the other commenters digging into the “thug” question) aren’t further hurting you.

          1. Joey*

            I think of thug more as a criminal who roughs or beats people up. Sounds like a good one word description to me.

            1. Elysian*

              +1. I know people feel it has racial implications, and it can just like other words. I also I think people shouldn’t use the word hyperbolically (we should all aim to be precise in our language). But I always think of a thug as someone who is threatening to beat me up if I don’t do what they want, and is likely to follow through on that threat.

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        When you’re talking about words that criminalize groups of people, there often is no race-neutral alternative, because all of the words have been racialized in one direction or another.
        Just because there’s no race-neutral alternative does not mean that a word is unbiased.

    6. Anonicorn*

      If I had come to work and been tied and gagged in a closet for hours, I’d have more than every right to label the people who did that as “thugs.” Race wouldn’t even factor into it, and it’s entirely possible OP couldn’t even identify their race.

      And frankly, race aside once again, I wouldn’t pause in calling them a lot of even more horrible things.

        1. fposte*

          I vote for prioritizing people over words on this one.

          I don’t go for that every time, to be frank, but it seems pretty inarguable to me after this discussion and my subsequent net research that this word reads racially to a lot of people and may position me as someone I’m not, and it’s therefore not doing the work I’d want it to.

    7. Jack*

      Wait… ‘Thug’ is a racist term now? Maybe it’s me being self-racist, but when I read the OP’s letter and saw ‘thugs’, I mentally pictured a couple of Caucasian ne’er-do-wells.

      Thuggery is not based on skin color. Good grief.

      1. H. Vane*

        In fact, I kind of think that the implication that ‘thug’ is racist because it automatically conjures up an image of a black guy is kinda racist. I also pictured Caucasian guys, probably because I’m white. I’ve never once heard ‘thug’ used as a racial term in my whole life.

        1. A Bug!*

          I’d like to introduce you to the concept of the political dog whistle. You’ll want to look it up yourself and do some reading, but the basic gist of it is that there are certain words which are specifically used because while they mean one thing on the surface, they carry a different (or more specific) meaning to certain groups.

          “Thug” is a word that has only recently received much attention as one of these dog whistle words. I would invite you to pay close attention to how the word “thug” is used in the media before concluding that the real racists are the ones pointing out its racist usage.

          1. A Bug!*

            To clarify, I’m not suggesting that every use of the word “thug” is intended to carry racial undertones or that the use of the word at all necessarily makes you a racist.

            What I am saying is that, increasingly, the word “thug” is used by the media and public figures as a substitute for explicitly racist words. The speaker thus is able to transmit a racist message to racists without attracting the social and professional consequences that come with being openly racist.

            And I don’t think it’s racist to acknowledge or examine that.

    8. Heather*

      “Thug” gains racial overtones when white people use it as a descriptor for black men of whom they disapprove or disagree with for any reason – such as when Richard Sherman was labeled a thug for the crime of not acting genteel enough after a football game. Or Jordan Davis being called a thug because he and his friends, like just about every American teenager does at some point, played loud music and may have given some attitude to an adult. Neither of them actually harmed or tried to harm anyone.

      OP #1’s assailants, on the other hand, definitely meet the non-racist definition of “thugs.” Although I’d personally probably choose another word because I’m aware of the other usage, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize her for using the word according to its original definition. Duct-taping a hostage to rob a bank qualifies you as a thug regardless of your race.

      *hops off soapbox*

      1. Joey*

        Except this isn’t for no reason. I might agree with you if two “thugs” came into to her store and just “looked like thugs”, but these thugs actually earned it.

      2. Jamie*

        I don’t know if in your examples the people using the word intended it racially or not. If so and they wouldn’t have used the same word if the person/people annoying them were white then that’s wrong.

        But calling someone a name disproportionate to the act which annoyed you isn’t racist – it’s just hyperbole. Someone merged to quickly when I was driving in today and it annoyed me so I called him a …very bad name. It doesn’t mean he is a ducking hasspole, perhaps he’s a saint who helps the homeless or cures cancer, but in calling him a name (which no one else could hear) I wasn’t making a judgement on him as a whole…I was overreacting verbally because I was annoyed.

        So if there are white people using it solely as a descriptor for black men that is racist…but for so many people it’s a race neutral term just the use of the word isn’t enough – in and of itself – to assume that’s how someone meant it.

        1. Heather*

          I hate when doing actual work interferes with AAM discussions ;)

          Can’t speak for anyone else on the thread, but I wasn’t criticizing the OP’s use of “thug” (and *definitely* not saying she was overreacting!), just trying to provide some examples where it has been used in a racist way. I think fposte described it best a few posts down – many people don’t use it as a racist dog-whistle and haven’t yet heard it used as such, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

          One place you might be able to see the dog-whistle version is on news site comment pages, if you can stomach the stupid long enough. Look at articles about the Jordan Davis/Michael Dunn and Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman cases. You’ll see that the defenders of both (white) shooters consistently call their (black) victims thugs, while the defenders of the victims rarely use the word to refer to the shooters, even though they’re the ones who actually committed the acts that would be considered “thuggish” according to the dictionary definition.

    9. The IT Manager*

      I think everyone is reading more into the use of the term female than is necessary. I didn’t notice it at all; although, I worked in an enviroment (the military) for a long time that used both “male” and “female” as nouns without any implication of degregation.

      But as far as I know “thug” is as used in America today is a race-neutral term. According to dictionary dot com, it is not etirely race-neutral:
      1. a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer.
      2. ( sometimes initial capital letter ) one of a former group of professional robbers and murderers in India who strangled their victims.

      .. but I don’t think the LW was calling out the robbers as being Indian. I’m fairly certain that LW was using it to mean definiation 1 above.

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Dictionary (dot) com isn’t gonna tell you whether a term is race-neutral or not, I can guarantee you that much. It might give you some idea, but please don’t count on it.

        “Thug” is not a race-neutral term. It can be used in certain contexts that don’t evoke race or racially biased histories/contexts/triggers, etc., but it is not simply race-neutral, for reasons posted elsewhere in this thread. The Richard Sherman, “Thug is the new N***er” is a very good example of why.

        1. Anonymous*

          Except that the Sherman piece (by Jamelle Bouie) is so deliberately obtuse as to lose credibility. Bouie posits that the use of the word “Chicago” (in concert with “thug”) implies _black_ thuggery. But, anyone with any knowledge of American history would be much, much more likely to connect a “Chicago” thug in particular to mob violence OR Chicago’s legendary political machine–which are both references to white people, not black people. Bouie either doesn’t know this or chooses to ignore it, neither of which reflects well on him.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t know that historical connotation is enough to disprove the validity of a contemporary connection, but I too was surprised by that interpretation of the Chicago linkage.

            However: that piece is talking about strands of discourse rather than a broad and complete usage, and I’m prepared to believe there are clusters to whom “Chicago” means “black” rather than “Daley.”

    10. Lyssa*

      If someone hears about a couple of “thugs” that broke into a business, roughed a woman up and left her bound and gagged in a closet, and that person assumed that they were black people, then I’m going to assume that that person is the racist one in this scenario. Please don’t equate criminal activity with any particular race.

      1. OliviaNOPE*

        FYI: I am a black person. I’m willing to bet the people OP1 is describing are black, not because I assume all criminals are black, but because I assume that people who use the word “thug” exclusively do so to describe people of color. If they had been white, she’d have picked another word. I’d bet my paycheck on it. And please stop with ascribing a person who starts a discussion about race to be a racist. It is old and tired.

        1. Positivity Boy*

          But there are several commenters here saying they read the word “thug” and pictured the assailants as white…while I admit that there are certain terms that probably would’ve made me specifically picture the attackers as black, “thug” isn’t one of them.

          Maybe it’s a cultural thing? I rarely even hear the word “thug” used at all, in any context, so I don’t really have many associations with it. If anything, I think of the mafia sending out “thugs” to beat people who owe them something.

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            Right, but those people are using their own reading of the situation to discount the validity of the poster’s (OliviaNOPE’s) assertion, which is correct, and is based on her(?) own personal experience.
            (Primarily) white anecdata does not a valid counterpoint make. When’s the last time you were swayed by someone going “oh no no no, I’ve never heard of that.” ?

            1. fposte*

              It’s been an interesting discussion for me, because I do think the racial implications developed fairly recently, and still haven’t in some Anglophone countries–it’s still a fairly common British newspaper term that doesn’t code for race (though it may for class). Without resisting OliviaNOPE’s overall point, I do think that there are many of us, perhaps simply identifiable by generation, who would not use it as racial code (actually, it seems slightly archaic to me–I keep picturing the Shakespeare-loving toughs in “Kiss Me Kate”).

              But as with discussions we’ve had about terms for sexual identity, I think it’s important for people like me to understand that the context has changed for this vocabulary, and even if I were to use the word drawing on my context with it instead, it’s going to be read in the contemporary context.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Yeah, I am feeling OLD here.
                But this is why I read this blog to learn what others think.
                I grew up in a time where thug meant something else. I thought it was an old word. I have seen it in the news a couple times and I thought it was poor writing. (Not that mine is great writing, but that it was sub-par writing.)
                I don’t want people thinking untrue things about me. I don’t want to be THAT person, ever.
                I do worry, though. It feels like I cannot keep up with all this.
                I will definitely be watching the news articles closer now.

            2. fposte*

              To be clear, I’m really not saying that I’m free of racially inflected language and could never, etc. It’s just this one became a dog whistle after some of us were too old to hear dog whistles, so it takes a conversation like this to give me the more contemporary context. (I didn’t know who Richard Sherman was until I Googled, either.)

              1. The IT Manager*

                And this is the problem, I think. People are getting defense because someone is saying “this” is a racial slur because some people in some areas are starting to use it as such. Well, ‘this” usage hasn’t filtered out to all people all across the US much less the world, and people often get defensive when they’re being accused of being something negative (a racist) that they’re not.

                Can’t we give LW#1 and LW#3, the benefit of the doubt? LW#1 especially did not give off any other troubling vibes in her letter.

                1. fposte*

                  I’m torn, as I sometimes am about AAM discussions: what’s being discussed here has been really useful to me, and I think it’s become a discussion that’s no longer about the OP and her usage. But I also would hate for this to be a bad thing for the OP.

                2. a black man*

                  I haven’t accused anyone of being racist and I haven’t seen that here (though perhaps I’ve missed such an accusation).

                  What I have seen is several of us pointing out the term is used by racists in a certain way, and so we suggest everyone avoid it when possible (with an allowance to the OP given the terrible experience she faced – I feel zero animosity toward her and hope she recovers well).

                  It’s not racist to use some offensive word in an ignorant but well-meaning way. To keep using it, and to dismiss the comments of several other people about the racist meaning of the word, which presumably are at least someone accurate, simply because you have a different understanding – that’s pretty bad.

                  I think a number of people here would do well to read “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh – it’s online.

            3. Positivity Boy*

              Fair enough, although what spurred this discussion was her calling out that people were criticizing the use of “female” and not criticizing the use of “thug”. I think the point being defended here isn’t that people just don’t care about racial terms, but rather that most people weren’t even aware of the apparent racial connotations, hence why it wasn’t more immediately called out like “female” was.

            4. H. Vane*

              Maybe so, but why is her opinion more valid than mine in this case? I continue to contend that the word ‘thug’, in its current accepted usage, does not refer to a specific race. If people are choosing to associate it with a certain race in their own minds, it makes me wonder what preconceived notions they have about that race.

              If someone can provide a fairly bias-free third party source stating that the word thug is a racial term that should not be used, I’m willing to look at it and adjust my opinion. What I see here, however, is someone attributing a meaning to a term that is not and was never intended.

                1. Stephanie*

                  Ok, I was wondering where the cursor went in the comment box. :P

                  Point being, all the associated images with “thug” are black people dressed in baggy clothes with gold chains.

                2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  This is an incredibly helpful illustration, since Google just tells us what we are (via what we read, search for, etc.).

                  I especially like the image of MLK. Nice.

                3. Cath@VWXYNot?*

                  I’m seeing different results – because of Google returning different results for different people and in different locations (I’m in Canada). Yes, a lot are of black men, but there are about 20% white guys and a few cartoon characters too.

                  This may tie into what someone else said above about thug not being a racialised word (yet?) in some Anglophone countries. I’m British and, again as someone else already said, to me it’s much more of a class-based word than a race-based one. But clearly that’s no longer the case in the US

                4. Wren*

                  This has been a really interesting discussion, because I also had no notion that “thug” was seen as racialised by some. However, I do think this is maybe regional.

                  Like Cath points out, in Canada, there are a good number of white people in my search results. However, I’m also noting that nearly all results are in reference to black people and the workds “thug life,” which as I understand it is people self-identifying as celebrating the thug life culture, which is different from people calling black people thugs in a racist manner. There are actually more images of white people (almost all with direct reference to the words thug life, and a notable few “clown thugs” from Gotham city, which were mostly, though not all, white) than there are images of black people who are pretty obviously being called thugs in a racist manner like a black football player, or the picture of MLK. There are also some instances of mocking the thug life culture in a manner that is clearly racist.

                  Anyway, I will be paying more attention to how I hear this word used (and avoid using it, though I don’t commonly use it,) but I think it’s far from certain that the OP meant black assailants when she said “thugs.”

              1. fposte*

                See, to me that’s kind of a “Why don’t I have the right to microwave fish?” question. It’s not about who has the right, it’s about knowing that this act, which is not exactly crucial in daily life, is problematic for a lot of people.

                1. H. Vane*

                  I can accept that happily – I don’t use the word thug to mean anything other than people who actually commit violent crime, so I’m unlikely to use it offensively.

                  I guess my real issue is there is a tendancy here in the comments to decide whether someone has the right to have an opinion, especially on sensitive topics such as racism and sexism. My opinions and experiences relating to racial issues shoudn’t be discounted purely because I’m white – that would be racist. People who, because of fundamental religious beliefs, provide an opposing viewpoint on issues relating to affairs, homosexuality or open relationships shouldn’t be mocked but instead engaged in open discussion – and they shouldn’t abuse people on the other end of the spectrum. The guys who frequent this board should be to comment on women’s problems in the workplace without fear that they’ll be labeled sexist, horrible people for having a different point of view. People are allowed to have dissenting opinions. Sometimes it really feels like people delight in piling on, rather than engaging in polite and rational discussions that aim to teach instead of beat down.

                  Let’s treat the other commenters like real people please.

                2. a black man*

                  H Vane, please read “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh (it’s online) and then think about your continuing to use the word “thug” is not offensive because you don’t mean it that way.

              2. Stephanie*

                That being said, I can’t tell for sure if OP really was using in a loaded manner.

                OliviaNOPE and I may just be more attuned to the derogatory use because of our backgrounds.

            5. Positivity Boy*

              And while I can now understand how “thug” has gained racial implications based on everything the other posters have brought up, I still don’t agree with OliviaNOPE’s statement that the OP would’ve only used that word if the attackers were black. I brought up the anecdotal evidence because I don’t think that there is such widespread knowledge and usage of “thug” as a racial term that there’s no way OP could’ve just meant “violent criminal,” regardless of race.

        2. Radiance*

          You are WRONG, and you’d lose that bet. Those criminals were thugs regardless of their color. I think of thugs as big, hulking, scary men. White, even!

          1. fposte*

            Wait, are you the OP? If you’re not, you don’t have any more information than Olivia about the OP’s attackers.

        3. Marcy*

          You should probably pay up then. You are making way to may assumptions (as you freely admit). I really don’t know what other word she would use if they were white- I can’t think of one off the top of my head. I would have used “thug” for any race. If anything, I guess the word could be seen as sexist, but not racist, even if some may try to hijack the word and make it into a racist word. It is up to us to take those words back and use them properly and not feed into the pc machine. Not using them anymore just gives the people who use them as racist words more power. Personally, I refuse to have a dictionary full of words I am no longer allowed to use because someone at some time used them inappropriately.

      2. Hooptie*

        Thank you – I may live out in the sticks but I do keep up on current events and national news, and find it hard to believe that the accepted definition of the word ‘thug’ has changed to identify just one race. This really, really bothers me.

    11. Jean*

      I am beginning to understand the idea that “thug” can have racial, or racist, overtones, but my original understanding was that it described someone who was not only brutal and mean but coarsely so, inflicting harm on people just because it was possible to do so. Examples: various hold-onto-power-by-all-means dictators currently causing poverty, trauma, injury, and/or death to the citizens of their countries.

    12. Stephanie*

      I agree the term’s racialized, but I didn’t pick up that the OP was using it in a (advertently) racist manner.

      1. a black man*

        I’m not going to begrudge the OP’s choice of words – she had a terrible experience and I’m not about to second-guess her choice of words.

        But for everyone else – thug is frequently a racialized term. You might not think it is, but now you know. Avoid it. Don’t just say “I didn’t know that.” Now you do.

        Some of us know this more than others, because we experience racism differently that others. So we notice.

        And no, you can’t safely use “thug” for real criminals since to some people it conjures up images of black people. Just use the word “criminal.” It’s clear, it’s not jargon.

        1. fposte*

          Fairly stated. And you know, I’d a lot rather learn something like this in a conversation here than elsewhere.

          1. Sara M*

            I’m glad this thread called the problems to my attention (problems with the word “thug”). Indeed, now I know. Thanks.

        2. themmases*

          Thank you– I think this is such a perfect response to discussions about offensive language. It’s something I always wonder about when this comes up.

          It’s OK not to know every way a word could be or has been used, or to miscommunicate. But once people have been told that a word could hurt others, or even been asked by people in that group to stop using the word, why on earth do people dig in their heels and act like it’s worse to be misunderstood than to be othered and insulted? If people are upset that a word that once was or at least seemed neutral now isn’t, maybe they should take it up with racists who persist in using language to hurt and minimize other people.

          1. Mints*

            I’ll agree that thug is newly racialized, and possibly geographic/urban, but now that you know, let’s avoid it.

            (Tangent: the Richard Sherman hoopla annoyed me especially because Harborough is one of the angriest people I’ve ever seen, but he never gets called on it)

        3. Joey*

          Could you clarify why thug is racial? I get that you say it is but I’m not connecting the dots correctly I think. Because if you’re saying people associate criminal activity with African Americans then wouldn’t criminal and every other word associated with jail be problematic like ex con, criminal, gangster, felon, etc.

          This might be ignorance, but the only other rationale I can come up with is because of its use in rap.

          1. themmases*

            Stephanie had a good point above that if you image search “thug”, you will overwhelmingly find pictures of black men dressed as a stereotype of a rapper or gang member. And you’re correct that the word is used by some rappers themselves– although I’m less familiar with that genre of music so I don’t want to comment too much on something I don’t know.

            Another place I’ve seen it recently is in Tea Party protests. Descriptions of Barack Obama as a “thug” and even depictions of him that rely heavily on offensive racial stereotypes, including that one, are easy to find in coverage of these protests. That’s the most prominent example I know of where the worst is used in an obviously race-inflected way that’s not at all accurate. Another often-cited example is Richard Sherman, who might have been rude but is certainly not a criminal, but I didn’t follow that controversy as closely.

            I don’t want to add a political argument to this thread– I went to my fair share of protests under Bush and I certainly wasn’t in the habit of portraying him as a mistaken but principled leader, but I would point to those protests as going beyond passionate or rude to racist. They’re also an example of some white people who understand quite clearly what they mean by “thug”, since some of them were even awful enough to draw us all a picture. I see the same thing in political memes on Facebook that insult Obama as a “thug”.

            1. Joey*

              I don’t know. When I google thug i see a lot of hits on thug life which looks like glorification of the word. I don’t see images of Obama or Sherman or people unwillingly being called a thug.

              1. a black man*


                And there is this comment from the article: “there are also degrees. Colin Cowherd is a calculated racist. Others are ignorant. And some others use the word just fine—that Chappelle clip some very literalistic dude is floating around here, for instance—but them existing doesn’t diminish the way actual racist shits use it.”

                But Joey, you can go on not believing that thug is racist code some significant part of the time…

                Again, I have zero problem with OP about this. I am pretty annoyed at those of you dismissing what several of us are saying about this word.

                1. Joey*

                  I’m not dismissing it just trying to understand why. Is it because of a few stories in the media of white dudes inappropriately labeling black guys thugs? Is it because rappers and people that glorify thug life do you no favors? I don’t know. I’m just trying to understand why its racist, that’s all.

            2. fposte*

              It gets complicated and reinforced by the use of the word by actual rappers, too–when I did the Google Images thing, I got quite a few pictures of Slim Thug and Young Thug. (Interestingly, when I went via Google Canada there was a much higher proportion of white people in the images, though some of them may have been ironic.)

        4. Hooptie*

          I don’t agree. To me, a thug, as someone else described it here, it someone muscular and aggressive and may hurt me if I don’t do what they want – which is what happened to the OP. I don’t care what race they are – they are a thug.

          A criminal is a much broader term and includes things like white collar crime and child abuse and neglect. Though those kinds of acts can certainly be executed by thugs.

          The idea that thug now has a racist slant attached to it is clearly not widespread knowledge. I hope you do understand that a lot of people here are saying that this is not well known and may indeed be regional or by demographic rather than having been adopted into standard language use.

          I respect what you are saying, but to suggest that everyone change their definition of a word based on how SOME racists use it is just pandering to the racists, in my opinion.

    13. Kit M.*

      I definitely call people out when they use thug to describe a black man who isn’t, you know, actually doing anything criminal — but I think when describing a criminal act, you can safely use the word.

    14. Radiance*

      Are you serious? “Thug” is a racial insult now? Oh, for crying out loud. Next you’ll be banning words like “jerk” and “idiot”. These lowlife cretins (got anything against those words?) attacked OP and tied her up! They are THUGS in every sense of the word! This woman’s life was put at risk and all you care about is what name she called her ATTACKERS? Do you make a habit of attacking victims of violent crimes?

      Damn, I hate when the PC police work overtime.

      1. a black man*

        “Damn, I hate when the PC police work overtime.”

        It’s not our fault for being “PC.” It’s the fault of actually racists who have messed up a word that used to have a different meaning. The meaning has changed a bit.

        You don’t have to know if a particular word is offensive, and I won’t begrudge you using the word in a well-meaning way that is ignorant of its current meaning.

        But now you know about thug. If you want to continue using it, and think that you’ll use it how you like, even after being told the impression it gives… that point your choice reflects on your views on race.

        1. Radiance*

          I really dont care if you begrudge me saying “thug” or not. I don’t have to take linguistic orders from you or anyone else. Every time someone calls a black person a name, I’m supposed to automatically remove that word from my vocabulary? Next time a DJ calls some black guy a jerk, are you all going to harangue us in the comments here to stop saying “jerk”? This really sounds like a case of being way too sensitive and going out of your way to feel insulted. And let’s just say for the sake of argument that OP did mean “thug” in a racist way. I think she has a right to call her attackers anything she wants. I think her rights as a victim supercede the rights of her attackers not to be called racial slurs. I think it says something very pathetic about our society that most of the comments are focusing on this one stupid word rather than the OP’s horrible experience.

          1. Nina*

            And let’s just say for the sake of argument that OP did mean “thug” in a racist way. I think she has a right to call her attackers anything she wants. I think her rights as a victim supercede the rights of her attackers not to be called racial slurs.

            The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Being victimized doesn’t give anyone a pass to use racial slurs, because that implies that their race is somehow related to the crime. Racists and bigots have used that reasoning for decades to get away with hate speech.

            Their race of the attackers doesn’t make them thugs, their actions do.

            (NOTE: I’m not saying this is what the OP did or meant at all, I’m just using the example in this post)

          2. a black man*

            A: I surely haven’t criticized the OP using the term “thug” so thanks for that straw man.

            B: I’ve actually done you a service in telling you about “thug” – but you seem to want to ignore it. Your comments remind me of this sort of thing from old white guys who grumble about the word “colored,” saying “I can’t use the word ‘colored’ now? Give me a break! Those people use that very word themselves!”

            C: The reason the discussion is more lively about the word “thug” is because there is disagreement about it. We’re all agreed that this was a horrible experience for the OP so I’m not sure what I can add to that aspect of the discussion.

          3. A Cita*

            Next time a DJ calls some black guy a jerk, are you all going to harangue us in the comments here to stop saying “jerk”?

            That’s a false analogy. From what I understand from the very patient explanations that have been provided here, it’s that the word thug is being deliberately used as a placeholder word for a nasty racial slur by folks in the media. It’s a deliberate swap out of terms, much like the word “female” in our discussion. And the media matters. I won’t get into the whole conversation about how ideas become naturalized and internalized as common sense when they actually reinforce power differences because they are circulated through institutions such as the media. But suffice to say, if the media (and certain politicians, commentators, etc) are using certain words as weapons, that have real material effects on their targets, why would I want to contribute to that?

      2. Anonymous*

        The tone of this conversation was very informative and polite. It did not attack the OP at all.

        Some people prefer to not harm others with their language, especially when it is simple to remove a word or phrase when referring to a discriminated group.

      3. Heather*

        Definition of “PC” – “the avoidance of expressions or actions that can be perceived to exclude or marginalize or insult people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.”

        Not seeing how that’s a bad thing.

  28. Joey*

    #3. Grammar aside, the only real potential issue I see is the awkwardness you might feel when you see the spouses. But, based on the comments above you would think that since its none of your business you shouldn’t feel any obligation to lie or even avoid conversations about it when and if it comes up.

    Personally, I would avoid any sort of in depth socializing with the coworkers when they’re spouses are around until I know for sure because I wouldn’t want to even chance being the spark the lights the fire.

    1. Sunflower*

      That would be my biggest and only fear. I know at the next Christmas party, their spouses are the last people I would want to end up next to. Which is easily solved by avoiding them at such events.

  29. Anonicorn*

    #4 – You could geek it up even more by telling your coworkers to “Beware the Ides of March” as you eat pie on pi day. :)

  30. Celeste*

    #3 “It’s as if they don’t care if anyone knows.”

    For some people, indiscretion and riling up the audience is the best part, so why WOULD they hide it? As far as thrusting it in your face…you’re the one who is giving it all that power over you, not them.

    You say you’ve noticed one of them has a history of finding love interests at work. That probably won’t change, even after this relationship runs its course. You have to find a way to not care, just as you do with the pocket change-jinglers, the throat-clearers, and the over-sharers. Move along, nothing to see here.

  31. Op #4*

    Thanks for the encouragement everyone! My last job had a significant ‘Geeks are Cool’ vibe, and I’m still trying to figure out what level is appropriate to carry over to a professional environment. Thanks to you all, I will bring in the pies!

    1. Joey*

      Need a clearer line? If your nerdiness is in any way tied to strengthening your reputation in your job, don’t think twice about showing it. Pi certainly will do that.

      1. OP #4*

        My current job is actually more of a communications type job, so avoiding the perception of awkwardness that is sometimes associated with nerdiness is relevant to me. I’m trying to do my small part to show that nerd doesn’t necessarily equal awkward.

        If it was a clearly math or science related job, then I wouldn’t have to think twice about it.

        1. Laura*

          The nerdiest people I know are in communications type jobs (myself included!) . But I’ve only ever worked in organizations with “geeks are cool” vibes :) But then, at my last job, most of the communications department, including my manager, had a lively discussion of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special.

        2. Joey*

          There are very few jobs, if any, where numbers aren’t relevant. Because every job really comes down to how to get the most return per dollar of investment in salary.

  32. Sunflower*

    #3- ‘We are very uncomfortable with this situation because most people know their respective spouses, and the female has a history of being intimate with her male coworkers’

    I get knowing the spouses makes it uncomfortable but what does her having a history have to do with added awkwardness? I rarely jump on people’s backs about these things but I’ve been sitting here for 10 minutes trying to figure out what her history has to do with you feeling uncomfortable about anything that was mentioned in the letter

    1. Yup*

      I read that as meaning that because of Coworker’s A repeated interoffice relationships, this is yet another round of awkwardness that the bystanders would like to avoid.

      I’m projecting based on my own experience with a coworker who treated the workplace as a dating buffet. When you’ve been present for the last ten romances that flamed out and icked up the office, then seeing the next one in progress is like “Oh lord, it’s happening again, someone please stop the train wreck.”

      1. A Dispatcher*

        We have a lot of that type of stuff happening where I work and with the agencies we work with (with both genders being the offenders), and I always wonder how it keeps happening after the first few relationships person X has gone through. Who wants to be coworker #8, 9, 10 etc on the list? I don’t really care and it certainly isn’t my place to judge, it’s just fascinating to me.

      2. Jean*

        Sorry you’ve experienced this, but “icked up the office” is a wonderfully evocative phrase! Thanks for cheering up my vocabulary. I plan to steal this.

  33. Jamie*

    Love the Pi day idea – that’s awesome!

    Cool cubicle number as well. My extension used to be 128 and I LOVED that…lost it when I moved offices. Yes, I know I’m the one who configures the phone system and can get it back but it’s too weird to want a vanity extension.

    And now I want pie.

      1. Evan*

        128 = 2^7. Because computers use binary notation, powers of two are very significant to people who work with them.

        Unfortunately, my room number is not significant at all… (as far as I can tell; simply saying that reminds me of the story of Ramanujan and the taxicab…)

  34. Another English Major*

    #3 Re: female

    Thank you for saying this Alison. I absolutely cannot stand the use of “female” to refer to woman in non-scientific contexts. I mostly hear it used by men in place of bitches. As in “All bitches do that, excuse me, fe-males”
    What’s with the aversion to saying women? You hardly ever hear males used instead of men in similar contexts.

    1. Joy*


      I’ve tried to explain to male friends why this bothers me, but often they think I’m being unduly sensitive or that this is just a particular quirk of mine. Even if you don’t understand how offensive it is, why not just use the noun “woman” or “women?” Especially once you know that a non-negligible amount of women find it dehumanizing?

  35. Jamie*

    128 bit is a common unit used in computer architecture. Also 128 bit floating point.

    For an IT it’s a cool extension. :)

      1. Jamie*

        Yep – that’s one of the things that uses 128 (16 octets). Along with buses, memory addresses, etc.

  36. Anonymous*

    OP #4, definitely bring the pies, square if possible – the fact that you’re in cube 314 just makes it even more delicious!

  37. Anonymous*

    For #3, I think the OP should identify the exact reason(s) why this situation is bothering them.

    – Is it morally bothersome, because the co-workers are married to other people?
    – Does the affair create an uncomfortable workplace? For example, do other employees have to witness PDA, personal disagreements, etc?
    – Does the affair indirectly cause a disruption? For example, is the affair fueling workplace gossip that hurts productivity?
    – Does the affair directly cause a disruption? For example, are these co-workers less productive/accessible because they’re too busy canoodling?
    – Are there concerns about unequal treatment or favoritism?

    Depending on the reasons WHY the OP is annoyed, I can see different strategies for dealing with it. In general, MYOB may be the best strategy unless the situation is truly disruptive to the workplace. That said, the OP does have my sympathies. Office romances are often disruptive, either while they are ongoing or after the breakup.

  38. Anonymous*

    Why is it that when it comes to fish in the microwave, everyone is in an uproar, but when it comes to adulterous coworkers canoodling we have to just mind our own business? Other people’s lunch bothers me an equal amount to other people’s sex lives – it could be annoying but its out of my hands. Why is it ok to post passive-aggressive signs about one, but we shan’t speak of the other?

    If the rule is “If its not impacting your work, MYOB.” then it should be that across the board, not just when convenient for our own personal ideals of open-mindedness.

      1. Anonymous*

        But they clearly are bringing their sexual escapades into the communal workplace, otherwise everyone wouldn’t know about it.

        1. fposte*

          There’s a difference between the literal and the figurative here that I think is important. They really aren’t bringing their sexual escapades into the communal workplace–otherwise I’m sure the OP would have mentioned that rather than simply seeing people go to the same hotel room.

          You can’t avoid the microwaved fish. You can avoid watching people to go their hotel room and thinking about what they’re doing there, and talking in the workplace about it.

          1. Anonymous*

            You can’t just un-see two people sharing a hotel room on a business trip. And since it’s a business trip, it’s work. They could have at least waited until they were on their own time, in their own hotel room and not the company’s. The letter writer said he wouldn’t care except that it’s being “thrust in their faces.” It’s not like the coworkers didn’t have a choice about sharing hotel rooms on a business trip – it sounds like there was an empty room in this story.

            1. fposte*

              Unless you’re in the hotel room, you’re still not seeing sexual escapades–you’re seeing two people go through a door. And it’s in a hotel, not at work.

              It’s not about your ability to forget it, it’s whether seeing the two people going through that hotel door kept you from doing vital work at the moment. And I’m pretty sure it didn’t.

        2. Sunflower*

          LW didn’t give us any details beyond they go into the same hotel room on business trips which shouldn’t impact your work- i think? We have no idea how into the workplace they have brought it

      1. Sunflower*

        Yaa I have nothing against the act of people eating fish. Watching people eat fish doesn’t bother me. The smell of fish is distracting. If their relationship was causing a weird smell then yeah I’d be bothered

        1. Joey*

          The problem with fish is you can’t myob because if you’re in the office you frequently can’t get away from the smell.

    1. Positivity Boy*

      What’s happening here is more like “I’m a vegan and have a moral opposition to eating fish, so I don’t like knowing that my coworkers are eating it. How do I get my coworkers to stop eating fish even when I’m not around?” If you’re sitting around stewing about something you think is wrong and that’s the only reason your productivity is suffering, that’s really more on you to resolve than the person commiting the transgression.

      Also note that the answers here are purely meant to be realistic solutions, not moral judgments. Saying MYOB shouldn’t be taken as moral approval of people cheating on their spouses, but rather just the most realistic way OP would be able to handle the situation.

      1. fposte*

        That’s a good comparison. And they’re not even eating the fish in front of you–they’re just carrying it into the hotel room :-).

      2. Anonymous*

        Following your analogy out, there are some people that would bring in fish and eat it in front you every day just because they know it pisses off the office vegan. OP could be dealing with some of those people, and if that’s the case MYOB isn’t fair or complete advice.

        1. fposte*

          Again, if they’re actually copulating in front of the other staff, I’m pretty sure that would have been mentioned.

          1. Anonymous*

            You don’t have to actually copulate in front of people for them to know you’re in a romantic relationship with a person. You can hold hands in the copy room, or make kissy noises at one another, or mention things about “last night” with a wink and nudge. And all of that is still inappropriate in the workplace.

            1. fposte*

              Agreed, but that’s inappropriate for anybody, whether they’re married to each other or to somebody else or whether they’re having sex with each other at all. That’s because those are disruptive workplace *behaviors*, not because they mean that people are doing something outside of work that the OP doesn’t like.

              But a hotel room isn’t the workplace in this case, and going into one isn’t disrupting the workplace. So far that’s the only thing the OP’s offered as a problematic behavior, and it’s not a workplace disruptive behavior. Hence MYOB.

              1. Anonymous*

                Remember the guy who was arrested from the hotel for domestic abuse after a business event of some kind (I don’t remember the precise details)? It made a different then whether the arrest was at his home or at the business hotel, at least in the general group discussion. It makes a difference, at least to me, that this was on a business trip. I don’t care if OP and the Scarlet Letter ran into each other in Acapulco. Then I would happily advise OP to MYOB. But that’s not what happened.

                Plus I suspect there’s more going on than this one hotel incident. OP might not have picked the best example, but instead picked the one that most obviously characterized the nature of the relationship.

                1. fposte*

                  Sure, maybe there are other things going on. But since we don’t know whether there are or not, I think it’s reasonable to judge based on what’s stated, and what’s stated doesn’t merit talking to a manager.

          2. Loose Seal*

            if they’re actually copulating in front of the other staff

            Why don’t we ever get those letters?

    2. Celeste*

      I can choose to ignore people but I can’t choose not to breathe malodorous communal air.

      What is your preferred remedy for the coworkers’ adultery, Anon? What would allow you not to have to MYOB here? Do you need them to be fired? Smited?

      1. Anonymous*

        That’s far too harsh a reply. Plus, you choose not to be bothered by people just as much as you can choose not to be bothered by smells (notwithstanding allergens).

        I would prefer that it be socially acceptable to tell them they need to keep their relationship – including gentle caresses, lovey-dovey words, and yes! copulation! – out of the office and away from work events, including business trips. Someone should tell them if its clear they don’t know it already.

        Also – if individuals ever end up on the giving end of all this grief – it should go without saying that coworkers don’t want to know about your sexual relationships. Keep it out of the office.

        Or, if that’s too much to ask, let me have my fish for lunch. As long as the standard is even.

        1. Dan*

          You’re ignoring the fact that smells can cause physical symptoms, not just mental ones. Fighting your gag reflex while you’re trying to work is not the same as being obsessed with what other people do with their time.

          1. Jax*

            Witnessing adultery can cause physical reactions in someone who experienced infidelity and betrayal themselves. Forgive me for building a straw man, but if Jane is allowed to get nauseous over reheated fish sticks than Sally is allowed to experience a panic attack after watching her coworkers run off to a hotel room and triggering her past.

            It’s not being obsessed with what other people are doing with their time. If I watch a dog get hit in the road, I’m allowed to get upset. If I watch my married coworkers carrying on with an affair, I’m allowed to feel grossed out by it. My morals, my reactions, my feelings.

            1. fposte*

              Nobody’s saying that the OP can’t be upset or saddened or jealous or whatever. They’re just saying that this doesn’t present as a situation where a workplace intervention seems warranted, so your options are pretty much limited to MYOB.

  39. Laura2*

    #1 – I hope your business is going to implement some security measures to prevent this from happening again. I wonder if the robbers were prepared to encounter someone and/or knew they’d need the “help” of an employee to get access to cards and cash, given that they carried duct tape (as opposed to just taking their chances in case someone showed up early) and showed up right at the same time as the earliest employee.

    1. Sara M*

      Agreed. I think this is very insightful. As I said earlier, please do seek some help about this–it will do you good. I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I’m glad you weren’t hurt worse.

  40. Mary*

    Alison, thanks for your schooling on use of the word “female.” Misuse of that word is one of my pet-peeves. I went through a metal detector at a courthouse recently and there was a sign that read “Pregnant females can ask to be searched with a wand.”…..Pregnant females? Seriously??

  41. Jill*

    #4 – I’ve worked at a bank, for an elected official, and now for a major urban school district. I’m an accountant, I LOVE celebrating Pi Day, and have brought in pies for years.

    Go for it – people love it when coworkers bring in treats and it’s been my experience that any excuse for treats is a good excuse. It’ll be a good conversation starter, too. I mean, who doesn’t love some good math trivia?

  42. Annie Onymous*

    OP #1, I am so sorry this happened to you. I will add my voice to that of the others who suggested you might want to seek out counseling or victim’s services.

    I too work somewhere where I have to open the building all by myself. My husband stays nearby until he knows I have secured the area. It’s helpful, but I think it’s irresponsible of my employer to expect a lone person to open a four-story building.

  43. Anon27*

    #1 – The last thing you want to do is fight over money and risk having something even worse happen. That’s why insurance exists.

    OP – I really don’t think you should feel embarrassed at all. It could have happened to anyone and if it helps – I wouldn’t see my Supervisor or Manager ANY differently if I found him/her bound/gagged.

    1. Ruffingit*

      The only thing I’d see differently is having even MORE respect for someone who was able to handle that situation and continue on.

      1. Loose Seal*

        (Not calling you out specifically, Ruffingit. I’ve seen many comments similar to yours and so I’m putting mine here.)

        OP #1, I know several people have said that they would have even more respect for you since you were able to soldier on after such a horrifying thing. I just wanted to say to you that if you feel you can’t keep a stiff upper-lip, that’s ok too. I can’t imagine anyone I’ve ever worked with that would think horrible things about someone appearing vulnerable after an attack.

        I realize people are reassuring you because one of your concerns was that you wouldn’t be respected because of being found in this position. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if something like this happens to anyone, reaction is appropriate. And if a co-worker or subordinate thinks poorly of someone because they cried or were visibly shaken after an attack, then they are the one with issues, not you.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Can’t speak for others, but when I say I’d have great respect for someone who was able to handle this and continue on, I meant “handle it” in whatever way that person saw fit. Whether that was taking time off work for a few weeks and then coming back, I’d respect that just as much as a person who took no time off. It’s the fact that they handled confronting robbers and were able to survive that that garners my respect. I’m not using “handling and going on” to mean you get untied from the binding and then you continue on that work day like nothing happened. That is not the thing I would respect, I would respect that you survived this in WHATEVER way you so chose – getting therapy, taking time off, etc.

  44. Kim*

    Re: #3

    I wonder if this is a coworker of my husband. I just found out he is having an office affair with an also married coworker. I would like to think that the affair shows a tremendous lack of judgement and poor moral character and impulsive behavior and I’d like to think that it would impact how his coworkers view him and potentially his career path. I am realizing that it probably will not.

    But, alas, I guess the reason I was blindsided by him telling me that he was leaving me and our 2 year old daughter was because folks at work who knew decided to mind their own business. I’m not sure if it would have been better to hear it from a stranger or not. It sucks to find out no matter what.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I am really sorry Kim. You’re right, it does suck to find out no matter what. It’s painful on many levels. I’d suggest you see an attorney immediately so you can protect yourself and your daughter legally and financially. One of the things many people in this situation do is hope and pray they can fix things. You may be able to (if you’re so inclined), but if not you’re going to need to know what your rights are and begin exercising them, especially in terms of financial support for your daughter. It’s hard to think of the practical things when you’re hurting, but you’ll feel better later on when the fog clears and you’re able to realize you did good things to help yourself.

      Also, if you can afford it, some therapy is helpful. If you can’t afford it, seek out divorce support groups in your town (Google will help you find those). They are free and people there know what you’re going through.

      My thoughts and prayers are with you!

    2. Anon for This*

      My husband had an affair with a coworker. We were able to reconcile because he immediately dropped the affair partner, found a new job (those were my terms) and committed to hours upon hours of marriage and individual therapy. We’re happily together 6 years later. It’s possible to survive it.

      I had revenge fantasies about repercussions at work, too. Not even close. My husband was promoted in the middle of it, and she was promoted a year later. The kicker? They are both marriage and family counselors with morality clauses in their licensure.

      1. Kim*

        This is what worries me – he has no interest in cutting it off. He is not sorry and his loyalty seems to lie with her. If he approached me apologizing and wanting to be with me then I think we’d be in a different place. He is also slated to get a promotion this month. I guess the silver lining is the more money he makes the more money my daughter gets in child support payments.

  45. Ruffingit*

    #3 – MYOB is actually not that difficult even when it’s front and center or in your face. MYOB means you say nothing and do nothing about it. You can do that regardless of how the people in the situation are acting. And really, that’s your only option unless you want to quit.

  46. Ruffingit*

    #4 – Where do you work? I want to work there with you. You sound awesome! Enjoy the pie.

  47. ImpassionedPlatypi*

    I read through the comments on this post an hour or so ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a lot of the discussion surrounding the third letter. I realize that there are over 400 comments now, so mine probably won’t be noticed, but I have to say something anyway.

    It has been pointed out that these two coworkers might not be cheating on their spouses, it is entirely possible that these couples are practicing ethical non-monogamy. That has been used as an argument why the LW should just ignore it and mind their own business. And I completely agree that this is a valid argument for the LW minding their own business. But I feel that it’s important to point out why that possibility would make it better for her to just butt out rather than possibly trying to determine first whether it is cheating or not and then butt out if it isn’t cheating.

    The only way the LW would be able to determine whether this is cheating or not is to ask the participants. Doing so would put the participants in a potentially hazardous situation. If these people are being ethically non-monogamous and you ask them directly about it, you’re putting them in a position where if they answer truthfully they risk being discriminated against in the workplace for something that is not legally protected. And being in that position is utterly terrifying. The LW might not discriminate, but the coworkers have no way of a)knowing that and b)knowing that word won’t get around to people in the office who might, and who might be in a position to impact their career in a negative way.

    So even if the romantically involved coworkers are being completely ethical within their relationships, they can’t be completely ethical with their coworkers because extramarital affairs are still widely viewed as more acceptable than ethical, consensual relationships between more than two people.

    And that’s a point that I think is important to take into account when you’re arguing that the LW should mind their own business. It isn’t just a matter of the LW not being a part of the relationship and therefore the relationship is not their business. It’s that even if the LW were to make it their business or if the coworker were to volunteer the information, that would put them in actual danger. Which is even more reason for the LW to completely ignore this situation.

  48. Anonymous*

    LW #3, you must have a really slow-paced job if you have time to fume and write letters about the sex lives of your co-workers. Get a more interesting job, or work harder.

    Today at work, I discovered we may have accidentally made a dirty bomb for one of our clients, and I have to figure out a way to gracefully break the news to my own team and to the client. And you spent the day worrying about someone else’s private sex life on their off hours?

  49. Vicki*

    Re #2, I would (personally) advise against sending a reply that says “Come by when you have a minute and we can discuss it”. In the same way that you interpreted the employee’s email as possibly inappropriate, many employees will interpret that phrase as a variation on “We need to talk” (them’s fightin’ words).

  50. Maureen P.*

    As for the “female” question, the word itself is often used with no ill-intent. (Although I always thought it was weird to refer to “male” and “female” ends of plugs) But, the biggest closet misogynist I know says “female” all the time, and there’s no mistaking his assy-ness.

    Example: “Oh, I’d have no problem working for a female. Females can be good coworkers, if you get the right one.” Eugghhh…

    And my new hire just informed us that she’s bringing pie for pi day! What an awesome hiring decision on my part. :)

  51. Lindsay*

    I just wanted to mention for the Pi Day writer that our office surprised us with a Pi Day celebration — they brought in hundreds of pies, as we have 300ish employees, and everyone had lots of different types to choose from. They also had gluten free, nut free, vegan, you name it — they’re pretty amazing about taking dietary requirements into consideration.

    Working with geeks is amazing when stuff like this comes out of nowhere.

  52. MelissaDawes*

    I guess by not posting my comments you seem to be a little scared of a little truth telling.

  53. David*

    Given the current circumstances you’ve most likely done the right thing by letting them tie you up cause it could have gotten a lot worse if you even tried to fight back. They could possibly be or they have weapons on them and it is not worth the risk to do so and sometimes the best thing to save your own life is to be compliant and let them tie you up and gag you.

Comments are closed.