giving coworkers a questionnaire about my performance, gender-neutral pronouns, and more

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

1. Can I create my own performance survey and ask coworkers to fill it out?

I have a question about running my own performance survey. My job is in engineering integration, and I interact with a large number of people on a regular basis (I’m an individual contributor, not a manager). I want to get more clear, direct, and actionable feedback on my performance than what can be gained from my company’s HR system. The goal is to learn more about what I do well and what I do poorly, and what I can improve.

Do you think it would be weird if I created a Google questionnaire soliciting feedback and rating different aspects of my performance to people I work regularly with? Something like a performance survey that HR might do, but more direct with a larger sample size. Answers would of course be anonymous. I have a feeling it could come across as weird. What do you think?

Yeah, I think it’s just so not normally done that it’s likely to come across as strange. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t solicit feedback on your performance — I just wouldn’t do it through a questionnaire. I think it’s likely to go better if you ask people more informally to just talk with you in person about it. And because most people aren’t comfortable giving criticism to coworkers, think about ways to structure the conversation to make it “safer” for them to do that. For example, if you could ask people to tell you one thing that they think is going really well and that you should do more of, and one thing that you could work on approaching differently. (You’ll also probably get better answer if you don’t put people on the spot and instead give them an advance heads-up so they have time to think about it.)

This isn’t going to get you the same quantity or candor of feedback that a detailed, anonymous survey would produce — but I think it’ll seem a lot less odd to people.

And of course, if your manager is at all decent, you can really lean on her for more detailed feedback as well.

2. Manager is being weird about jeans

We usually wear black or khaki pants and a uniform shirt at my retail job. Every year around the winter holidays, corporate has a special long-term event where on Fridays in December and the entire week of Christmas, we’re allowed to wear jeans as long as we wear a holiday sweater with them. They send down emails and handouts about it, and the person/store with the best outfit(s) gets a district-wide shout-out by the district manager, and sometimes a little perk, like a lunch on the company.

Our manager doesn’t like us to wear jeans. At first, he didn’t realize we were allowed to wear jeans. He told us about the sweaters, and my coworker said, “And jeans.” Boss said, “No, not jeans.” My coworker and several others chimed in and showed him the handout where it explicitly said we could wear jeans. Boss looked nervous and changed the subject. After that, the announcement was taken down from the bulletin board.

The next year, when the handouts came, we caught him hiding them behind his computer in the office — yeah, behind it, stuffed and crumpled in under the cords — and then later I found them in the trash. Eventually the handout was returned to the bulletin board, but Boss had carefully edited out all the sentences that included the word “jeans.”

It’s not a huge deal, but Christmas is a terrible time of year for us, what with dramatically increased customer traffic and holiday hours extended to midnight, and lunch and comfortable pants is a small comfort that he’s trying to keep away from us for some reason. All the other stores do it. What gives? Is this normal? What could be the motivation here? Should we have mentioned it to the DM? Or should we just chalk it up to bad luck that we ended up with the jeans-hater?

It’s probably your manager’s prerogative to require a stricter dress code at your location than what other locations do, in which case, yeah, it’s just bad luck that you ended up with him. But it’s possible that the company wouldn’t be happy to know that he’s trumping their holiday stuff with his own rules, and it’s quite possible that they’d be surprised to learn about it.

I don’t think this is worth making a huge deal over, but you could certainly say to him something like, “Can you clarify the policy on jeans? Our understanding has been that corporate specifically allows them on Fridays in December and the whole week of Christmas, and that it’s part of the company holiday contest. We want to be able to participate in that. Can we assume we’re allowed to, since it’s coming from corporate?” He might still say no, but you’ll be forcing him to make it more explicit than it’s been so far.

3. A coworker objects to my using gender-neutral pronouns to refer to her (and to everyone)

I’m non-binary, and I have come out in both my work and my personal life. I started a full-time job after I finished college around the same time I began coming out. Everyone at work has been cool except for one person.

Since I came out, I have been addressing people as gender-neutral [ze, hir, mx.] I do this because there are others who are non-binary like me, but they may not be out yet and I want to be respectful and make them feel safe. The one person from my work who is not cool with me being non-binary told me to address her using female pronouns. I’m not misgendering this person, I’m using gender-neutral pronouns, not incorrect ones. However, this person corrects me every time. No one else has corrected me or said anything. This person says they respect my pronouns (true) and I need to respect theirs. I thought this person was transgender and I didn’t want to offend or upset if this was the case, but when I asked they said are not, they are cisgendered.

I went to my team lead about this, but my team lead said this person is not doing anything wrong and just because they want to be addressed with female pronouns does not make them against non-binary people. I’m thinking of talking to my manager or going to HR if that doesn’t work. This person makes me uncomfortable. What should I say? When I talk to my manager, should I bring up the fact that others may also feel uncomfortable or should I only focus my own discomfort?

I think you’re getting hung-up on the idea that it’s not misgendering her because you’re using gender-neutral pronouns. But those aren’t the ones she prefers to use for herself.

I think you should use the pronouns that people prefer to be called by. This person has told you that she uses female pronouns. The most respectful thing is not to insist on using different pronouns for her, but to use the ones she’s requested — just like you would want someone to do with you.

4. How do I follow up on my manager’s offer of professional development?

I recently applied for a temporary manager position in my department and was turned down. My director told me that she “really thought it would be [me]” but they decided to take a coworker with more experience. She told me she still wanted to give me opportunities within the department for professional development, as she wants me to stay here and grow.

At the time, I told her I understood and thanked her and told her I’d like that, since she grabbed me right as I was leaving to meet a client, but I really do want to take her up on the offer of professional development if she meant it. Should I send her an email thanking her and asking for a meeting to talk about what that may look like? Wait until my supervisory meeting next month and bring it up again? Or is it a mistake to push it?

Take her at her word! It’s definitely not a mistake to bring it up again. If you meet regularly, I’d just wait for that next meeting and bring it up then. Say that you appreciated her offer to help you find development opportunities and ask if you can talk about what that might look like and how to make it happen.

5. Saying “bloody hell” at work

My workplace is very decorous — no cursing, no negativity, everyone is (too) sweet. One coworker likes to use the words “bloody” and “bloody hell” as substitutes for curse words he would use in the situation. We have diverse clientele, including people from other countries. Would someone from the U.K. find the word offensive if they heard him say it? I think it’s pretentious so it gets on my nerves, but I don’t know what level of discourse it belongs to in the U.K. Any thoughts?

I always thought it was more akin to “damn” and thus perfectly acceptable in most offices, but I’m American. Hopefully our U.K. readers will tell you something more definitive in the comments.

Updated to add: British commenters have corrected me below! It’s apparently more profane than I realized. (Or not? There appears to be disagreement.)

{ 1,258 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    This is a request not to pile on re: letter #3 and to give the other letters some attention too. (You are likely to find the point you wanted to make about #3 has already been thoroughly covered below.)

    1. I tend to Disagree*

      Maybe a “like” system could help this in the future? I think part of the reason that people are reiterating points is because they want to show support of a point that they felt was well made. Right now the only way to do that is to also reply. Just food for thought.

  2. Wow*

    #3 I agree with Alison. You should use the pronouns that people want you to use. It’s kind of you to want to be considerate of those who are non-binary, but I would just call everyone by the pronouns they prefer.

    1. MillersSpring*

      I’m stunned that the OP asked the colleague if they are transgender. That’s none of the OP’s business.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I thought asking the coworker if they were transgender was fairly inappropriate, but what really has me slack-jawed is that OP is making formal complaints and wants to escalate those complaints to punish the coworker into accepting gender-neutral pronouns. It made me do a double-take. I have literally re-read that part of the letter about five times, now.

        I’m really struggling (and this may be just a huge empathy gap on my part) to understand why OP thinks it’s ok to try to get someone disciplined or fired for asking a coworker to respect their gender expression.

        1. INTP*

          OP said this person is “not okay” with OP being nonbinary so maybe she has said other offensive things to OP that would warrant escalation. Sometimes when you know intuitively (or explicitly) that someone doesn’t respect you it’s easy to confuse the reasonable things they do with the not-okay things they do. I don’t personally agree with refusing to use whatever pronouns a person requests but based on the info in the letter I don’t think we should assume that the OP is trying to get the coworker in trouble purely for wanting to express her gender.

          1. Lioness*

            But we don’t know how the coworker is not okay with OP being non-binary.
            What we do know is that coworker respects OP’s pronouns, and wants to be referred by female pronouns.
            So this is all we know about reporting, but fighting back on how someone else wants to be referred is much different than reporting a coworker who is not respecting one’s identity.

            1. aebhel*

              Right. The substance of the complaint is that the coworker won’t let OP call her by gender neutral pronouns. If there’s a different complaint that actually has some merit (coworker is making fun of OP’s gender identity, or complaining about ‘those people’ or how hard it is to use correct pronouns…although OP doesn’t really have a leg to stand on in the last case), then that should be brought up to the manager. But it sounds like the OP wants to complain to hir manager because hir coworker doesn’t want to be called by gender-neutral pronouns, which is beyond inappropriate.

              1. Annonymouse*

                I’m waiting for OP3 to see the irony.

                So coworker calls you by your preferred gender pronouns and asks that you refer to them by their preferred gender pronouns.

                Instead you take this as an attack (?) or at the very least something that should be referred to HR.

                It comes across very much as “respect my chosen pronouns but I’m not respecting yours.” Which looks very hypocritical.

                Your manager is right in this case. Please let this go and respect your coworkers gender identity the way they respect yours.

                Also your argument to refer this higher is flawed. It’s the equivalent of saying I don’t support LGBTIB lifestyles or people because I chose to participate in “heterosexual” marriage. It’s assuming the only way to support is to be a part of the group or live the lifestyle even if it doesn’t conform to my personal identity.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s hard for me to tell from OP’s letter whether that person has actually said they’re not cool with OP’s identity or if OP is assuming that the coworker is “not cool” with it because the coworker has asked to be referred to by feminine pronouns. But the only “trigger” OP has referred to is the coworker’s request that OP reciprocate being referred to by one’s preferred pronouns.

            1. Allie*

              Well because of this:

              “The one person from my work who is not cool with me being non-binary told me to address her using female pronouns. I’m not misgendering this person, I’m using gender-neutral pronouns, not incorrect ones. However, this person corrects me every time. No one else has corrected me or said anything. This person says they respect my pronouns (true) and I need to respect theirs.”

              Given that “they respect my pronouns (true)” it seems like this female coworker is “not cool” with her being addressed in a non-binary way, not with the OP being non-binary.

              1. Emma*

                It’s entirely possible to respect someone’s pronouns and still not respect their gender; misgendering is a common form of antagonism, but it’s far from the only one.

                1. Allie*

                  True, but it also seems to be the substance of the person’s complaint to their manage, given this “I went to my team lead about this, but my team lead said this person is not doing anything wrong and just because they want to be addressed with female pronouns does not make them against non-binary people.”

                  So either there’s something BIG the co-worker has done that the OP has left out on a couple occasions, or this is the substance of the complaint.

                2. Forrest*

                  Eh, I don’t want to make the OP feel bad or discount her experiences, but I find it questionable that she just stated the coworker isn’t ok with the OP’s gender identity (is that right?) while the OP herself isn’t respecting her coworker’s gender identity.

                3. Forrest*

                  OP, I just realized I used female pronouns to refer to you. I have no excuse for that and while I tend to be more aware about, I did slip up and I’m sorry.

                4. LoiraSafada*

                  It’s also entirely possible that OP has given coworker a reason to dislike them that has nothing to do with being transgender.

              2. PhyllisB*

                Okay, please educate an old lady. I know what trans-gender is, but what is non-binary and cisgender? These are terms I am not familiar with.

                1. Sans*

                  cisgender – when your sexual identity is the same as the body you were born with.
                  non-binary – you don’t feel like you’re entirely male or female and prefer neutral pronouns used when referring to you.

                2. Reader*

                  Non-binary -> Does not explicitly identify as either male or female.
                  Cisgender -> having a gender identity that corresponds with the gender assigned at birth (think of it as the opposite of trans).

                  Both of these are probably oversimplifcations, because gender is complicated, but get the idea across.

                3. Lance*

                  Cisgender is going by the gender you were born as (i.e. male/female); non-binary is when someone doesn’t identify as either of those two base genders.

                4. hermit crab*

                  And in case you were wondering where the word comes from, “cis” is a Latin prefix that’s the opposite of “trans” — for example, in organic chemistry, you get “cis isomers” that are made of the same components as “trans isomers” but they are oriented/rotated differently in space. “Cis” means “on the same side as” while “trans” means “on the opposite side from.”

                  (Not saying this to be snarky at all! I think it’s an interesting thing to know.)

                5. The IT Manager*

                  Point of fact: non-binary means that a person does not feel they are fully male or fully female but that they are somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

                  (Simplified non-binary is akin to bisexual. Many people see two choices (straight/gay or male/female), but there’s a spectrum and there are people all along the spectrum including some in the middle bisexual or non-binary.)

                  Non-binary people do not necessarily prefer to use neutral pronouns to refer to themselves. That is very likely the kind of person who requests neutral pronouns. However I have a non-binary friend that chooses male pronouns. Admittedly this person is in his 50s so when he transitioned 20 years ago the concepts of non-binary and neutral pronouns were probably not yet articulated enough for him to explain or request that of people. He continues to prefer and request male pronouns; although, now describes himself as not non-binary.

                6. Allie*

                  I’ll also add that not everyone 100% agrees on the language used or definitions. There are a lot of ways to think about the dichotomy between gender, sex, gender expression, and so on.

                  For instance, someone can identify fully as a woman, but then not perform any of the societal gender expression of what we commonly associate with women (hair, clothes, etc.), but would probably very very much not like it if you refer to them as not belonging to the female gender.

                  Which is why I’m in the camp of “let other people lead you on their preferences”.

                7. HisGirlFriday*

                  @hermit crab: I did not know the Latin origins of ‘cis’ and ‘trans,’ nor did I know their use in chemistry, so I learned something new today — thank you!

                8. KHB*

                  It’s not just chemistry, either – if you study Roman history, you read about “Cisalpine Gaul” (i.e., the part of Gaul on “this” side of the Alps, from the point of view of the Romans) and “Transalpine Gaul” (the part on “the other” side).

                9. Beachlover*

                  Another old lady here! thanks for the explanations. Also, can some one explain the gender neutral terms [ze, hir, mx.] how do you use them or pronounce them?

                10. Jadelyn*

                  @The IT Manager – point of correction, being nonbinary doesn’t mean one feels oneself to be “in the middle” of an imagined spectrum of gender. It’s an umbrella term that can encompass agender people (do not identify with a gender at all), genderfluid/bigender people (identify with multiple genders at different times or simultaneously), third-gender people of various types (identify with another gender entirely that is neither male nor female, but is not necessarily “in the middle”), and various other subtypes. We’re not all just “in the middle”, some mix of male and female.

                  Gender is less of a spectrum and more of a nebulous three-dimensional space. Some people are directly along the line between male and female, but there’s a lot of space for others to be hovering in various other areas nearby too.

                11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*


                  ze = nominative pronoun (substitute for he/she), pronounced “zee”
                  hir = possessive pronoun (substitute for his/hers), pronounced “here”
                  Mx. = title (substitute for Miss/Ms./Mrs./Mr.), pronounced “mix”

                  For the last one, you know how some folks pronounce “milk” as “melk”? Mx. is sometimes pronounced with that same short e, which sounds closer to “mex.”

                12. Kriss*

                  @ Beachlover:
                  ze–say zee rhymes with sea. use as you would she or he

                  hir–say hear. use as you would use him or her

                  mx.–say mix. use as you would Mr. Ms. or Mrs.

                13. Not Rebee*

                  Possibly worth mentioning that while ze, hir, and mx. are all gender neutral terms that you can use, they are often complicated seeming for people who haven’t given much thought to gender neutral pronouns before. This post kind of proves the point, because there’s a lot of people who haven’t heard them before, don’t know how to pronounce them, etc. I find that if you’re in doubt and want to stay gender neutral, the singular “they” can be a good choice unless someone specifically says they’d prefer you to use ze or hir. There’s some argument over whether or not the singular they is grammatically correct, but the fact is that people use it all the time without realizing it and that using it on purpose only takes a small amount of extra effort. It’s a good start, I think, if you’re really unsure about how it works.

                  If you’re still unsure, you can always try telling a story (to yourself or someone else) about something (a person you saw at the grocery store, a childhood memory, whatever) without ever using a he/she or him/her pronoun. You’ll have to think about it, but it’s not as difficult as it seems :)

                14. Beachlover*

                  Thanks Everyone! on same topic. Does anyone watch Billions on Showtime? They introduced a non binary character this season. It has been very interesting.

                15. Karen D*

                  NotReebee, I agree. The Associated Press just a few weeks ago approved the use of “they” and “their” as singular pronouns for people who prefer gender-neutral language, with a note that puts that usage in context. I’m glad the AP did that; most papers as a matter of policy follow AP style, and before now we had only binary pronouns. (I have to admit, I’ve violated that on occasion after a specific request from somebody.)

                16. white pawn*

                  Cisgender – “Identifying with” the gender you were assigned at birth. For example if you are a woman and you “identify with” the trappings of the female-gender-role under patriarchy (being paid less, being regarded as an sex object, not being taken seriously, etc.) then you are Cisgender.

                  Non-binary: not fully identifying with either gender stereotype. For example if you are male but you like braiding hair (a “woman thing”), or you are female but you are able to use power tools (a “man thing”), you are non-binary. Approximately 100% of the population of earth is non-binary as almost no one is a literal two-dimensional stereotype of total masculinity or total femininity.

                17. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @white pawn, identifying as cis does not mean you identify with female gender roles and patriarchy. I’m sure there are some women who identify as cis and believe that, but that’s not a definitive (or the only) meaning of “cisgender” in contemporary gender studies and LGBT/women’s rights advocacy.

                18. aebhel*

                  @white pawn

                  Cisgender just means that you’re not trans or nonbinary. It has nothing to do with feminism, political opinions, feelings about the trappings of femininity, or anything else. It literally just means that you were identified as a female infant when you were born and you still feel like ‘female’ is a accurate description of your gender, or that you were identified as a male infant and still feel like ‘male’ is an accurate description. You can be a cis woman with a crewcut who works on an oil rig, but if you identify as a woman, then you’re not nonbinary.

              3. Vicki*

                “However, this person corrects me every time. ”

                I read this as this person “corrects” the use of ze, hir, or mx to refer to _her_.

        2. Winger*

          This is all such a new phenomenon for our society to deal with, I tend to give people a wide berth when they do something like this that seems so inappropriate on its face. I would hope that, given that this person is enlightened enough to make an active effort in their life to reject the gender binary, they would also be able to empathize with other people and not fall into the trap of imposing their worldview on others.

        1. Leah*

          I wonder if OP has recently come out and has not connected with any fellow non-conforming people, and is simply trying to embrace their identity in a really misguided way that has not yet been corrected.

          1. Eohippus*

            You’re probably right. I definitely don’t read it as the OP having any ill intent.

              1. Loose Seal*

                Happy to see they asked a professional’s opinion first, though.

                This stuff is hard. Even if you are 100% committed to each person’s choice, it’s easy to slip up. (Sort of like how you might sometimes refer to a friend who changed their last name after marriage by their previous name. That always happens to me out of the blue and decades after the name change. I have no idea what neurons fire to make me do that but all I can do is apologize, correct myself, and go on.)

                1. Arjay*

                  I’ve been married six years and sometimes call myself by my maiden name. Don’t feel bad. :)

                2. SKA*

                  Yep, and and important thing to remember is, people understand the occasional (or even frequent at first) misstep. If you catch yourself saying the wrong name/use the wrong pronoun, just say “Oh gosh, sorry about that!” when you realize it and then move on (while making a mental note to try harder — because if it happens EVERY time, the person is going to think you’re just being a passive-aggressive jerk). Going on and on about how bad you feel and begging forgiveness just makes the situation all about you. Which is awkward for everyone.

                3. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  Ha. When my son was first born, it took me over a week to call him by the name we’d chosen for him. We named him “Liam” and I kept slipping up and saying “Ian”, then I’d be like, “Wait a minute — what did I name this baby?” and fish around for the correct name. I called it having the two names “stored on the same brain cell”.

                  It’s the same thing for me with Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson; I can remember each of their names if I think of them one at a time, but I can never remember one’s name at the same time that I’m thinking of the other. To even write this sentence, I had to ask my co-worker, “What’s the other one’s name besides Carrie Underwood?”, and he knew exactly who I meant and supplied the name. To me, they are both stored on the same brain cell as post-American Idol success stories.

                4. The Final Pam*

                  It’s easy to slip up, but I’d also caution that sometimes people go “oops, I slipped up” but it happens every time. I have trans friends who know the people who, just about every time, use the wrong pronouns or use their dead name, and the person frames it like “oops, honest mistake” but when it happens dozens of times it doesn’t feel that way.

                  The occasional slip up is fine, especially when someone first comes out or transitions, but people should also try their very best to not make mistakes the norm.

                5. meat lord*

                  Out of nesting, but I wanted to reply to Arjay and say thanks. I changed my name about six months ago, and I still have to work very hard to think of myself correctly. It’s reassuring to hear that it can take a long time to adjust to your own name change.

                6. JessaB*

                  Also when you do slip up and mis-gender or dead-name someone, don’t make it all “OMG OMG OMG I’m sooooooo horrible.” Just apologize and move on. It’s not about you and your (generic you and your,) feelings. Making a big deal means the other person has to then stop and calm you down, which they shouldn’t have to do.

                7. Michelle*

                  My mother-in-law once called me by my husband’s ex-wife’s name! She was mortified; I didn’t notice. (The ex and I both have very common names for our generation, which start with the same letter and are so similar that our respective mothers call us by the same nickname. All my life I’ve had new acquaintances slip up and call me the other name by mistake.)

              2. Jadelyn*

                I disagree, and I don’t think it’s fair to OP3 to ascribe maliciousness to what sounds a lot more like misguidedness. I think there’s a misunderstanding on OP3’s part about what they, as a nonbinary person in the workplace, are entitled to – it sounds like they feel entitled to try to create a gender neutral space by assigning everyone NB pronouns, and the coworker pushing back threatens that sense of entitlement to gender-neutral space. So, given that, to OP3 going to HR seems like a logical step because they feel like their identity is under attack.

                It’s not – at least not simply because someone else doesn’t want to be referred to by the wrong pronouns, we don’t know why else OP3 thinks the coworker is anti-NB – but making that mistake doesn’t create malicious intent. More overzealous self-defensiveness.

                1. Leah*

                  Exactly. OP’s behavior is beyond inappropriate, but I don’t think that means they are a bad person, just extremely naive and unaccustomed to norms followed by the nonbinary/trans community.

                2. Hey Nonnie*

                  I also want to note, for the OP’s sake, that continuing to use gender neutral pronouns for someone who has explicitly stated that her preferred pronouns are she/her, IS misgendering. And antagonistic in the same way that intentionally misgendering a trans or non-binary individual is. This person’s gender identity is NOT neutral, she has said as much, so respect that — the same way you want people you meet to respect your gender identity and preferred pronouns.

                  Speaking as someone who moves in circles where it’s commonplace to introduce yourself with both name and preferred pronouns.

          2. seejay*

            Sort of like the new vegetarian/vegan who doesn’t know anyone and has to loudly proclaim it to the world and everyone else around them about how they’re now veg*an and lecturing all their friends and family about the horrors of the meat they’re eating and that “look there’s no meat on MY plate???” and becomes an utterly insufferable twatwaffle because it’s something new and shiney that they’ve just discovered and they haven’t yet figured out how to navigate the whole thing and they don’t a community of like-minded people to reign them in and say “look, you don’t have to behave like that, you’re not doing yourself any favours”?

            *cough*, not speaking from experience or anything, not at alllll.

            sorry, little tangent there.

              1. Parenthetically*

                If a vegan does crossfit, what will they talk about first? (See also: me when I first did Whole 30.)

                1. Rebecca in Dallas*

                  Hahaha, I’m a vegetarian marathon runner. Thankfully, I have lots of friends who run and/or don’t eat meat so I have people to talk to about it!

                2. Bryan*

                  So what if they’re a vegan crossfit marathon-runner with a rescue-pet and they went to Harvard?

                3. Koko*

                  There’s a similar joke about a vegan, an atheist, and a Crossfitter walking into a bar. I know because they all told me within 1 minute of arriving.

              2. seejay*

                yeah I’m shocked a lot of my friends stuck around too. I got better eventually and stopped being so horrible about it. >>

            1. Boop*

              Twatwaffle is my new favorite word.

              See also: people who just moved to NYC and now think there is only one city on Earth and every other possible geographical location is the ass end of nowhere.

              Not to offender New Yorkers or NYC, perfectly fine place. It’s just that the rest of the planet exists also.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  What, like there’s places other than California, or parts of California other than the Yay? ;)

                2. specialist*

                  I lived in New York. I once played a game with some of them. Name the states you pass through driving west on I80. They got as far as Pennsylvania.

                3. Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude*

                  Specialist, that’s not because we’re navel-gazing idiots, it’s because we’ve all forgotten how to drive.

                  We mispronounce “Houston, Texas” because we’re navel-gazing idiots.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  To be fair, it’s difficult to name all the states that I-80 goes through because many folks driving east-west to central California cities (Sacramento, the Bay Area), jog back and forth between I-70 and I-80.

              1. Sugar of lead*

                I know what you mean. That is nothing compared to Texas.
                Bumper sticker: I’m from Texas. What country are you from?
                Another bumper sticker: SECEDE!
                There’s also a Texas pledge of allegiance, best described as a cheap ripoff of the national one. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got some good memories from living there, but it’s like another planet.

        2. MW*

          It’s a pretty big faux pas outside the trans community too.

          Whether someone is or isn’t trans, the chances of the person being put-out by the question are high!

      2. Audiophile*

        I originally missed that on the first read. That is an incredibly person question to ask a coworker at work, especially in a new job. That likely compounded the icy reception OP is getting.

        1. Working Mom*

          Agree, too personal. And while I also agree it doesn’t sound like OP has malicious intent or is trying to be difficult, I suspect OP is coming across as trying to push his/her (I’m sorry I’m officially confused and don’t know what pronoun to use) personal feelings about gender onto others, whether they want it or not. (Similar to the comparisons made above.)

            1. The Final Pam*

              Yeah, some non-binary people prefer other pronouns, but I see they/them most commonly used by the non-binary people I know.

        2. Hey Nonnie*

          Yeah, I suspect that the OP is misinterpreting the co-worker feeling insulted at being misgendered and prodded with TMI questions at work as being “not okay” with non-binary identities. Not so much that she’s not okay with non-binary, but that she’s not okay with being treated that way and is creating social distance in an attempt to preserve professional boundaries. (I know I’d be sorely tempted toward sharp words if someone insisted on misgendering me.)

      3. Susan*

        What also strikes me as weird is that, if I understand correctly, OP #3 would be willing to use female pronouns if the coworker were transgender, but is not willing to do so because the coworker is cisgendered.

        1. New Bee*

          Yep, and it may compound her frustration if she’s been misgendered before. I’ve seen ciswomen referred to as “he/him” by people who were just being mean and insinuating how “mannish” or “unattractive” they were (for example, Wendy Williams).

          1. many bells down*

            Yessss. I look just like my father. I have masculine features, a low voice, and a prominent Adam’s apple. I’ve been deliberately misgendered in attempts to insult, and I am a ciswoman.

          2. Violet Fox*

            Yeah that or being in a mostly male field and having everything being defaulted to “he/him” because women “don’t exist in Whatever” no matter what Whatever is.

            1. Loose Seal*

              Yes. And how it’s a cheap joke in novels and TV for a new military recruit to address their female superior as “Sir…I mean, Ma’am…I mean, Sir! No, Sir!”

              It’s never “ma’am” when they want to indicate the recruit recognizes the superiority of a female officer in fiction, but “Sir.”

              1. Elizabeth West*

                My favorite reply to this kind of thing is in the film Aliens:

                Hudson: “Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?”
                Vasquez: “No. Have you?”

            2. Junior Dev*

              “Good work, gentlemen!”
              “The guys have been working really hard on this.”
              “Let’s get to it, boys.”

              …Just another day in the life of a female software developer, NBD.

              1. Camellia*

                So why does it seem MORE offensive when our manager starts any email that is just addressed to the females on his team with “Hi ladies”?

                1. fposte*

                  The answer probably lies in you, but in general “ladies” is not a professional term unless you’d be calling the men “gentlemen,” and it suggests both a social couching and an exaggerated delicacy about the gender of his recipients in a situation where i’s irrelevant.

                  On the other hand, English sucks at mass direct address, as Emily discusses elsethread (h/t Turtle Candle); not everybody grew up with “you guys” as gender neutral, and “You all” is a weird address. My guess is that he’s trying not to say “Guys” and isn’t good at thinking up another opening.

                2. fposte*

                  BTW, by “in you” I just mean we all have our own reasons why particular usages snag on us, as is evident in this discussion.

                3. Mallory Janis Ian*

                  One of the professors in my department became so accustomed to walking in and saying, “Hello, ladies” that he continued to do so even after we hired a male receptionist. We “ladies” had never tried to make him stop coming in and saying it, but the “gentleman” put a stop to it after only a semester-and-a-half or so. Old habits, I guess . . .

                4. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

                  This is why “dudes” refers to men, women, mixed company, and inanimate objects.

                5. aebhel*

                  @fposte, I usually use ‘Hello, all’ or ‘Hello, everyone’ for mass emails. ‘You guys’ doesn’t bug me from a gender perspective (although it does some people), but it usually seems too informal.

                6. Hannah*

                  I get so frustrated by this because it’s SO EASY to address a group in a gender neutral way. “Hi everyone” is completely neutral and professional, “Hi folks” is more informal, neither is likely to in any way offend anyone.

                7. Museophile*

                  I hate “Hi Ladies” so much. Informally I am very partial to “you guys” but I use “Hello All” out of deference to those who don’t like “guys” as a gender neutral.

              2. Skullclutter*

                I also like when they remember I exist and add ‘.. and girls’ as though I’m not the only one.

                1. BananaPants*

                  Yeah, I tend to be on emails where the sender is referring to, “Gentlemen”, and then when they realize I’m female they change it to “Gentleman and Lady” or whatever. That just makes it worse!

                  When emailing a group in a work context I usually use, “All” or “Everyone”.

              3. NotAnotherManager!*

                This is why I love y’all. It works for everyone. I also use “folks” which my team finds amusing for some reason.

                One of my managers hired a woman last year for what had been her all-male team, and it probably took her three months to stop “Gentlemen… and [NewHire’s name]”, but her new hire thought it was funny and said they sounded like a band.

            3. Gail Davidson-Durst*

              I like “everyone” or “folks.” I don’t know whether this is an Irish thing or a personal quirk, but one of my colleagues begins all group emails with “Dears,” which makes me chuckle every time.

          3. Trillian*

            Yeah, to me it would be more of the “not a proper woman” thing that I ran into growing up, because I didn’t enthusiastically perform femininity. There can be times that gender progressivism can come off peculiarly reactionary, with the same familiar narrow definitions of men and women.

            1. Jaydee*

              That’s my feeling as well. I spent a lot of time when I was little questioning whether I was a “proper” girl because, while I enthusiastically performed femininity in some ways, I decidedly did not in others (see, for example, me in a frilly pink party dress climbing over a fence to get a ball that had escaped into the neighbor’s yard). I am confident in my biological sex and sexual orientation, but I don’t want that to define or limit how I dress or what I like or what I do or how I am perceived by others.

        2. Emma*

          I think OP’s point there is that using gender neutral pronouns can be a form of transphobic passive aggression – like, ok, I’m not going to actively refer to you as the wrong gender, but I am going to refuse to refer to you as the right gender, because that’s usually passive enough to fly under the radar in a way that referring to a female coworker as “he” wouldn’t.

          Cis people don’t generally have that added reason to object to gender neutral pronouns. I do agree with previous commenters that OP’s actions are inappropriate anyway – while I think of neutral pronouns as non-gendered and am thus happy to be referred to by them, some people think of them as gendered in a way that is neither male nor female, in which case it’s inappropriate to use them when you know someone uses gendered pronouns exclusively.

          But I can see where OP was coming from, even if I don’t think they arrived at the right conclusion.

          1. I woke up like this*

            One objection I’ve read to using gender neutral pronouns for everyone is that it erases the non-binary folks who DO identify as ze/them/hir. Like, by saying, “these pronouns apply to everyone!” you’re also de-legitimatizing the people who actively chose those pronouns because they align with their gender (even if their gender is androgynous or non-binary, it’s still a gender). I dunno if I’m making sense here… I’m still waking up!

            1. Hekko*

              You’re making a lot of sense. English language already has singular they, which may refer to a person of any gender (usually, I think when you don’t know the gender or don’t want to disclose it), so ze/hir are a great way to express that you know the gender of the person – and it’s neither male nor female.

              And it makes sense that people who have to fight to be recognised as neither male nor female would feel strongly against having this small step taken away.

              1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

                >>English language already has singular they>>

                Sort of. It’s generally/socially accepted but still not technically grammatically correct. Then again, last I knew the Associated Press stylebook still insists on using “fireman” instead of “firefighter” (please someone correct me if that’s changed, it’s been a while!). Proper grammar/newspaper style/etc. often takes a long time to catch up with social language constructs.

                1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  Actually, that recently changed. Alison shared a link elsewhere in the comments.

                2. Allie*

                  Well and I’d bet there are teachers all over the country who will cross out “they” and replace it with “his or her”. People are very slow to change from the rules they learned.

                3. Parenthetically*

                  Singular they has been used in English at least since the 14th century. Stylebooks are dogmatic about it because of Victorian grammar dogmatism, but if “grammatically correct” means anything like “how people have been using grammar for literal centuries,” there’s nothing wrong with it.

                4. Someone*

                  Language is not set in stone, it evolves. Besides, as far as I know “they” has been used for centuries as a gender neutral pronoun, and even if many people keep claiming that it is “incorrect” they still understand what is meant.
                  So… there is a pronoun that has been used as gender neutral for a long time and is understood by everyone, even if they don’t like it – then why not use it?

                  I’m a proud user of “they” as a gender neutral pronoun. Actually I absolutely LOVE it. I think it’s awesome that English has such a handy pronoun which sadly does no exist in my native language, German.

                5. Observer*

                  @Allie, there are teachers who “correct” lots of perfectly grammatical (non)errors.

                6. Lioness*

                  Grammar can be correct or incorrect depending on who you ask.

                  Most advocating for “correct” grammar are prescriptivists.

                  But if you ask a descriptivist, they will say it’s grammatically correct since it’s how the language is being used.

                  It’s kind of akin as to how people opposed singular “you” back in the day. I know there’s a letter out there of a rant, I’ll find it later.

                  Anyways “you” only used to be referred to in the plural form and “thou” and “thy” were singular. People were livid when others began using it in the singular form. So this isn’t much different than that.

                7. Loose Seal*

                  I had a professor a few years ago (also my advisor so we were able to have a long chat about this) who returned a case study I had written to have me redo it. Her issue was that I used the singular “they” since there wasn’t an indication of the patient’s preferred pronouns in the presentation. We used the APA style manual which at the time, didn’t allow for a singular “they.”

                  She found my position on the subject interesting but still wanted it redone. I tortured my language so that all verbs became plural and “they” was technically correct at that point. She laughed and accepted it but said she really just intended for me to change every “they” to “he or she”. But that’s really clunky after the first instance.

                  She was blown away when I told her about the rise of gender-neutral pronouns. I don’t think it had ever occurred to her that we get new words in English every year so why wouldn’t we develop new pronouns when we recognize a need for them?

                8. Lioness*

                  For those interested, here’s the rant on singular “they”:


                  Anyways sorry for the double post, I had been using my phone earlier and getting ready to leave home, but just wanted to show that the use of the plural form to refer to the singular form is nothing new.

                  It’s used in the first person when the Royal “we” is used.
                  It’s used in the second person with the use of “you” instead of “thou”. (realize that when one uses “you”, the plural conjugation is used; such as “you are” instead of “you is”.)

                  Those have been around longer, and now it’s being seen in the third person. So you can argue that it is grammatically correct and there is precedent.

                9. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Parenthetically is correct–a singular “they” has been in use for centuries. There is nothing wrong with it grammatically.

                10. fposte*

                  “Been in use for centuries” isn’t the same as “nothing wrong with it,” though. And even the AP isn’t adopting the singular “they” as the standard, and they recommend you work around it when it’s not a reflection of somebody’s pronominal preference.

                  I still think it’s an acceptable correction to make in most situations.

                11. Maxwell Edison*

                  Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t use singular “they” (though if a client requested it, I’d use it).

                12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Whether grammar is correct or incorrect has all sorts of embedded questions, but the issue I’m noticing here is determining what register of English you’re using. For example, we don’t speak the way we write, and for good reason. And the way we might speak with friends is different than how we speak when there’s greater formality. That doesn’t mean that certain speaking or writing conventions are more/less grammatically correct—it means there are multiple registers of English in which certain grammar rules apply. And those rules don’t apply equally to all registers.

              2. SpiderLadyCEO*

                Even in the trans community, this is super rude. It’s generally considered OK to refer to people with they/them, neutral pronouns until they state a preference, but once they do, you need to respect that.

                The thought process is that you shouldn’t make assumptions about what pronouns people use based on their appearance, but once meeting you will be told, and proceed accordingly.

                OP is deliberately ignoring OP’s coworker’s stated preference, which is incredibly rude and disrespectful.

                It’s also particularly concerning that OP would call OP’s coworker by the coworker’s selected pronouns only if the coworker is trans, which is firstly none of OP’s business, and secondly comes across as trans people being more “worthy” of selecting pronouns for themselves then cispeople.

                All in all, OP seems like they are trying to do the right thing, but they way they’re going about it is incredibly rude and pushy. If you want people to use your chosen pronouns, you do have to respect theirs.

                1. Rebecca Anne*

                  This ^^^

                  That’s pretty much how I reacted. The OP has blatantly refused to acknowledge the coworker’s preference for female pronouns, which while not necessarily misgendering is denying the OP’s personal preferences. More than likely the rest of the coworkers just couldn’t give a hoot, but this one coworker does. If this was the other way around, with that coworker refusing to use the OP’s preferred pronouns, I could see a case for talking to manager or HR, but the OP’s being disrespectful and rude.

                  Honestly, I’d have the same problem as coworker. I identify with female pronouns and would be a bit annoyed if that wasn’t respected. I have no problem with the question of how I identify, but only respecting if that person is actually trans too… This just gives me a hinky feeling. :(

                2. Lab Monkey*

                  All of this, yes.

                  I’m nonbinary. My pronouns are they/them. You use what people ask. It’s not hard.

                3. turquoisecow*

                  Yes, exactly. People have a right to their chosen gender identity, even if it’s the one they were born with. I was born female, I identify as female, and I don’t want to be referred to as “ze,” I’d like you to use “she.” It’s kind of hypocritical of the OP to expect people to respect their pronounce while not respecting anyone else’s. If their coworkers insisted on referring to them as “she” or “he,” they’d be quite upset.

                  It goes both ways, dude*.

                  *Dude being, of course, gender-neutral.

                4. Kate the Femme Nonbinary Lesbian (The artist formerly known as Kate the Little Teapot)*

                  Given that OP asked if their coworker was transgender, I wonder if the coworker is a cisgender woman who is sometimes read as male or androgynous due to either physical features or personal style.

                  In that case it seems like she might be insisting on she/her pronouns because she doesn’t want to invite more of this sort of misreading.

                  This may also explain why she’s the only one who’s coming into conflict with OP over nonbinary pronouns – because while she might live and let live otherwise, she fears she will be interpreted as nonbinary in the workplace, and her identity erased.

                5. Anna*

                  I don’t think it’s even that nuanced. The OP states the coworker asked to be addressed by she/her. OP asked if coworker were transgender and then said ze would only call the coworker her/she if the coworker were transgender so as not to offend her if she were. The unspoken part of that is it only matters if the coworker is transgender when that is not the case. It matters because that is what the coworker has said she prefers.

                  The insistence on being addressed by the pronouns the coworker prefers is probably not seated in a fear of being misgendered, I’d wager. It’s as basic as that’s how the OP’s coworker prefers.

            2. Detective Amy Santiago*

              I think this makes perfect sense. The people I know that choose to use neutral pronouns like ze and hir do so because they either don’t identify as any gender or because they are genderfluid so in my mind they have a very specific connotation that isn’t appropriate to use for cis or trans people.

              (I realize my experience may not be universal)

              1. Jamie*

                That’s my thinking too. I know there are some exceptions but my gender pronoun understanding is:

                He – refers to a man or someone of unknown gender

                She- refers to a woman

                Singular they- gender unknown

                Gender neutral (xe,mr,etc.) – neither man or woman

                They- multiple people of any/all gender

                1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  A few people below explained this much better with the clarification that there is a different between gender neutral (single they) and non-binary (ze/hir).

            3. Alton*

              Yes, this is how I feel. I try to take people’s preferences in good faith, but it does bug me sometimes when people who to the best of my knowledge identify as cisgender use gender-neutral pronouns in an effort to be inclusive. I use gender-neutral pronouns because I want to be out and visible.

              1. Baker's dozen*

                Ah, see I’m non-binary and would totally love it if more/all cis people also used gender neutral pronouns.

                1. Anna*

                  I am very pro cisgendered people identifying which pronouns they prefer, whether it’s gender neutral or otherwise. I wear a button frequently that says ‘her/she’. On the website for a local LGBTQ+ organization, every one of the board members lists their pronoun preference in their bio.

                  The thing is, no one group should have the corner market on gender or gender neutral pronouns, and really you’re making a statement about your gender identity just by asking people to refer to you using gender neutral words.

          2. BananaPants*

            I’m cis and have zero desire to be called by gender neutral pronouns. If someone identifies as non-binary and indicates a preference in having gender neutral pronouns used (I see “their” and “they” 99% of the time), I absolutely use the pronouns that they prefer! Given that, I expect the same courtesy of having others use the pronouns that I personally identify with – which happen to be gendered female.

            1. I woke up like this*

              I’m not sure who or what you’re responding too, but have you read the post or the comments? The overwhelming consensus is that everyone has a right to declare and embrace their pronouns, and thus, can object to a pronoun.

        3. DArcy*

          Not necessarily. The sort of gender identity politics which dictate that everyone should be referred to using nonbinary pronouns tend to actually double down on that ideological stance around trans people, insisting that trans people’s identities are invalid and regressive.

          1. Gadget Hackwrench*

            Gender Abolitionists. Eugh. They give the rest of the non-binary community a bad rep, with the whole “I am non-binary and SO ARE YOU,” bullcrap. You can’t tell someone else their gender. I mean I get it. I went through most of my teenage years thinking everyone else was faking at gender, because I didn’t feel like I belonged to one side or the other, but just… floated in the middle, but then I grew the heck up and realized that just because I can’t feel it doesn’t mean no one else can!!!! How one makes it to adulthood without realizing that individual life experiences are subjective is beyond me.

            1. Spelliste*

              “How one makes it to adulthood without realizing that individual life experiences are subjective is beyond me.”

              This is a constant source of amazement. And beautifully put.

              1. Mononymous*

                I feel like this belongs in needlepoint on a throw pillow or something. Well said, Gadget Hackwrench.

                1. LawBee*

                  only if it’s followed by a ” – Gadget Hackwrench” because that is the best name and I am so jealous of it.

                2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                  Gadget Hackwrench was a character in the Disney Afternoon’s Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers show (same vintage, roughly, as Duck Tales and Tailspin). She has a ride in Disneyland (Gadget’s Go-Coaster) that’s for little kids who have absolutely no idea who she is. I figure it’s bound to be re-themed at some point.

        4. Sylvia*

          Specifically, they would be willing to use “she” only if their coworker were willing to come out to them as a trans woman. Their coworkers have to disclose very personal things to them in order to get the right pronouns used.

          FWIW I have actually seen this in real life. The person calling everyone “they” did it when talking about a trans guy we knew, who was out to everyone who heard this, and I eventually asked if that was his preferred pronoun (had I been using the wrong one??). They said no. I told them to call him “he.” They didn’t seem to get it and it was a very strange conversation.

          Constantly using the wrong pronoun for people, ignoring their stated preference or the cues of what those who know them use, isn’t how you show support.

      4. Turtle Candle*

        Yes, it does strike me as really iffy to require someone to out themselves to use their correct pronouns. And it’s going to be a pretty obvious form of outing–if all the cis people are ‘zie/hir’ but all the trans people are ‘he/him’ or ‘she/her,’ that’s… well, it’s not only requiring disclosure of very personal things, it’s publicizing them.

        As I mentioned elsethread, one of my former roommates and very good friends is a trans man, and in his daily life he passes as male without making it clear that he’s a trans man vs. a cis man. He wants simply to be referred to and considered a man in daily life, with he/him pronouns. I am fairly sure that he would find it pretty dreadful to have to justify wanting the pronoun “he” by revealing that he’s a trans man when he generally prefers to pass. Referring to him via gender neutral terms would be a misgendering, and forcing him to out himself as a trans man would be against his preferences as well.

        1. Kit M. Harding*

          I witnessed a variant on that once: an acquaintance said “If you identify as cisgender, use they/them pronouns for me; if you identify as genderqueer or trans, use she/her pronouns.” I was not pleased about being required to choose between outing myself and misgendering someone. (Especially given that at the moment my gender is mostly “confused” more than anything. I reacted to *that* by ceasing to use pronouns altogether, but that was only not-noticeable because I haven’t got that much contact with this person.)

          1. winter*

            At first I thought this rule is legit, but you’re right: It requires people who are not out to out themselves :/

            1. Jadelyn*

              Either out themselves, or closet themselves. I’m not out as NB anywhere but online, but it kind of makes me grind my teeth when I have to choose “female” or “Ms.” on forms. I imagine having to self-categorize as a cis person via my pronoun choices for someone would have much the same effect.

          2. Dizzy Steinway*

            This makes so little sense. Why would you choose pronouns for others based on your own gender identity?

            1. Jamey*

              It’s not about choosing pronouns for others based on your own identity, it’s about a comfort level from the person who’s pronouns are in question. Most trans people feel more comfortable expressing gender stuff with other trans people so in my experience, when someone uses different pronouns with different groups, it’s more like, “Hey most people call me X but in safe company I’d actually prefer to go by Y”

              1. Just Another Techie*

                Yeah but every time I’ve encountered that it’s been for everyone in the situation/group. So, “When I’m at work or with my in-laws, everyone uses she/her to refer to me, and when I’m with my friends or my LGBTQ meetup everyone uses they/them, even if some people are both work-friends and LGBTQ-meetup-friends.” Not “I’m at work, and I want the cis people in the conference room to use she/her and the trans/NB people to use they/them.” That’s. . .ugh. It sits really wrong with me.

                1. Jamey*

                  I don’t know… I get that the way you’re representing it where someone is really aggressive about the line is weird. But like… here’s an example. I have a friend who’s a trans woman. I used to use she/her pronouns for them but now that we know each other better, they’ve given me permission, I guess, to use they/them pronouns, which they prefer in queer spaces and between queer friends. My dad is also friends with them! He still uses she/her pronouns, even though he knows I use they/them, because he’s not queer and not as close with them and hasn’t been asked to use them. It doesn’t feel weird to us to use different pronouns because I’m queer and he’s not, and because we have a different relationship with the person in question.

                  I think the main difference here isn’t that it’s the same for everyone in a situation/group but that it’s non-aggressive. If I were to use she/her pronouns, it would be fine. But if my dad were to use they/them pronouns, it would make them feel a little uncomfortable. It’s basically a bonus set of pronoun options for fellow queer people. And there’s no need to out myself because I could use she if I wanted – which is what makes it different from the original scenario.

          3. Jamey*

            I know people who prefer different pronouns depending on their company, but in my experience it’s been more of a “safety of the community” thing. Like I know a trans woman who has been using she/her pronouns for a long time and she still wants cis people and the general community to use she/her pronouns for her, but in queer spaces, she also uses they/them pronouns.

            It’s less, “If you identify as trans/nb, you must out yourself and use they pronouns for me” and more “If you’re part of the trans/queer community, it’s okay if you use these alternate pronouns for me that I wouldn’t be comfortable with the general community using.”

            If the person you were talking to was requiring you out yourself in a more aggressive way then yes that’s definitely rude

            1. Kit M. Harding*

              This wasn’t someone I interacted with very much, so I don’t know how aggressive the “but you identify as X!” would have gotten. But it wasn’t *phrased* as “it’s also okay if you use these alternate pronouns”– whether that was deliberate or poor word choice I have no idea.

            2. turquoisecow*

              That makes sense. But even in that case, it’s that person’s decision on what pronouns they want others to use for themselves. Your trans woman friend would probably not insist on calling others by they/them pronouns in the queer spaces, even when they asked to be called he/she/whatever.

          4. Jadelyn*

            Just want to chime in with sympathy on the “my gender is “confused”” thing! I have a former friend whose bio on social media referred to them as “none gender with left girl” (a play on the none pizza with left beef meme), and if not for the fact that I kind of hate that person now I’d have borrowed that description for myself, but I still just am not sure what I am. The closest I can get to a singular, recognized identity would be genderfluid, more or less I guess.

            Anyway, good luck working through the gender confusion stuff – I know I find it deeply uncomfortable not having a simple term for it that *fits*, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone!

          5. General Ginger*

            I would be so uncomfortable with this. I’m a trans guy, but I don’t pass and am not currently out than online and to a relatively small circle of people in person, and this would essentially force me to make a choice whether to actively out myself or actively closet myself.

      5. DArcy*

        Speaking as a nonbinary trans girl, there’s a huge difference between using gender neutral pronouns such as singular they, and using nonbinary pronouns such as ze, hir, mx. Using neutral pronouns as the social default avoids misgendering people. Using nonbinary pronouns does the exact opposite; it’s aggressively misgendering the overwhelming majority of people around you, which is offensive to everyone and especially harmful to trans people (whether we’re binary or nonbinary identified).

        I find it incredibly disturbing that OP is not only claiming that their coworker is a bigot simply because she prefers female pronouns for herself, but is outright trying to get management to force her to accept having pronouns dictated to her by OP.

        The bottom line is simple: people have a right to be addressed by whatever pronouns they identify with, not whatever pronouns are dictated by someone else’s politics.

        1. Gadget Hackwrench*

          ^^^^^ THIS.
          Local Androgyne checking in (Xe/Xem/Xyr, but even with a button on every coat, and a magnet on my desk cabinet no one ever USES them.) Using “they” can be a way to be careful with people who’s pronouns you do not yet know, but once informed you go with what they tell you their pronouns are. That means if she says her pronouns are she/her, YOU GO WITH IT. Ze/Xe, Hir, Mx, etc all connote a non-binary identity. (e/er is ACTUALLY gender neutral but no one knows Spivak so how about lets not belabour that point) Applying non-binary pronouns to a binary gendered person IS misgendering, and yes, you can missgender a cis person. It doesn’t have the same inherent dangers, i.e. is not a violent act, when applied to cis folks, but calling anyone by a gender that’s not theirs, (or not the gender they tell you to, if they’re in the closet and prefer you use the gender they’re passing as) is not OK. OP#3 you’re not a bigot, but you’re definitely not in the right. Your co-worker may BE a bigot about your gender, but asking you to use HER pronouns correctly isn’t a part of that.

          1. LawBee*

            “(Xe/Xem/Xyr, but even with a button on every coat, and a magnet on my desk cabinet no one ever USES them.) ”

            How are they pronounced? I’ve not seen this one before – usually I’ve seen the zi/zir (but never heard IRL).

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I think x wasn’t a great choice as an initial consonant and I think it’ll work better if consensus move to the z.

            2. Gadget Hackwrench*

              Same as Zi/Zem/Zir. It’s just an alternate spelling. No one’s ever asked, or tried though. They just carry on with she/her. Whatever. I don’t have enough energy to try and enforce that stuff in the workplace, as long as someone doesn’t get up my grill like this one co-worker did all “Are you or are you not a lady?!?!” (Apparently I was being unladylike… when I said no he got VERY confused and angry. Gladly he no longer works here.)

          2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

            This. I’m a cisgender lesbian with multiple trans/nonbinary/gender nonconforming friends–and though I know what all of their pronouns are, some of the less common ones are difficult for my hard-coded old brain to use fluently without stunted speech. I really WANT to not misgender anyone, and I really WANT to use the person’s preferred pronoun, but I’m a dolt at getting ae/aer to work as easily as they/them in my speech. So I work at it, and when it gets really hard I’ve gotten permission from friends to revert to the gender neutral they/them.

        2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          This this this.

          It reminds me a little bit of the idea that, for example, those who belong to conservative, evangelical religions feel their religious freedoms are being trampled upon because they aren’t allowed to push their religion on other people. Which … no.

          I’m not saying this to pile on the OP, or suggest that the OP is acting in any sort of bigoted malice, because I actually don’t think that is the case at all. I merely say it to underline that respect for other’s beliefs and identities goes both ways.

        3. Kj*

          Oh, so this! Well said. The OP is acting EXTREMELY poorly and if I were the manager in this situation, I’d have it out with the OP.

          I work with LGBTQIA teens at times and in gatherings it is not unusual for everyone to give their preferred pronouns at introductions. And everyone gets a preferred pronoun- even cis and straight participants. I have no problem with using the preferred pronouns of others, although I have to admit it can hurt my head to remember who uses they/theirs and who uses ze/zur at times, but I do my best and I expect that others will do their best to respect my pronouns as well.

          1. Matilda Jefferies (formerly JMegan)*

            Kj, I don’t know if you know about this, but you can get the standard “Hello, my name is [blank]” name tags with a space for preferred pronouns on them! Google “preferred pronouns name tags” for a bunch of different designs.

        4. Tuckerman*

          With singular “they,” is it acceptable to conjugate verbs to convey whether you’re using singular or plural they? For example, “Sarah is struggling with this topic. They is coming by later for help with the assignment. ” for one person? Or would you always conjugate it to be plural (“They are coming by later?”)

          1. Gadget Hackwrench*

            You conjugate the same as for plural. “They are coming by later for help.”

            1. Tuckerman*

              Is there a specific reason why, or is that just the standard? I’m totally on board with using “they,” but we run into confusion at work, not always knowing whether someone is talking about an individual or a group. For example, in the sentence “Sarah said she and her teammates are having trouble on the assignment. They are coming by later,” it’s unclear whether Sarah is coming alone or with their teammates.

              1. Fiennes*

                Better to use other clarifying language, IMO: “Since that team is having trouble with the assignment, Sarah is coming by later,” or “Since Sarah’s team is having trouble with the assignment, they’re all coming by later.”

                (And yes, I’m using “since” for causality but that particular fight is a lost cause.)

                1. Michael*

                  FWIW, so was Shakespeare:

                  “Since that my beautie cannot please his eie,
                  Ile weepe what’s left away.”

                2. zora*

                  or you can just repeat the name more frequently, it might sound awkward to us now, but we’ll get used to it.

                  “Sarah’s team is having trouble with that, so Sarah is coming by later.”

              2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                It’s similar to the singular “you” (originally, English used “thou/thee/thine” for singular). Technically there is a difference between singular “you” and plural “you”, but they’re both conjugated the same. We get around it by saying things like “you guys” or “ya’ll” to refer to the plural “you,” (which is funny since the singular was co-opted from the plural and now we’re having to find new ways to express the plural).

              3. Snork Maiden*

                If it helps, think of it as how we conjugate singular “you”. We say “You are” all the time without any confusion or difficulty, and paired with Fiennes’ suggestions below it’s like adjusting the sentence when you have two same gender subjects (ie. Sansa and Cersei dined in her private quarters” becomes “Cersei and Sansa dined in Sansa’s private quarters.”)

                1. Snork Maiden*

                  Oops, posted this before I saw Emily’s reply. I wonder if there are any misguided prescriptivists out there insisting on “you is”, ha.

        5. JanetM*

          I didn’t know that, so thank you. I’ll update my usage.

          I started using zie/zir back in the day on Usenet, where it was common in the newsgroups I hung out in, because that made it easier to talk about both theory and specific actual situations without necessarily gendering or identifying the hypothetical subjects or the actual participants. I do respect people’s identities and identifiers, and certainly if someone tells me what pronouns they prefer (I’m seeing it more and more in people’s email signatures, and I’ve attended meetings where the introduction go-around includes which pronouns the person uses) I use them.

          1. Big10Professor*

            The other option is to just use people’s names, and not even worry about pronouns.

        6. MI Dawn*

          Can I just say I love your comment? I will happily respect what you want to be called (him/xe/they/her) as long as you return the respect and call me she/her.

        7. Jessie the First (or second)*

          “The bottom line is simple: people have a right to be addressed by whatever pronouns they identify with, not whatever pronouns are dictated by someone else’s politics.”

          I love this. Thanks.

          Also a great explanation of gender neutral vs non-binary, a big, big distinction OP has somehow not understood.

          1. Anion*

            Politics shouldn’t enter into it at all. My personal beliefs regarding trans people are a bit different from those of the people who’ve commented so far, but if someone asks or tells me to call him/her “she/he,” I do it, because it’s polite.

            I don’t have to agree with what you want to be called in order to call you that. You’ve told me to call you Bob and refer to you as “he/him,” (or ze/zir or whatever the variants are) so that’s what I do. It doesn’t require me to express an opinion. It doesn’t require me to think at all, frankly; I wouldn’t call Joe “Jane” anymore than I would call my mother “Aunt Sharon.” (Note for clarity: Joe in that example is a man born male whose name is Joe.) My personal feelings and beliefs in the matter are irrelevant, and nobody’s business.

            It’s similar for me when people ask me about my “partner.” I tell them (cheerfully) that I do not have a partner, I have a husband. If they keep referring to my husband as my “partner,” I keep reminding them. I’d start getting pretty annoyed if after a few weeks of this they continued to verbally erase my marriage, especially if they’re doing it because they themselves are unmarried so think everyone should be, or something, which seems to be the OP’s feeling here.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              Exactly. Whatever a person wants to be called, call them that — it’s not hard. If someone says “Hello, I’m Michael” or “Hello, I’m Michelle,” it’s RUDE to respond with “Hey Mikey / Shelly, nice to meet you.” If they wanted to be called Mikey / Shelly, trust that they would have said that when they introduced themselves.

              We all have the right to choose how we want others to address us. Deliberately refusing to use that preferred form of address makes you a jerk.

        8. AMPG*

          I just want to say thanks very much for the gender neutral/nonbinary clarification. I’m really trying to work on allyship around trans issues, and I know I still have a lot of learning to do especially about the issues nonbinary and genderfluid people face.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I just said this below, but I’ll reiterate here – there are NB people who use singular they as a nonbinary pronouns, so please make sure you respect that when you come across us “in the wild”, as it were. They/them is gender neutral but it can also be NB as well.

            1. AMPG*

              Thanks; I do know at least one semi-out non-binary person who prefers “they,” so I was aware that it can be used that way. But I’ve used zie as a gender-neutral pronoun before, under the assumption that it was interchangeable with they.

        9. Jadelyn*

          Minor quibble – there are many people, myself included, who use “they/them” as nonbinary pronouns. The delineation between NB pronouns ze, hir, etc. and “gender neutral” singular they is not as bright and clear as it sounds like you’re making it here.

        10. Marvel*

          Eh. I would feel misgendered if someone used “they.” (I am trans.) “Neutral” IS a gender, and there is really no pronoun you can use that won’t misgender some people–in my opinion, it really is best to just go with what seems to match their outward presentation and adjust if they ask you to. But I’m aware that I am probably in the minority on that stance.

          1. Jamie*

            I’ll join you in that stance. I think most people refer to a person by the gender that person outwardly presents.

        11. General Ginger*

          I’m a trans guy and I generally tend to use they/them for most people if I don’t know how they identify. However, once they (or someone who knows their pronouns) say, “oh, actually, I’d prefer you use pronoun,” I would be an ass to continue using they/them.

    2. LisaLee*

      Also, some non-binary people do try to pass as cisgender at work and do not want the scrutiny that being referred to by neutral pronouns invites. There are many reasons why a person might prefer one pronoun or another and it’s not up to the OP to dictate what is the best form of address.

      Really, the best thing to do would be to outright ask people what pronouns they use and stick to it.

    3. Artemesia*

      Gender neutral pronouns are not commonly accepted or even known by most and to force people who use gendered pronouns to conform to your preference is pretty annoying. It is reasonable to expect others to refer to you as you wish; do them the same favor.

      I always thought ‘bloody’ was a more offensive and powerful expression in the UK than most Americans assume. But it is a special pretentious twist for an American to adopt it.

      1. seejay*

        [i]It is reasonable to expect others to refer to you as you wish; do them the same favor.[/i]

        This. She’s doing the respectable thing by using the pronouns you prefer, give her the same respect in return. Just because you (the OP) prefers gender-neutral doesn’t mean that others want to be referred to by them in return. What if she insisted that she use a gender-specific pronoun for you for whatever gender she thought you presented as? I’d bet you’d be peeved off (and rightly so).

        Just because she’s cisgendered doesn’t mean she deserves less respect than anyone else in regards to pronoun preference, neutral or not.

      2. Fiennes*

        I don’t think it’s always pretentious. People may have lived in the U.K. at some point, may have an English parents, etc. Especially with younger people, who’ve grown up with much more exposure to British tv than prior generations (not to mention the influence of Harry Potter!), some Britishisms are gaining more traction over here. Certainly 20 years ago I never heard Americans refer to a vacation as a “holiday,” but now sometimes I do. The linguistic divide just isn’t as broad as it used to be.

        1. KarenT*

          My mind went to Harry Potter too. It can’t be that bad if it’s used in a British children’s series!

          1. Elle*

            Generally speaking, we have more swearing in the UK than you do in the US, and bloody hell is probably the worst you can get away with in a YA book. It is ruder than level and location of use suggests to American. However, it isn’t appallingly rude – I would use it in front of my boss but not in front of a client – but it is definitely sufficiently so that your grandmother or teacher might object.

            Bloody is a strengthening modifier – ‘hell’ on its own is fairly mild – “oh hell, not this again”, and probably closer to the American use of ‘damn’.

            Also, more than issues of swearing, most Americans use it wrong, which is probably more offensive to most Brits than it being used at all.

            1. fposte*

              You can absolutely get away with more than “bloody hell” in a UK British YA book. There is plenty of the-f-word-that-gets-this-sent-to-moderation in British YA.

              1. LawBee*

                I always had this vague idea that in England, The Mother of All Swears isn’t actually that bad.

                1. fposte*

                  Swearing overall gets more of a pass there, I think; you can even say that one and the c word on television there (after the watershed, but still), which is pretty unthinkable in the U.S.

                2. Exponential Vee*

                  Mother of All Swears as in ‘f’? It is that bad, and we still use it. But it is out-ranked by ‘c’.

                3. Noobtastic*

                  When talking about “the c word” in UK, I’m afraid you’ll have to specify which c word.

                  Is it c–t? Or is it c-w? Because my Scottish friend told me that c-w was THE ABSOLUTE WORST, EVER! Children who had no problems dropping f-bombs all over the place would spell out the c-w word, unless referring to a literal bovine animal.

                  So, when I hear an American calling someone a c-w, my mind always puts it in a Scottish accent, in shocked tones and a little girl’s treble voice. Which always makes me laugh. Kind of ruins the effect the speaker was going for, actually.

          2. AvonLady Barksdale*

            Many, many years ago, when I was a teenager (pre-Harry Potter, so a loooong time ago!), my mom and I went to visit the Tower of London. There’s a part there called “The Bloody Tower”. We passed a bunch of schoolboys who kept shrieking with glee– “The bloody tower!!! It’s a bloody tower!”– and all their teachers were shushing and scolding them, and only then did I realize that “bloody” is considered rude. UK “rude”, as in coarse or vulgar, as opposed to US “rude”, as in impolite.

            Bloody hilarious, that was.

              1. PlainJane*

                One of my friends used to give tours at Grand Coulee Dam. She made the same joke and also referred to “dam tourists” regularly (along with: “If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?”). Yes, she was kidding and is one of the kindest people I know–which made it pretty hilarious.

                Then there’s this one: “What did the fish say when it ran into a wall?”

                OK, I’ll stop the damn jokes and get back to work.

                1. Thlayli*

                  Joseph O’Connor once wrote a hilarious story about a visit to Disneyland with a group of Irish men.

                  “Ride” is Irish slang for sex and “mickey” is Irish slang for penis.

                  It was a very funny article.

            1. CheeryO*

              We had “bloody” as a vocabulary word when I was in 3rd or 4th grade (U.S., late 90s). I instantly thought of Harry Potter, and when the teacher asked if anyone knew what it meant, my little hand SHOT up and I said, “Like… bad? REALLY bad?” I was really embarrassed when she said, “Uhhh… no.” I tried!

            2. Noobtastic*

              My father spent some of his youth in England, and picked up a few words and phrases. When he’d tell stories about that time, he sort of shifted a bit into a slightly more English accent, which varied, according to which story he was telling (he moved a few times, during his years in England, so his accent could go from London Cockney to But-I-Only-Speak-English Welsh).

              Anyway, one day, I remember he told us a story that involved someone calling a woman “fanny.” He explained that fanny, in the UK, means a woman’s vagina. Well, no, he didn’t. He talked around and around it, until I finally pieced together that word he would not speak aloud, because he was old-fashioned, and could not actually speak about a woman’s genitals to his own pre-teen daughter, and as far as he knew I was not even aware of having one, myself.

              I think it was the way he talked around and around it that made that particular word stick in my mind, for years. Apparently, calling a woman “fanny,” was just soooooo bad, that my father couldn’t even come out and say, clearly and directly, what it actually meant! And he made it clear that it was the worst thing you could call a woman.

              Imagine, then, my consternation upon picking up Jane Austen’s novel, “Mansfield Park,” and finding that the heroine’s name was Fanny Price.

              “I thought you said this was a comedy of manners! These people are just RUDE! Who names their daughter THAT?!”

              1. Simonthegreywarden*

                Yeah… For the movie version of that it is changed to Phoebe, I think… Or at least in one of her stories, a Fanny is changed to Phoebe.

              2. Violet Rose*

                I had a boss who used the phrase “fannying about” in place of “messing about”, and something about it always set my teeth on edge. In hindsight, that was one of the LESS objectionable things he said!

          3. Emi.*

            Yeah, Harry Potter gave me a really warped sense of English profanity, until my mother told me off. I think Americans pick up “bloody” because it fits a useful linguistic niche–it has the same meter as “f—ing” but it’s (apparently?) less offensive. “Goddamn” doesn’t really pick up the the slack, because it’s stressed on both syllables, so “goddamn annoying” doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely as “bloody annoying” (and some people are more okay with profanity than with oath-taking anyway).

            1. TootsNYC*

              My husband uses “blasted” and “blast” for that very reason–it’s an emphasizer, but it’s not the F-word.

              1. Noobtastic*

                Or bloomin’. But you have to be careful to drop the g. Blooming is beautiful. Bloomin’, on the other hand, is pretty gosh darned bad!

        2. Artemesia*

          But people who have lived in the UK are aware of how it is used in the UK and would not be sprinkling it around the US workplace.

          1. Cristina in England*

            Not necessarily. In my experience picking up on the subtleties of swearing in another language or culture takes a loooong time. Usually the result is just as in the letter: people using much stronger curse words than intended.

            1. Someone*

              Oh, YES. It took me some time to realize that “damn” is a harsher swearword than the German translation “verdammt”. “Verdammt” is a pretty mild swearword and I use it a lot without thinking about it – in German as in English, because I’m so very used to it and anyway that’s the actual translation, right?
              Generally I would say that my language is pretty innocent but native English speakers might come to a different conclusion if I don’t pay attention.

              That goes both ways, of course.

              1. Violet Rose*

                I’m a bit late to this thread, but that reminded me: I was watching a German kid’s show in which the main character is known for saying “mist” a lot, and it’s usually translated as “crap” – which you can NOT say on kid’s TV in America!

                Back to the topic at hand, I lived in the U.K. for 3 years and would say ‘bloody’ in front of my boss (who said far worse himself ;) ), but not in front of the nine-year-old I tutored.

                1. Someone*

                  Alright… I honestly wouldn’t have expected that one day I might google the definition of “crap”.
                  But at least it validated my initial feeling that “crap” is not quite the right translation for “Mist”. “Mist” is more like… dung, or manure. Basically it’s animal excrement mixed with straw.

                  And it’s indeed a very mild, harmless swearword.

                2. Violet Rose*

                  Huh, learned something new today – thank you! I’ve been wondering ever since my partner introduced me to that show (which I think he now regrets, as I took to it far more than he ever did!)

        3. Jo*

          I live and work outside the UK and US but interact regularly with a lot of Brits so I’ve started picking up and using some British slang, thanks to them. Despite this, I hadn’t realized that ‘bloody’ has a much stronger meaning than I realized. I’ll have to ask my friends — we have a lot of “what did you just say? But what does that mean? That makes no sense” conversations, lol.

          Also, accents: good lord the accents. So varied, so heavy, and apparently accents convey so much more in the UK than in the US. Much, much more than simple region of origin.

          1. Jo*

            Although now that I think about it, a lot of my friends are ex-British Army/Royal Marines, so that might explain the swearing. For them, “bloody” is usually the milder version of what they want to say. When they even bother with the milder version :P

            1. RobM*

              Most of the squaddies I know of use swearing in their sentences as an alternative to a comma.

              1. Lablizard*

                I just snorted my coffee out my nose. I think they might also use it for semicolons in casual conversation, if the handful of ex-British military I have met are anything to go by.

              2. Not that Anne, the other Anne*

                Similar to the dry statement that among GIs in WWII, the f word only indicated a noun was arriving shortly.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          Recent immersive trips to the UK and writing a book where a main character is British have permanently embedded a smattering of Britishisms into my vocabulary. I regret nothing and make no apologies. In music school, I also adopted the way my German voice teacher made her sevens; I can’t write them without a line through them now or they look weird to me.

          I’m also the person who tends to pick up accents and speech patterns if I’m around them frequently, though I’ve fought hard not to end up with a Midwestern twang. When I first moved to CA, people told me they couldn’t tell where I was from (after I stopped saying pop instead of soda). Good!

      3. sssssssssss*

        Well, I do like to learn new things and these gender neutral pronouns are my new thing for today. I feel like I can barely keep up as it is with the new (new to me!) spectrum of gender and sexuality.

        Where the OP is working must be a very progressive place. Even where I work now, which is very progressive (in theory – I work for a large national union that is on paper pro-everything (slightly exaggerated)), I do know that many of my coworkers would have a hard time wrapping their heads around being called “zie/hir” when they currently have a hard time handling the no-scent policy.

        To be honest, considering my own background and where I live/work, if I heard “zie”, which I assume is pronounced “zee” I would start thinking that someone was being funny and trying to talk like a Frenchman who can’t pronounced “the”…

        How does one say “mx”?

        1. Drew*

          When I’ve heard it said (rarely), it’s been like “mix,” maybe with a slightly swallowed vowel.

        2. Antilles*

          How does one say “mx”?
          I’d never heard anyone say it either, so I looked it up. My initial guess was “mex” (rhymes with hex”). Per Wikipedia and a couple of linked sources, it seems like there’s no standard pronunciation – some common ones are “mex”, “mix” (like the cooking term), “mucks” (like a plural of the word muck) or saying the letters “M-X” separately.
          Also, like 30% of people don’t know how to pronounce it, so you and I apparently have plenty of company.

          1. Junior Dev*

            Makes sense, because that’s the same vowel sound that starts “Mister,” “Miss,” “Misses,” and “Miz.”

          2. Markethill*

            I use it and like it pronounced “mix-ter”. That’s the only way I’ve heard it said IRL, so maybe it’s regional? (I’m in Western Canada.)

            Also, as another datapoint, I’m a nonbinary fem(me) and my pronouns are she/her and they/them. I think I would be more comfortable getting he/him than xe/hir, personally, and would be very uncomfortable with anyone insisting on xe/hir for me after having been corrected. I’m pretty laid back about pronouns, but those ones just really aren’t my thing.

        3. k*

          I’m learning a lot of pronouns today! Apparently I’m much less informed than I thought I was. Does anyone know of a good resource that has a fairly comprehensive list of pronouns with pronunciations, usages, etc?

        4. Dorothy Mantooth*

          I just Ctrl + F with “pronounce” to see if anyone already asked this – because I have seen the words in their written form, but have never heard anyone say them. Which could be why many people are comfortable defaulting to “they” instead, because they don’t want to be embarrassed about mispronouncing the words.

          1. Anion*

            This is OT, but “Dorothy Mantooth” is my username on a couple of other forums, and I keep getting confused when I see your comments, lol, and wondering when I said that. :-)

            (Obviously not saying you need to change it or anything, it’s just funny.)

            We’re a saint, you know.

      4. Bonky*

        Bloody’s absolutely fine where I live and work in the UK; neither I, nor anyone I work with, would bat an eyelid. I have heard politicians, priests and teachers use it with total impunity. The only situation I can think of where it might be frowned upon would be if my little daughter said it to my very strait-laced, 70-year-old mother. And then the frowning would only be very mild. (Also, my daughter can’t talk yet, so it’d also be very exciting.)

        1. Noobtastic*

          When my nephew first used the word “damned” correctly, his grandmother was ecstatic and proud, while his mother was horrified.

          “Yes, honey, I know he used a swear word, and you want to wash his mouth out with soap, but remember, he used it correctly! He got the grammar right, and everything!”

          That can’t have confused the poor little kid at all. Nope.

          Now I come to think of it, his grandparents took pride in teaching him several things that horrified his mother. How he ever managed to come out as a civilized adult, I’ll never know.

      5. paul*

        Bloody isnt’ that uncommon here TBH. We get enough Britishisms from music and tv that I think calling it pretentious is a hell of a stretch.

    4. Charlie Q*

      Just to add another voice, I’m hella nonbinary and I use she/her pronouns. They’re my pronouns, and they suit me, so I’d be real uncomfortable with someone insisting I use other pronouns.

      I think it’s always good practice to use they/them when talking about strangers or folks who haven’t specified their pronouns (whether they look cis or binary or not), but once you know someone’s pronouns, whatever they are, use them.

      1. Gen*

        Just to add another voice, I’m non-binary and use they/them but I’d be really uncomfortable with insisting on using those pronouns for someone else who has already clearly stated their preference. I certainly wouldn’t escalate about their personal pronouns

      2. Turanga Leela*

        Interesting. I never use they/them (or other gender-neutral pronouns, for that matter) unless people tell me that they prefer neutral pronouns. When I meet people, I follow clues in their clothing, grooming, and names to guess whether they use he/him or she/her. If I can’t tell, I avoid pronouns until the person makes it clear.

        I work in a pretty conservative field, and I suspect a lot of people I work with would be uncomfortable if I used they/them about them initially. You’ve got me thinking about this, though. Any particular tips on navigating this in an environment where gender-neutral pronouns would really stand out? (Again, if an individual requests gender-neutral pronouns, I’m happy to use them. This is just about how to proceed when I don’t yet know the person’s gender identity.)

        1. Charlie Q*

          So this is a really good practice to get used to socially at first. If you’re telling a story about a stranger you ran across, use they/them to refer to the person, even if visual cues indicate otherwise. It can be hard in a workplace, especially a conservative one, but you can sorta do something similar. “I was talking with Jess and they recommended I talk to you about X.”

          But I tend to encourage it mostly socially and with kids, just to get practice not gendering people based on their presentation.

          1. JustAnotherNonProfitManager*

            This! I play roller derby which as one of the few sports totally on board with any/all/no gender identity at every level of competetion (depending on ruleset – the version I play is Women’s flat track and the stipulation is that it’s the version of the game you most closely identify with – so mostly not-male) and therefore I have a lot of contact with trans, non-binary and agender folks. Strangely (and it might be a UK thing) I don’t know anyone who uses anything other than he/she/they as their primary pronoun.

            As a result I’m pretty comfortable asking people what pronouns they prefer and am getting better practiced at using “they/them” when talking about people I don’t know. On the flip side if I’ve told someone I use she/her then I’ll be hella annoyed if they persistently and deliberately misgender me by using they/them because it’s not about their preference and will tell them this. Occasional unconscious slip ups aren’t the same because those sometimes just happen – like calling my (I assume) cis female ceo he for an entire sentence the other day because my brain wasn’t working.

            TL:DR – use the pronouns people request – they are their’s not yours.

            1. Arjay*

              I think I’m just having a bad day, but I wonder if some of my coworkers know what pronouns are. I’d ask them what pronouns they prefer and they most likely say, “Huh?”

        2. Elemeno P.*

          I also follow context clues, and it’s okay to ask for preferred pronouns if you can’t tell. It feels awkward to do (I felt like I was committing some major faux pas the first time I asked), but the people I’ve asked have always been fine answering and happy that I respected their identity.

        3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I tend to name my pronouns (in my email signature, when going around a table at a meeting and introducing myself, etc.), which typically causes folks to either identify the pronouns they want to use, or ask what that means or why I did it.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                I also look forward to the day this is standard. It is such a simple adjustment that lifts a burden from folks who are already walking through fire.

                My organization started a good conversation about improving our inclusivity with regards to gender identity, but it seems to have stalled. This post is a good reminder to me to go stick my nose into it and see if we can make some progress.

                1. Noobtastic*

                  I look forward to the day when English, as a language, stops shifting in this regard, and we get some standardization, once more, in pronouns.

                  So, a standard (I don’t know this person’s gender) pronoun set,
                  standard presents-as-cis-male
                  standard presents-as-cis-female
                  standard presents-as-non-binary
                  standard presents-as-third-gender
                  standard presents-as-neutral-gender
                  standard presents-as-agendered
                  with possibly a pronoun set for “other.”

                  I don’t mind learning the grammar for that many pronoun sets, if they are standard, and have clearly delineated meanings upon which everyone who speaks the language agrees. What we have right now, though, is such a hodgepodge that you wind up having to learn about twenty-five different pronoun sets to cover all the various spellings and preferences in your social/work/church/family circles. I’m all for having a sufficient variety to cover all the bases, but I do wish we could get some standardization in place. All the questions about “how do you spell this,” or “how do you pronounce that” would be handled in elementary school.

          1. Elemeno P.*

            This is nice! I saw this for the first time at a volunteer orientation. Most people either said their pronouns or didn’t, no problem, but one woman said, “I’m a woman, OBVIOUSLY.” She was a bit older, though, so I imagine that that reaction will be less common in time.

        4. Noobtastic*

          Yeah, when can you just come out and ask, “What are your pronouns, please?” It seems uncomfortable to just put it right in the opening introduction, unless you’re doing some sort of round-the-room introduction that includes name, pronouns, job title and department, and three interesting tidbits about you.

          But then again, it seems like it should certainly not wait until the third date, or the sixth project meeting, or anything like that.

          On the other hand, how awkward is it to just announce your pronouns upon first meeting someone? And if they have been calling you “they,” or actively avoiding using pronouns in reference to you, does it make it even more awkward to say, “Actually, I prefer…” or less?

          I’m cis-gendered, and recognize my privilege in that I never had to consider this for myself before. Now I think about it, though, if someone told me that I had to answer to non-binary OR neutral gendered pronouns, even after making my gender identity and pronoun preferences clear, I would be livid. Not because I’m a bigot, but because it IS misgendering, and yeah, that hurts. It especially hurts for a person who has, many times in the course of her life, been told that she is a failure as a woman, or else been specifically excluded from “all the women” when women in the group were discussed. “So what am I? Chopped liver?” Yeah, I want my she/her/hers pronouns, please. But thanks to my large bosom, I’ve never felt the need to actually point them out or demand them, before. (And yes, I do now know that men can sometimes have large bosoms. But I have never been mistaken for a man, even when I was “one of the guys,” among my group of male friends. I was “the one who lives in the women’s dorm,” and “the one who has to be walked home at night, since that serial rapist escaped from the penitentiary and was sighted in our area” and at the same time, when discussing women, I was always the one that “didn’t count,” or “that doesn’t apply to you.”)

          I think OP’s coworker has every right to be upset, and is probably shocked a great deal by the whole thing. And if she was not bigoted against non-binary people before, I’m afraid that this might be setting her up to develop a bit of bigotry, especially if OP is the first *out* NB person she has met. We often form our opinion of groups based on the first relationship we form with a known member of that group.

          OP, please drop your complaint and call your coworker by her preferred pronouns, just as she calls you by yours.

          1. Sam*

            “And if she was not bigoted against non-binary people before, I’m afraid that this might be setting her up to develop a bit of bigotry, especially if OP is the first *out* NB person she has met. We often form our opinion of groups based on the first relationship we form with a known member of that group.”

            I’m glad I’m not the only one to think this. I made the same point in a comment upthread, that their hostile behavior may very well result in turning the rest of the workplace against NB people and pretty much ruin future opportunity employments for NB people.

            Of course it’s not fair to judge an entire group of people based on the actions of one person within that group, but non-binary people are a rather small minority to begin with and visibility within that group is still relatively rare. OP needs to take into account that they will be the first of their kind to most cisgender people they come across, and they would do well to not behave so selfishly that they make their fellow community members’ lives extra hard because they have fulfilled negative stereotypes about non binary folks.

    5. Artimis*

      OP#3, you say that this person is “not cool” with you being non-binary, but I’m curious whether she’s done anything other than requesting that you refer to her with she/her pronouns. If the only thing she’s done is request that you use her preferred pronouns, while she correctly uses your non-binary pronouns, you might consider that her concern is not about your non-binary identity but the issue that by not using her preferred pronouns you are not respecting her identity as female (or at least a person who prefers she/her pronouns).

      If she has done other things that idicate a bias against non-binary people, then depending on your workplace you might want to focus on those. But if she hasn’t, you might consider that your colleague is asserting her gender identity in a similar way that you assert yours, and that mutual respect for the other’s preferred pronouns can help you both work together.

      Using gender neutral pronouns can be a respectful way of letting people make their own self-identifications of gender without outside assumptions, but once those self-identifications have been made, continuing to use pronouns that a person has specifically requested not be used can negate the very idea of gender self-identification.

      1. Mazzy*

        My issue here is complaining to management. OP you are new to he work world. You can only complain to your boss about your coworkers so many times before you get labeled as not a team player and then he credibility of your complaints goes down to zero. I’d really save my complaining for bigger problems – coworker dumping their job on you, catching huge mistakes, a juicy customer complaint, coworker drinking at work when boss isn’t around – things are going to happen that are bigger deals you’ll need to complain about

        1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

          Have to agree with you on this. Pick your battles. Your credibility is your currency in your work. Like the boy who cried wolf, your boss is going to stop listening after a while.

      2. RJ47*

        That also jumped out to me, whether or not the coworker has done anything to indicate she’s against OP being non-binary other than not wanting nonbinary pronouns for herself.

        I’m a queer lady and my partner is AFAB and for the last few years has identified as genderqueer, though they’re starting to explore whether or not they want to start using male pronouns and identifying as male. They’re doing a lot of soul-searching right now and at times feel very uncomfortable in their own skin. I’m a cis woman who has never questioned my gender so I can’t relate to what they’re going through, but hearing them talk about it and the way they’re trying to explain it, they’re clearly struggling to fully understand their gender and it’s very hard for them to not really know. (On a side tangent it drives me bananas when people say that gender identity isn’t a real thing, just because they’ve never had to question their own. NOBODY would just “choose” to go through the struggle people like my partner have to go through and all that emotional energy just for the heck of it.)

        Anyway, yeah, if they do decide they want to live as male and made the active choice to stop using gender neutral pronouns, and someone tried to imply they were against non-binary people because of it, and insisted on using gender neutral pronouns anyway? That would be so triggering and hard for them to deal with, I can’t even imagine. And to then have someone ask them to out themself and confronted them point blank to ask if they were trans?? I can feel my blood rushing in anger just picturing that.

        But aside from that even, my gender is very important to me. I’m a woman. I’ve faced struggles that came directly because I was a woman. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life fighting back against things that were only happening because I’m a woman and fighting for other women. If people use gender-neutral pronouns in general or before they know the gender preferences of people they know, I don’t care. But if I have a conversation with someone where they tell me they use non-binary pronouns, and I say I use female, and they tell me, “No, I’m only using my favorite pronouns for you,” I am absolutely going to be offended by that. And then you want to say it’s because I don’t support non-binary people? Get outta here. There’s a degree of misogyny there almost, like OP is sort of (unintentionally, I’m sure, but still) implying that wanting to be a woman and referred to as a woman is somehow wrong or not socially progressive, which is insulting.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Same here. I respect others’ pronouns, and will call you whatever you want to be called, but I’m female, I identify as a woman, and I’m damn proud of being a woman. I’m sure the OP would do the same to a persistent male coworker, but it does seem kind of unintentionally misogynistic here.

          Also, if I were a man, I’d be equally annoyed. I wonder if the rest of the coworkers are just like “whatever” and doing their best to avoid the OP…

    6. Tempest*

      I have transitioned and transitioning customers who have been close enough with me to share that journey and I call them the pronouns they ask me to call them. I make it a point not to misgender them after I’ve been told which to use even if I have to think about it before I open my mouth each time to be sure I’m getting it right. I respect them all for their courage to go on such a life changing and challenging journey to be themselves and hopefully finally find happiness in who they are.

      But I think calling a person who has identified themselves as female pronouns to you by the gender neutral ones against her will is a massive overstep and pretty much as offensive as someone insisting on calling you by the ones that fit your physical appearance. You don’t like being called him/her and have told your work you prefer hir ect. As you’re not complaining about being misgendered I assume they are for the most part honouring your wishes. I too would absolutely honour that for you even if it felt awkward for me. But you then don’t get to tell me that I have to accept hir because it’s neutral when I’ve told you I am a she/her. I think the whole point is that everyone is comfortable and comfortably adequately identified by the pronouns they prefer. Your colleague has told you that anything but she/her makes her uncomfortable. Stop doing that and use the pronouns she asked you to, same as you would like her to make you comfortable and use hir as per your request.

      It’s just called respect and it’s a two way street.

    7. paul*

      Yep. Calling someone who prefers a binary pronoun by said pronoun is no more anti-non binary people than me having a heterosexual relationship is anti-homosexual.

    8. Whats In A Name*

      I went to a conference once years ago – 2002-2003ish – and one thing that I still remember from that conference is the concept of the PLATINUM RULE. Treat others as they want to be treated – to me this applies here. The co-worker has asked to be referred to as the gender she identifies with (which happens to be her biological one) so the OP should respect that.

    9. Thinking Outside the Boss*

      OP, rather than escalate this situation or go to HR, why not ditch the use of a third person pronoun altogether? It only comes into play when talking to someone about someone else: “Hey Fergus, Connie is looking a little down today. Is Connie okay?” Using someone’s name is respectful and avoids this entire situation. And you’d never use a third person pronoun when speaking to Connie directly.

      1. VicCatLady*

        “…why not ditch the use of a third person pronoun altogether? It only comes into play when talking to someone about someone else….”

        Yes! I’ve been wondering throughout this discussion how often someone would use any pronoun other than “you” when talking directly to a person. Thanks for bringing this up.

    10. Themiscyra*

      Agreed. I can understand the intent, but once someone has told you their preferred pronouns, you should use them when referring specifically to that person. It’s fine to use neutral pronouns when referring to a hypothetical person of any gender. It’s fine, if perhaps a bit unusual, to use neutral pronouns when first meeting someone, or to ask their preferred pronouns upfront. But once a person makes their pronouns clear, you should use those.

      I’m trans myself and identify very strongly as female. I use the she/her/hers pronouns exclusively. I would be very upset if someone insisted on using neutral pronouns to refer to me, even after I corrected them or asked them to stop, and particularly based on the assumption that I’m trans. To do so would feel like a slap in the face and a severe act of disrespect toward my personal identity. I have nothing against non-binary people whatsoever. I will happily use whatever pronouns anyone likes. But I ask that the same courtesy be extended to me. The person in question has told you what she prefers. I don’t know if she has been hostile to you in separate incidents, but a request to use she/her/hers pronouns in reference to her is not out of line and not in and of itself a sign of hostility, particularly if she uses your preferred pronouns in reference to you. If there HAVE been other incidents which make you feel she does not respect your identity, you have every right to feel uncomfortable and should relate those to HR. But this one is simply a matter of respect, and since she has told you how she identifies and which pronouns she wishes to use, you should respect her wishes.

    11. Gene*

      One of the things I like about Science Fiction conventions is that there is usually a table next to Registration with stacks of ribbons for your badges that usually say something like “I prefer They/Tem/Us” with several different variations for what one’s preferred pronouns are. It’s considered bad form to not use the preferred pronouns, no matter what your personal preference is.

    12. toomanybooks*

      Yes. Refusing to use someone’s preferred pronouns is literally what misgendering is. This woman IDs as a woman and prefers to be addressed with the pronouns “she/her.” She doesn’t ID as gender neutral and doesn’t feel comfortable with this pronouns. (I’m in the queer community and have spent a loooooot of time with stuff like this.) Asking her if she’s trans is also not appropriate to do, especially in an office setting. And even if she is trans, it’s honestly worse to refuse to use her preferred “she/her” pronouns and insist on gender neutral ones.

      I can see a situation where #3 feels it’s important to use neutral pronouns before learning of someone’s specific gender identity and preferred pronouns instead of assuming “him” or “her.” But what OP seems to be doing is deliberately disregarding everyone’s gender identity and preferred pronouns. I imagine that’s the opposite intention OP had and OP needs to take a look at this and rethink things.

  3. Gaia*

    OP 3, I understand you believe you are in the right because technically gender neutral cannot be “misgendering” but I’m going to tell you that I would feel misgendered if you used gender neutral terms for me. And I wouldn’t be offended, at first. But after I asked you to use female gender pronouns and you insisted you weren’t wrong and insisted on using what you felt was appropriate? Yeah, I’d be pretty livid. Just as you have the right to be referred to by pronouns that make you comfortable and are correct for you, so does everyone else. Your coworker has made herself clear – use the pronouns she has requested.

    1. Leah*

      Also, I think some jurisdictions (IANAL) have rules saying that misgendering people counts as harassment. OP could get in some trouble with HR if they went that route.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        You’re right—in some states and D.C., purposely misgendering a person (which is what OP is doing) has been recognized as a form of harassment on the basis of either real or perceived gender or LGBT identity.

    2. Rey*

      I agree. In a way, this is the flip side of the argument against using they, them and their as gender-neutral pronouns because they aren’t grammatically correct.

      OP #3, you have an individual who has told you directly what their personal pronouns are, and you are refusing to use them. You are valuing your opinions over her gender expression. That’s not cool.

          1. Dizzy Steinway*

            We use they and them in all our communications at work, internal and external, now I think of it.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I was going to say this! They/them has been moving towards inclusion as a form of grammatically acceptable, gender-neutral terms for the singular pronoun. A few years ago, some federal courts started using “they” as a gender-neutral singular pronoun in their opinions, and they’d drop a footnote explaining why.

            Language is kind of amazing.

                1. Beancounter Eric*

                  “Who am I to disagree?”….. I’m going to have this song in my head all day…..well, at least it’s a good one!

              1. Mephyle*

                The Language Log blog has a post (Sept. 13, 2006) on the use of singular ‘they’ in the King James Bible, which inspires a mug with the following inscription:
                Singular ‘they’:
                God said it,
                I believe it,
                that settles it.
                The Language Loggers come down (semi-humourously) against the mug, because it suggests divine prescriptionist grammar, but who wouldn’t want that mug!

          3. Artemesia*

            The grammar error is less offensive than the universal ‘he’ to refer to people or unknowns — so although I dislike many of our grammar slips, this one works for me.

          4. Jessica*

            And many thanks to the AP, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Economist Style Guide and all who sail on them – they all now “allow” what spoken English has been practicing for centuries in the interests of clear expression.

            1. a different Vicki*

              A recent blog post from Chicago Manual of Style says that the new edition will accept “they” as a nongendered singular, but will still prefer “he or she” to “they” as a pronoun for an unspecified person (“check with the bus driver, he or she can tell you where to change buses”).

          5. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            Ahhh, I didn’t realize that had (FINALLY) changed. This is good news!
            (Now I’m going to go check on Fireman/Firefighter, as that one always got under my skin!)

            1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

              … and that’s changed too. GOOD. I’ve been out of it longer than I realized.
              (Now it’s time to get them to start using the Oxford Comma, and we’ll be SET.)

              1. HisGirlFriday*

                Oh, that’s a pipe dream of mine. Ten years in journalism and I clung to my Oxford comma like it was the only thing separating us from the savages, and my editors always removed it.

                1. Noobtastic*

                  The Oxford comma isn’t always necessary, but it some lists, it makes a HUGE difference. I prefer to play it safe and keep the comma.

                  And since it is never technically incorrect to use the Oxford comma, any editor who removes my Oxford comma will have to pry it from my cold, unplugged keyboard!

            2. Kathleen Adams*

              “Firefighter” has been the preferred form in AP for a very long time – at least 30 years, and probably more. I’ve been following AP for 30 or more years, and “firefighter” has always been the preferred option, I think.

          6. Elizabeth West*

            This makes my eye twitch, but I’m getting used to it gradually. It’s just breaking an old habit that’s tough. I’ve wished for years that English had a gender-neutral singular pronoun; using the plural bugs me.

        1. Rey*

          That’s great! In case it wasn’t clear–I am very much in favor of they/them as gender-neutral pronouns and am happy to use them.

      1. Jeff A.*

        Very not cool. I’d be irritated the same way I would be if a co-worker insisted on calling me “Jeffrey” instead of “Jeff” after I’d asked multiple times not to refer to me by my full name. Sure, “Jeffrey” is technically my legal name and “correct,” but you’re just being a jerk if you ignore that and insist on using a label that I’ve explicitly asked you not to use because you’ve decided your opinion is more important than mine.

    3. Sami*

      OP3- You mention be discomforted. Imagine if your coworker called you she or him? That’s the same thing you’re doing to her. Leave her alone- meaning calling her what she has REQUESTED you to do.

      1. Kay J*

        I don’t disagree that this OP is extremely misguided and needs to stop doing this now, but telling a trans person to imagine being misgendered is a little condescending. I’m sure OP gets misgendered plenty by strangers or even friends and family, because that comes with the territory.

        1. Jessica*

          It may sound condescending, but it’s hard for calls for obviously-due empathy to not sound condescending. The more misgendering the OP gets, the more baffling it is to think that they can’t recognize when they are misgendering others.

          1. Vin Packer*

            The idea that the OP has never been misgendered and must imagine it is condescending and not in line with reality. OP has definitely been mosgendered and knows exactly how it feels, promise.

            I liked the comment above, that pointed out that OP is young and trying to live zir truth, which isn’t always an easy thing to do, and so is acting a little misguided in zir excitement. OP needs to stop, but that’s all that really needs to be said about it.

            1. Vin Packer*

              Also, being misgendered as a trans or non binary person is a much different experience than being misgendered as a cis person. It still sucks, but it’s not the same.

              1. Jamey*

                Honestly I think it’s exactly the same except it happens to trans people about a thousand times more often.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  It’s the same in a literal sense – gender is wrong. It’s not the same in effect on the target – I am cis and present as feminine, and if someone were to misgender me, it would not trigger any kind of fear, or intense worry that my identity was going to be controversial, or anxiety that my job was in jeopardy or that I was going to face constant hostility. I’d be annoyed and then at some point, if it continued, mad. But not afraid or anxious.

                2. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  (ciswoman, so presenting as feminine means that a misgendering is not a commentary/political statement/form of aggression on my supposed failure to adhere to gender norms, which, again, means I do not face hostility/discrimination/issues in general around gender identity, so a misgendering would be an annoyance, not a cause for fear)

                3. Jamey*

                  (Replying to Jessie as it wouldn’t let me reply directly to the comment.)

                  Sorry, I totally agree with you! For some reason I read the above comment wrong, when they said “It still sucks”, I read it as “It still sucks to be misgendered as a trans person” as if being misgendered as a cis person was worse because “people should know.”

                  I’m trans and have faced a lot of harassment online recently so my mind jumped to this in a defensive way, but I shouldn’t have because all the comments here have been really understanding and good and I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the lack of jerky comments. So go AAM readers!

                4. Observer*

                  @Jessie, for you it’s true that misgendering is merely annoying, not triggering of greater anxieties. But if you look at what other people have said, that’s not universally true. For many people misgendering brings up long histories of not being “right” in some way. So, perhaps not so different, for some people.

                5. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  @Observer, true, what is just just annoying for me is more than that for others. But my larger point is that for cisgendered folks, we are just not at the same risk of violence as trans people. So to say “it’s exactly the same” is trivializing, I believe. I am not claiming that there is no anxiety or problem as a cis person being misgendered. But we do not, as a general rule, face the very real threat of violence that trans people do.

                  I get we can’t say anything is universally true, because nothing is universally true. But things can be generally true – like the risk of violence transpeople face.

                6. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Haha, and now I see Jamey’s clarification. So, Jamey, I’ll stop disagreeing with you because it looks like we aren’t disagreeing at all!

                7. Noobtastic*

                  I see it as similar to body shaming. Body shaming a thin person (for example, telling that person to “eat a sandwich”) vs. body shaming a fat person (“Put down the fork and hit the treadmill, Flabbo!”). They are both body-shaming, and rude and hurtful.

                  However, the body shaming directed at thin people happens a lot less frequently, and less systemically than the body shaming directed at fat people.

                  Likewise, gender-shaming directed at cis-gendered people, or even at people who pass for cis-gendered is a lot less frequent and a WHOLE LOT less systemic than the gender-shaming directed at non-binary/trans/agender/genderfluid/etc. people. That is the nature of privilege.

                  The shame always hurts, and we’re not in a competition about who hurts worse. We can say “It’s not the same” all we want; we still have to admit that the shame, no matter which end of the spectrum it’s on (or even if it’s not on the spectrum at all, and just sort of floating off to the side) is painful and neither helpful to the person being shamed (shamed into changing themselves to fit the shamer’s requirements? That’s giving the bully your lunch money for the rest of your life.) or to the person doing the shaming, nor in fact, to society as a whole.

                  Stigmatizing bad behaviors, that hurt other people, such as shaming people for rape, murder, theft, and littering, is a useful tool for promoting an orderly and safe society. Stigmatizing states of being, on the other hand, be it a state of gender, a state of body, a state of health, a state of mind, does not work, in any sense. All it does is break people’s hearts, and that is neither orderly nor safe.

              2. Trillian*

                At a systemic level, no. At a personal level — misgendering is one of the tools that bullies and abusers use, and when you’re a bullied teen, cis privilege is pretty damn meaningless.

              3. Former Flasher - regular commenter, anon for this*

                How do you know that? You haven’t said if you’re nonbinary or if you’re cisgender, but either way you’re one so you cannot understand the experience of the other.

                I’m a cisgender woman. I have a terrible scalp condition that causes extreme sensitivity in my scalp. As a kid, I couldn’t let my mom brush my hair without crying. So, I had a bowlcut until I was TWELVE and old enough to take care of my own hair without looking like a ragamuffin.

                The running joke in my family, but it wasn’t funny to me AT ALL at the time, is that I was a really cute little boy. I was constantly asked if I was a boy or a girl, even when wearing feminine clothing. I remember praying to God every night to let me grow boobs so that people would know without asking.

                To be honest, I think it’s why I’m overly effeminate now. I’m compensating for something. And when you’re saying it still sucks to be misgendered as a cisgender person but it’s not the same as a transgender person – try being a KID and being constantly told you look like/are a boy and being like NO I AM A GIRL and actually FLASHING PEOPLE YOUR GIRL PARTS to get them to see your point. (Got in trouble for that at summer camp and school multiple times)

                1. General Ginger*

                  That sounds really awful, and I’m sorry you had to go through that.

                  For me as a kid, though, it was being absolutely devastated, knowing that no matter how much I prayed/asked/hoped, I’d never have those parts to get them to see my point. That to every “but I’m a boy”, it would always be “it’s all in your head”, and my body would never be on my side in that.

                2. Former Flasher - regular commenter, anon for this*

                  @General Ginger I think I can actually relate more than most cisgender people because of what I went through as a kid. I was also a late bloomer, so God didn’t listen to my prayers to grow boobs until I was like 18. Luckily by 12, my mom let me have long hair and I had more control over what I wore.

                3. Jerky Jerkface*

                  Can I just say that in Girl Scouts I once gave a little girl the HARDEST time for having a bowl cut? I had my own issues and it was meant to deflect from myself. Im sorry you had to go through that. I’m really sorry and embarrassed about that, some 20 years later. I’m occasionally the absolute worst.

              4. Jamey*


                I’m sorry, I totally agree! I read Vin Packer’s post completely wrong, as if they were saying that “Being misgendered as a trans person still sucks” as if it were less than a cis person being misgendered because people should “just know” or something like this.

                Now that I’m re-reading it, it was totally my mistake for reading that much into it. I’m trans and have been dealing with a lot of harassment online lately so that’s where my mind went and put me on the defensive. But nearly all the comments here have been super understanding and well thought out and not jerky at all so I shouldn’t have been so on the defensive.

            2. Jessica*

              The idea that the OP has never been misgendered and must imagine it is your idea. Sami asked them to imagine the coworker – who gets her pronouns right – misgendering the OP, asked them how they’d feel in that case, and then pointed out the OP is misgendering their co-worker, which they don’t seem to have taken on board yet. Hopefully they have now though.

              I get misgendering a cis person isn’t the same as misgendering a trans or non-binary person. But considering the OP has asked this woman flat-out if she’s transgendered and refused her pronouns, and considering how cis women get bullied with exactly that sort of behaviour by people who are just jerks (and not excited about living their truths), and considering it shouldn’t women’s jobs to parse the motives of people whose disregard they feel attacked by, I think OP needs to do some thinking on top of their stopping.

            3. Anion*

              I recognize your username, btw! :-) I haven’t read any of her books, but I know of them.

        2. RobM*

          “but telling a trans person to imagine being misgendered is a little condescending”

          — it would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that the LW has apparently have been doing exactly that to their colleague. Apparently they’re unable to relate their own experiences with being misgendered to that of others and a little prompt in that direction seems fair to me.

    4. Turtle Candle*

      I just asked my best friend and former roommate, a trans man, and he gave me this (and permitted me to post it):

      “I consider it misgendering to deliberately use a clearly unwanted pronoun on anyone. Misgendering is less harmful, generally, for cis people than for trans people, but it is still not harmless, and using unwanted pronouns–even ones that you consider neutral–can be a form of misgendering. You may consider certain pronouns to be neutral, but others may not. The larger issue, however, is that using ‘blanket’ or so-called ‘neutral’ pronouns where they are explicitly not desired undermines the importance of respecting desired pronouns and gender identification. Even if it’s ‘just’ done to cis people, or to ‘cishets,’ it’s still reinforcing a framework by which gender is enforced by others rather than determined by the individual, and reinforcing that framework is damaging to everyone, including non-cis, non-het people. Please reconsider your approach.”

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This is a fantastic explanation. Many thanks to your roommate for sharing it!

      2. Thlayli*

        I agree with most of what your friend said. However I don’t agree that misgendering is “less harmful” for cis people. Plenty of people in other threads have mentioned their own experience of the fairly common phenomenon of women and girls being intentionally misgendered as an insult. I know misgendering boys is also a common bullying tactic.

        The cis people who are most likely to be misgendered are usually those who were bullied for their non-traditional appearance/ voice/ mannerisms as a child (and even as an adult).

        I don’t think is less harmful at all.

        1. Mustache Cat*

          It may be harmful, but it is not AS harmful. Misgendering trans people is more harmful because of things like a lack of civil rights, societal repression, family rejection, a history of horrific violence against the community. Etc. You’re being disingenuous if you ignore that.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Yeah, I agree with this.

            Like, I am cisgender, but thanks to weird medical stuff I’m hovering on the edge of what could be called intersex — and on top of that, being old enough to remember the “lesbian = not a ‘real’ woman! secretly a man!” hideous homophobic meme, means that altogether a gender neutral pronoun toward me would be incredibly offensive.

            Still not as harmful as it would be toward an actual trans person, but it would play into a whole bunch of gross stuff that I’ve had to cope with in my life.

          2. AMT*

            Agreed. I mean, there are states where I could get fired if I were outed. The worst that’s going to happen to a non-trans person is being insulted (which is certainly not fun, but not the same level of harm).

            1. Also nonbinary*

              Not just fired, outed trans people also face heightened risk of violent assault and murder.

            2. Whats In A Name*

              Or they get raped because a group of frat boys don’t believe they are a straight woman and need her to “prove it to me”. She’d enjoy it if she were straight, right? Happened when I was in high school to a classmate who went to a college party one night a friend.

          3. Noobtastic*

            The way I see it, misgendering non-binary/trans/agender/etc. is more of a systemic evil, basically denying the humanity and existence of entire groups of people who do not fit into the binary gender mold.

            On the other hand, misgendering a cis-gendered person is a personal insult, usually because that person has failed to live up to society’s (or the person doing the misgendering’s) ideas of proper appearance, characteristics, and/or behavior of a member of the specific gender. “Stop acting like a girl!” or “You dress like a boy,” or “Dude, you’re such a woman,” or “You’re over thirty, but not married with six children? You’re a failure as a woman!” These are all painful and harmful direct insults, and the use of misgendering pronouns are more subtle, but still painful and harmful indirect insults, but they are not systemic.

            Misgendering trans/NB/etc. people perpetuates a systemic problem, where such people feel, and in fact ARE, unsafe in many areas of their lives, because society, as a whole, does not accept them. Meanwhile, misgendering cis-gendered people does perpetuate gender roles in society, but it mostly boils down to “So and so is being a jerk.”

            Both are harmful, but it benefits no one to host the “Oppression Olympics.”

      3. dg*

        In addition: ze and hir are gender-neutral pronouns, but they’re not the most common gender-neutral pronouns, and many of my enby friends have very specific pronouns they use.

        If you “hir” an enby person whose pronoun would be “their” or “churr” or “nir” or “vis” or “xyr,” you’re still misgendering them by ignoring their preferred pronoun. So even the original argument of respecting enbys who aren’t out of the closet yet is kind of… moot.

        My partner is non-binary, out to some people and not out to others. I guarantee you that if you called them by a very flagged, deliberate enby pronoun like “Ze” or “Hir” in front of people they weren’t out to, the last thing they’d feel was supported. They’d be terrified.

        Please stop hurting the people around you, regardless of their gender.

        1. KHB*

          Can you elaborate on the reasons why someone might choose to use nonstandard gender-neutral pronouns? I’ve never met anyone who asked to be referred to as “nir” or “vis” or “xyr,” and I don’t mean to be insensitive, but my first reaction is that they seem a little silly. But maybe there’s something I’m not understanding, and if that’s the case, I’m willing to learn.

          1. dg*

            Here’s a list of the etymology of a bunch of the most common gender-neutral pronouns, which exist because of cis people saying things like “using a plural word as a singular pronoun seems a little silly,” so honestly there’s no way for non-binary people to win in a binary world.


            I’d humbly submit that it’s actually the concept of gender that’s a bit silly.

        2. Also nonbinary*

          IMO, pronouns like xie, ze, and hir are so nonstandard that they’re more likely to out someone as trans/GNC. Unless they’ve asked you to do so, I would avoid it. They/them is probably the safest bet, but only if you actually don’t know what pronouns someone prefers.

        1. Megan M.*

          “Het” would be short for “heterosexual,” so “cis-het” would be referring to someone who is both cisgender and heterosexual.

        2. AnotherAnon*

          It’s short for “heterosexual”, so a “cishet” person is someone who is both cisgendered (identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth) and heterosexual.

          1. Kit M. Harding*

            My experience of “cishet” is that in most cases it also has a negative connotation– if people abbreviate it like that, they’re usually using it to complain about behaviors of cisgender heterosexual people as a group.

      4. Noobtastic*

        Yeah, by misgendering someone else (no matter what their gender, cis/trans/NB/etc.), you are basically saying to them “Your identity is not yours to determine or own.”

        Feminists have been fighting against this for well over a century now, in so-called “Western society”, and that very fight is what allowed the OP to come out and publicly own their non-binary identity, in the first place. To then tell someone else that their identity is not theirs to determine or own is mind-bogglingly hypocritical.

    5. Turanga Leela*

      Echoing Gaia here: I use female pronouns and feel pretty strongly about it. I’m not a they or a ze; I’m a she. If someone insists on calling me “Mx. Turanga Leela,” I’ll be irritated, because that’s not my name—just like I get cranky with more conservative friends who call me “Mrs.” (I’m a Ms. and always have been.)

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        If somebody calls me Ms. Lastname I assume they’re trying to sell me something. I’ve never been called Mx. Lastname but I’d assume the same thing. I don’t know of any workplaces where people go by Title and Lastname.

      2. Sylvia*


        I’m also a Sylvia, not a gender-neutral version of the same name. If you wouldn’t pick a new name for someone, don’t pick a new pronoun.

    6. Jadelyn*

      Gender neutral absolutely CAN be misgendering, to someone who has a clearly defined gender identity that is not a neutral one! Using gender neutral pronouns for cis people and binary-gendered trans people is by definition misgendering them.

  4. Leah*

    #3: Why are you asking people if they are transgender? That seems rather rude. Also, just because someone prefers binary pronouns doesn’t mean they have a problem with you being non-binary. You say she has a problem with that but then you say that she does respect your pronouns. It seems simplest to just ask people what pronouns they use if you’re not sure what to call them and then use those pronouns.
    Also, I think in New York and possibly other places, (obligatory IANAL) it is considered harassment to repeatedly and intentionally use the wrong pronouns to refer to people. I really think if you went to HR you would be the one who got in trouble.

  5. Casuan*

    OP5: In British English “bloody” is a strong expletive. In American English, it’s a step or two above “damn,” which is not precise because they’re different parts of speech. With an international clientele “bloody hell” should be avoided.
    full disclosure: I’m American who usually communicates British English & I tend to use “bloody” with friends more often than I should.

    1. LemonLymon*

      Yeah, my in-laws are English living in America. They explained to me that saying “bloody” is strength-wise akin to the f-word. I don’t know for sure but am pretty certain “bloody hell” is even stronger. We Americans find it novel and feel cheeky ison it but it would be incredibly inappropriate to use around people from the U.K. … especially clients!

      1. Dizzy Steinway*

        Bloody is a bit less offensive than the f-word, but it’s still swearing and is unprofessional. Your colleague should try saying “Oh no!” instead.

        Or. Remember in Friends when Ross and Rachel used non swear words as Emma was learning to talk? My grandpa used to do that. He’d say ‘oh crysanthemums!’

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I used to date a kindergarten teacher — a giant 6’3″ dude who rode a motorcycle and who, because of his job, was in the habit of saying things like “oh fudge” and “sugar!” instead of swear words. It was pretty adorable.

          1. Dizzy Steinway*

            That’s really cute! We used to say sugar instead of s#%t when I was a teenager and my brain actually now interprets that as a swear word so I’d feel strange saying it to a kid.

            1. Anna*

              And that right there is why categorizing some words as “bad” swear words and others as “acceptable” swear words is kind of a silly notion.

              I mean, I get it. But I love to curse, have friends who don’t care if their kids curse, and we all know when it’s appropriate to do it.

          2. Casuan*

            My nephew chose “Sassafras!” as his ersatz-curse word. I love it & I wish I’d remember to use it more often myself!

            1. eplawyer*

              I thought I was the only person who used sassafras. I also say “fudgesticks” If I am really mad, I get very Italian and stop speaking coherently and just wave my hands a lot. As an Italian, I have to be very careful when using the few words in ASL I know. Apparently thank you and good morning in ASL are very close to Italian swearing.

              I use bloody a lot also. I know it’s bad, but the people I hang around with don’t, so I can use it to swear when I don’t want them to know I’m swearing.

              Let me also say I LOVE “cheeky.”

              1. Just passing by*

                > Apparently thank you and good morning in ASL are very close to Italian swearing.

                Very close indeed! To be polite and thank some one, you have an open palm toward your face, touch your fingers to your chin, and extend your arm outward in an arc. To be incredibly rude and tell someone to return to whence they came with due prejudice, you need simply tuck your fingers UNDER your chin and flick outward. ;)

            2. Lily in NYC*

              That is so cute! I’m trying to swear less and now my teammates keep teasing me for saying “clusterfudge” multiple times a day. And one of my coworkers says “lord love a duck” when she is annoyed and it cracks me up (apparently it’s a common saying where she grew up).

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I have a coworker who says this all the time and also says it’s common/regional! I’ve now heard it from enough people that I really want to use it.

                My favorite is my extremely polished coworker/admin who uses a common Southernism when she’s frustrated and says (in a completely even/unemotional voice), “Lawwwwd, I nearly lost my religion.”

              2. KellyK*

                Is it a Southern-ism? One of my friends says “Lord love a duck,” and she’s from North Carolina.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I’ve heard it from “northern” Southerners (Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee) and from parts of the midwest, but closer to the rust belt (i.e., Appalachian Ohio and Pennsylvania). I haven’t heard it in West Virginia, but I have also not spent enough time in WV or with WVirginians to know if folks use it, there.

                  Now I’m really curious, though, about how regionally widespread it is.

            3. Marillenbaum*

              Sassafras is an excellent one! When I’m around my nephews (5 and 3), my go-tos are “good grief!” and “Botheration!” which they find hilarious. Of course, my sister (their mother) regularly uses garden-variety profanity around them, but I still can’t imagine swearing around kiddos.

              1. for sure*

                I used to say “good grief” while babysitting, and the kid who inspired me to say it the most often now refers to me as Charlie Brown :)

            4. BF50*

              I love Sassafras!

              At around 3 my daughter went through a phase when she said “oh eyeball” when she was annoyed. Always made me laugh.

              My son when through a phase of saying “oh gracious”. He was 2 and couldn’t really say gracious, so it was about the cutest thing ever.

          3. Bryce*

            My brother says nothing gets people’s attention like saying “gosh darn freaking heck” and meaning it. My own language is more salty, though not sailor-level.

            1. JaneB*

              Some English circumlocutions:

              “Oh for crying out loud!”

              “Oh cobblers!”

              “That wretched photocopier!”

              My grandad liked “policeman-bladder-of-lard” for some reason and it does sound quite satisfying!

              1. Kathleen Adams*

                “For crying out loud” is very common in AmE as well. “Wretched” is not, but I use it anyway. :-)

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  We use wretched a lot. Mainly about our kids when they have been acting, well, wretched. (“This is wretched behavior. Stop.”) (“The kids have been wretched little monsters today. I need a stiff drink.”)

              2. Rookie Manager*

                My Dad uses “Heavens to Mercetroid”; “Oh piddle down an old ladies leg” and “extracting the urine”.

                They amuse me. Unless directed at me.

                1. Kathleen Adams*

                  “Mercetroid” not “Murgatroyd”? I adore “Heavens to Murgatroyd” – which is associated for many of us with the cartoon character Snagglepuss, and you gotta love a Snagglepuss reference – but I haven’t ever run into “Mercetroid.” I kind of like it, though.

                2. Wooden Nickle*

                  My dad favors “Dirty blasted rat-ta-frat!” It has the same punch as other expletives, so I’ve picked it up too.

                3. napkin seal*

                  I picked up “dag gommit” from my dad… then many years later realized it was essentially ‘goddamnit” and dropped it. “Jimminey Crickets” is another I got from him… not sure why the mispronunciation.
                  A la Snagglepus I’m know from “heavens to murgatroyd – exit stage left” then I dramatically sprint from the room in frustration. makes my kid laugh.

              3. Casuan*

                Was your grandfather British?
                If so, I wonder if the policeman-lard phrase is Cockney or another rhyming slang?
                If so, I’m not even going to try to guess the rhyme! I never can do that with Cockney, anyway.

                “Sassafras” is effective because of its alliterative oomph-factor, IMHO.

                Sometimes I use Klingon curses, although there’s one that sounds too much like its English counterpart so that’s out for polite company.
                Usually I can get away with “p’takh.” It’s quite handy for several situations & to me it also has that oomph-factor!

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Hahah, I know what that one means (the Klingon). :)

                  I favor a good loud “RAT FINKS!” when I can’t curse but need to. As in, “You dirty rat fink [car, stoplight, software glitch, etc.]!”

                2. Noobtastic*

                  I’m a Mork and Mindy fan, and have used “Shazzbot” more often than I should.

            1. anonderella*

              The edited for TV version of Office Space has the neighbor character saying, instead of “f–k’n A”, the shortened “k’n A.”
              ‘Kinay has been an acceptable version of the expletive phrase in my parent’s household since I was a child bc of this.

              On that topic, here’s a link to an article about the origins of “f–k’n A’, if anyone is interested. There’s obviously a lot of swearing, but it was a pretty interesting read! (didn’t know that about snafu, or See You Next Tuesday – that last one makes me seriously need to go rewatch/reread some things)

            2. Bryce*

              I saw a version of Aliens with the curse words blanked out. When the soldiers were ambushed in the tunnel, it suddenly became a silent film.

          4. Liane*

            When my kids were little, I used to use “drinks milkshakes” instead of “sucks.” A lot of us in my circle, being geeks, will often use swear words from science fiction shows.

            1. Qmatilda*

              Yes, Frack is still a favorite of mine. But the BF’s little boys still hear that as a curse word…

              1. blushingflower*

                Yes, Frack and Frell are common in my household.
                I also like the way The Good Place deals with it: fork and shirt.

                1. Nobody Here By That Name*

                  I was just about to chime in with some The Good Place love! It’s a forking good show!

            2. JustaTech*

              Oh Smeg, I’d forgotten about those! My parents were thrilled when my brother picked up “smeg” (From Red Dwarf) to replace all the actual swear words he’d picked up. And the Spanish swear words, which he thought no one knew. Which was dumb because my mom had lived in Spain and knew some spectacular phrases (and I know when I’m being called a female dog in most languages).

                1. Casuan*

                  Ewww, indeed!!!!!
                  “Smeg” never caught on with me although I couldn’t ever think of why. Now I know!!
                  On side note, not many know the definition of “smegma.”

          5. Karyn*

            That reminds me of when Masterchef Junior was in one of its first seasons, and they did a thing where three kids had to make whipped cream and the test of its quality was that they stood on tall ladders and tipped the bowl over to see if it would pour out – and if it did, it would land squarely on each judge’s head. Gordon Ramsay’s contestant failed the challenge, so the cream poured down on Gordon, and it was apparently very cold – but because he was dealing with young kids, he let out one accidental “SH*T!” and then tempered it to “SUGAR! SUGAR SUGAR SUGAR!” It was hilarious and adorable.

          6. memoryisram*

            My sister is an elementary school teacher and says “sugar beets” which is something I relied heavily on when working at a very religious higher-ed institution.

          7. Biscuit is my favorite word*

            When playing a rousing game of double solitaire, I would say “biscuits!” or “aw biscuits!”. My niece, who was 7 at the time, started copying me – except she thought I said “raw biscuits!”. So now that’s a family joke :)

            1. Lora*

              Ha. One of the guys in my lab says “biscuits!” when he is annoyed, and when he’s really annoyed he says “biscuits AND gravy!”

              I yell various kinds of blessings when I’m really mad: “God Bless America!” And the Southern method: “Bless his heart, I’ll pray for him.”

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I sometimes say “son of a biscuit eater.”

                Also, something I stole off a TV show (I can’t remember what), but if I start to say “Goddamn” and catch myself in time, it comes out like “God–” *singing loudly* “–BLESS AMERICA!” Anybody hearing it cracks up and offense is avoided.

              2. JustaTech*

                I had a professor who insisted on “family lab” (ie no swearing) which was really hard when you messed up something you’d been working on for two hours. We generally just devolved to grunting because we’d forgotten all the not-quite swearing words.
                It was good practice for going to Disneyland and realizing you were surrounded by kids and their parents and you really couldn’t swear.

          8. AMG*

            I have been working really hard at my swearing, even enlisting my kids to help. They get $1 anytime my husband or I say a bad word. My favorites are:
            Son of a biscuit
            Fork / forked / forking
            For the love of Benny Hill
            Goat Rodeo

            1. AMG*

              ‘Son of a motherless goat’ is another good one. I guess I have an issue with goats. Lol.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Ooo, that one is really good. But I am sensing a goat theme :)

                My grandparents used to try to get us to use “mischievous culprit” instead of “jerk” or “idiot.” Of course it didn’t work, but you can imagine how amused a bunch of tweens would be with the idea that they should say something so formal as a “swear.”

          9. TootsNYC*

            I worked with a woman who said “phooie!” a lot.

            My husband uses “blast it” and “this blasted thing!” instead of the F-word.

            It has the explosive consonant at the beginning, so it’s pretty satisfying to say. And it’s totally non-offensive (in terms of vocabulary; the intensity might be offputting–or it would be if he could summon up some “extreme rage” instead of “noticeable annoyance”)

          1. Rey*

            My sister and I favor “Marshmellow Fluffer,” but I’m definitely passing “Mother Hubbard” along to her.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Would fluffernutter be an acceptable substitute? Or does that make it worse…?

                1. Dizzy Steinway*

                  Now you’re covering off pornography AND mental health stigma.

                  So yeah, it’s worse, sorry!

                2. Dizzy Steinway*

                  PS we don’t have nutter butters here or whatever they are called. Nutter is an offensive word but not a profanity.

                  Ah, language.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @Dizzy, I was being a little facetious, but a fluffernutter is a kind of sandwich (which is related to how the nutter butter got its name) :)

                  That said, if there’s no social context for the full phrase, then I could see how the individual parts could make it uniquely rude/bizarre!

                4. Violet Fox*

                  Many years ago I had a long conversation explaining to my SO that a fluffernutter is in fact a sandwich with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, so when I called the cat that it wasn’t something dirty or porny, just a funny word with fluffy in it.

                  SO didn’t believe me that marshmallow fluff was a thing until I pointed it out in the grocery store.

                5. Chicklet*

                  I use fluffernutter as a swear substitute quite often. Also “frick” and “freaking.”

                6. Sci Fi IT Girl*

                  I used to have a big newfoundland dog that I called my “flufferpuffer” (for the fluffy fur -as a nick name). Someone took pity on me and told me the um….meaning of fluffer in the porn industry.

                  For cursing a good bit of Klingon, Smeg, Frack. And my friend in high school would let lose a violent “Oh Shamu!” (when I first heard it was a whale I about died)

          2. Why Don't We Do It in the Code*

            A friend says “mother flower,” and “sugar” or “sugar shack” when he really gets revved up.

        2. CaitlinM*

          I say “Oh bother” a lot. Occasionally I get odd looks, but it’s better than swearing in front of a client.

            1. Elemeno P.*

              I like making offensive cross-stitch for my friends, and I once made one of Pooh bear with the caption “Go bother yourself.”

          1. Parenthetically*

            “Blast!” is my go-to. It’s extreeeeemely satisfying to say, almost as satisfying as an actual swear.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            Tina Fey says “oh bother” a lot, so you are in very good company. Hmm, or maybe she says “oh brother”. I can’t remember!

          3. a different Vicki*

            “Bother!” is satisfying, to me, in a way that some other circumlocutions aren’t, I think because it’s at least in the direction of what I’m thinking: I really am bothered (at least) by something, but “sugar” or “fudge” may be closer to the sound of what they’re replacing, but they’re positive/cheerful things.

          1. Peep*

            That reminds me of the Madagascar movie, and the penguins saying “HOOVER DAM!” Hahahaha. It’s my favorite. Especially when said in a fake crime/noir accent. ;D

        3. Archie Goodwin*

          I long for the chance to use “son of a Yocknapatawpha [somethingorother]” one of these days. I’ve used it in my head, but somehow never have the chance to speak it out loud.

          I also got “mille noms d’un diable” from Dumas – that has a certain flair to it, even if I generally use it (if at all) only under my breath.

        4. DiscoTechie*

          My go to curse was “Son of a ‘female dog’…which has turned into “son of a biscuit” as a by product of living in the south for 6 years.

        5. Qmatilda*

          My french teacher taught us that the French for “fiddle sticks” was” Bagatelle” which if you add a little emphasis made an adequate non curse, curse.

        6. Jessesgirl72*

          I had a teacher who’d say “HECKDARNPOOPCRAPKUHKUH” as all one word.

          He’d been a teacher for ages, and had 5 kids of his own.

          1. TeapotSweaterCrocheter*

            My favorite is from a Calvin and Hobbes strip – the father stubs his toe or something and Calvin can hear him, so the father comes out with “Slippin’ Rippin’ Dang Fang Rotten Zarg Barg-A-Ding-Dong!”

            It is VERY fun to say, especially if you say it fast and loud.

        7. Trig*

          I knew some Mormons way back in high school. They are MASTERS at swear alternatives. (Wish I could remember any good examples, but next time a missionary bothers you, you can always ask him about his swears!)

            1. Regina George*

              Stop trying to make “Fetch” happen, Gretchen. It’s never going to happen!

          1. Marillenbaum*

            “I got down and sat on a bench!” was a favorite of my old drama teacher back in Provo.

          2. Noobtastic*

            I like “Oh, my stars and garters!” and “Gosh darn it to heck in a hand basket!”

            And then there’s “abalone,” which comes from “aww, baloney,” which comes from “aww, bull sh–.” I fully expect abalone to morph into clams and oysters sometime soon.

          3. Themiscyra*

            When I was still a Mormon, I really just used ‘darn’ and ‘heck’ and ‘for heaven’s sake’ a lot (and caught flack from a more srs bsns Mormon friend once who was all DO NOT SWEAR BY HEAVEN FOR THAT IS GOD’S THRONE). I felt terribly scandalous the first time I took the Lord’s name in vain.

            I feel pretty comfortable going all the way up to f-bombs now, but still sometimes use ‘shittake mushrooms’ (thank you, Spy Kids), ‘goddess incarnate’ (thank you, neopaganism), and ‘what in the name of earth and sky’. I was a pretty cautious kid and never dared skirt the edge of near-swears like ‘Cheese and Rice,’ I fear, and once I stopped caring about profanity I mostly just used the real thing.

            Heh, though I am reminded of a time when I was still Mormon and thought my mom had said Hell — she asked why I looked so shocked at what she’d said and I tried SO HARD to explain without using the word. “I thought you said ‘what the *grunt, meaningful grimace* is going on!” It took several tries before she understood and cracked up.

        8. NW Mossy*

          My husband and I adapted “BS” for use with our kids – to them, it stands for “baloney sandwich,” which fits nicely with the colloquial use of baloney as something that’s obviously nonsense/fake.

        9. Nolan*

          I once had a coworker who was a mother of three, and her go-to retail-friendly term was “oh, sugarsnacks!” which was just amazing in her very sweet voice. It has found its way into my personal vernacular as well.

        10. Anlyn*

          I’ve started making up swear words, because I get tired of the usual ones. “Son of a goatmonkey” and “grump nuts” are a couple I’ve used. “Son of a booger” is another but I didn’t make that one up.

          1. AMG*

            I love grump nuts! My kids are 10 and 12, so they think anything with ‘nuts’ is super funny. They’ll get a kick out of this.

        11. Caryl*

          While I was interning at Disney World, my friends and I started using “Mickey” in place of the F word at work, eg. “Mickey that” or “go Mickey yourself”. Occasionally we’d branch out into substituting it elsewhere in other compounds involving the F word, like “Mickeyhugging” or “Mickeyhugger”.

        1. Liz*

          That’s what I was coming to say too. You can say “bloody” (as in, “That bloody photocopier”) without anyone batting an eye, as long as there weren’t any kids under 12 present.

      2. Casuan*

        This is why I love being a linguist. Each language has its own set of severity, ie: the French word “zut” is between “darn & “damn.” I don’t like vulgarity, so it’s helpful to have precise swear words at my disposal with the advantage that most won’t understand them!
        That said, I have a strict policy of never assuming no one will understand me, so my advantage is usually restricted to my personal life & not in public. It cracks me up when a friend texts to have me clarify something so they can use the word themselves.

        When in doubt, anything that translates worse than “damn” is off-limits.

        1. Bryce*

          Zut has always made me giggle since high school, when the language-use video we were watching in French class had someone say “aww, zut zut et zut” in response to needing to make her bed. It was in such an odd casual tone for even a mild curse word that we couldn’t stop laughing for the rest of the period and it became an in-joke.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Hahaha, the first thing we mastered in college French were all the swear words. We ran around yelling “Merde!” and “Zut alors!” all the time. Then we got creative and started with stuff like derriere de cheval (horse butt, basically). The masterpiece was something like “You testicle of a pig!” but I can’t for the life of me remember it.

            1. JustaTech*

              My best ever day of Spanish class was swearing day. The first time the teacher graded them from “OK to say in front of your grandmother” to “only appropriate for the end of the world”.
              The second time we were watching a Spanish R-rated movie (Abre los ojos, remade as Vanilla Sky) and just asked the teacher “Hey, what was that word?” and she just translated it.

            2. TootsNYC*

              we had an exchange student from Portugal, and my brother got her to teach him some vocabulary so he could call people a doorknob or pantyhose in another language. And in our small Iowa town, she was the only one who knew those words, and she had promised not to rat him out, but to act really shocked when someone asked her what they were.

        2. Lablizard*

          I love being bilingual because I can generally get away with swearing in my native language in the US and the odds of someone understanding me are very low in my area and industry. Even better, most of our strong curses that don’t translate, so language learners would be baffled.

        3. Parenthetically*

          My husband says “scheisse” on the very very rare occasions that he swears. But then he’s Australian, so “damn” and “hell” and “ass” aren’t *really* swears to him.

            1. Parenthetically*

              He took about 8 years of German, so of course he knows that. He does it because it’s less obviously a swear in English, but satisfies his swearing needs.

                1. fposte*

                  And I think that goes back directly to the OP, in fact; knowing something is a swear somewhere makes it more satisfying, but it’s not going to trip taboo triggers in the same way. Swearing is a very delicate act, and I really like Manders’ discussion downthread about how American swearing is changing.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I learned that one from Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s a scene where Indy dumps some guy off a motorbike or a jeep or something, and you can totally hear him say it.

        4. Trig*

          I love French Canadian swears because they’re ALL about the church and you just string them together for added emphasis. The swear alternatives are my favourite. I had a grade five teacher who would exclaim “CAAAAALin de bin de bon de bin!” It took until adulthood, and living in a more French area, for me to realize the word she was avoiding. (Calisse = chalice = the thing you drink the wine out of at communion.)

          1. EmKay*

            I’m québécoise, and the madder I am, the longer the a is in “caaaaalisse”. My friends think it’s hilarious.

            Example of the string along: calisse d’estie de calvaire de saint-ciboire de tabarnak de criss de MARDE.

            1. EmKay*

              Of course all my friends and colleagues understand me when I swear in French. Or English. So sometimes I will use the Klingon “petaQ” (pah-TACK), but even then my tone of voice gives it away…

          2. Agnodike*

            Yes! I grew up with “tabarnouche” and “câlin;” my mother won’t even say “zut” (it becomes “flute”). Also sometimes “crisse” got turned into “criss…mas Day!” in true Franglais fashion.

          3. N.J.*

            That’s interesting. It’s kind of like the Spanish swear words I learned in school, but those officially tied to Christianity, due to Catholicism being the predominant religious expression. The movies we used to watch, especially those from Spain and from older time periods all used heavily religious based swears such as “hostia” (the host-Body and Christ). My impression though was that these types of curses were viewed at some point as worse than those arising from secular society. Is it the same for québécois?

      3. The Database Overlord*

        As an English guy, today’s “5 questions” is pretty hilarious. “Bloody” is incredibly mild on the swearing spectrum, “Bloody hell” equally so, to the point that it doesn’t even figure on guidelines to broadcasters for swearing when children could be watching:

        For example, from

        “A word like “bloody”, on the other hand, is generally deemed to be relatively inoffensive and its inclusion, even in a programme watched by large numbers of children, would be unlikely to offend most viewers. However, broadcasters must have regard to the ‘cumulative effect’ of casual swearing.”

        I wonder whether your in-laws are particularly sensitive to language, because “bloody” really isn’t anything to be concerned about.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yep… my granda, who almost got held in contempt at a court martial where he was a witness to an assault for refusing to say either f**k or b*****d because he does not swear (only got out of it when his CO was called to confirm that he never swore) uses bloody.

        2. Gen*

          My mother thinks “gobstopper” is an offensive swear word (we’re in the UK) and she doesn’t react to bloody. It’s not that rude at all

            1. Gen*

              Yup. She calls them mouthstoppers and gets very upset about anything children might see having ‘gob’ written on it :/

        3. The Other Katie*

          I think it’s a generational thing, it’s vastly less offensive to younger people than it is to older people.

        4. MW*

          Must concur, I’m Scottish, live in Glasgow, and “bloody” is super mild. I’ve never been aware of it being a big deal either here or south of the border.

          Maybe this is a skewed perspective, though, in Scotland the C-Word is considered a lot less offensive, and weirdly, used as often (if not moreso?) to refer to men.

          1. AnnaleighUK*

            My grandfather was Scottish and he would use the C-word to affectionately refer to his friends, as in ‘I’m going for a drink with Jimmy, the wee c***’. The problem with this was that it didn’t occur to me that in England it’s more offensive, as I spent most of my childhood in Stirling. I did get in a bit of trouble when I moved down here to London!

          2. Thlayli*

            I’ve only ever heard the c-word used to refer to men all over the British isles. But in anerica I think it’s more often used to refer to women.

            Language is funny.

            1. NotoriousMCG*

              Well, c*** is a vulgar word for vagina. From context clues it always seemed like British men used it like American men use p***y, but in America c*** is far far more offensive

              1. MW*

                At least in the west of Scotland, the use is dissimilar to that of p***y or b***h. The P- and B- words are used to suggest someone is in some way effeminate in a derogatory way, lacking in traditionally masculine traits such as bravery, aggression, etc. A distasteful soul may, for instance, call someone a man by the B-Word because they are perceived to be weak or submissive, but would not use the C-Word in the same context (in my area). It’s used in a much more general context like git, or d**k. To be clear, I’m not endorsing or agreeing with those uses of the word or the accompanying gender stereotypes, I’m trying to capture the use of language which, unfortunately, is most often used in nasty ways.

                For a masterclass on the subject, watch any scene in Trainspotting with Robert Carlyle as Begbie, who uses the word frequently to great impact.

                I hope this isn’t getting too in depth on profanity for this comments section :x Sorry Allison!

              2. AMPG*

                Right – in the U.S. many people think of c*** as akin to a racial slur (only aimed at women).

          3. Akcipitrokulo*

            Yes! In Glasgow it’s either its traditional, offensive form, or it can just mean person or friend. “Any of you c**ts want to go to the pub?” “Hullo Tommy, ya auld c**t, how’s it going?”

            Telling if it’s the aggressive usage isn’t hard though :)

          4. Lablizard*

            It took me a while to get used to the use of the c-word by British, Australian, and New Zealander people. The first time I heard something call a piece of equipment that in school my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

        5. JaneB*

          It depends on context – in my part of England “bloody” and “bloody hell” are swearing that would get a second look in a client context, where you could just about get away with “damn”, and “drat” is perfectly acceptable and even quite cute. But both dad and grandad used bloody a lot – Dad picked it up on national service (so in the army) and then as an engineering apprentice, and Grandad was a fireman, so I think it’s one of those context dependent words.

          There are also various layers depending on your upbringing – after all, bloody is actually BLASPHEMY (a contraction of “by our Lady”) therefore is considered by some of my acquaintance to be worse than the word “sh*t”, since the latter is graphic rather than blasphemous, although I think popular usage puts it lower on the swearing scale (and we’re non-conformist Protestant to the backbone, so…).

          1. Teclatrans*

            Oh! I could not figure out *why* it was so bad (for those who see it that way. I didn’t understand that it was actually profane.

      4. Marzipan*

        I don’t agree that ‘bloody’ is particularly strong. And neither do Ofcom, who recently surveyed people and worked out a scale of offensiveness: ‘Bloody’ rated as ‘mild and generally of little concern’ i.e. you could use it before the watershed (the time before which it’s assumed children will be watching TV, and swearing is heavily restricted). F*** ranked three levels higher at ‘strongest words, highly unacceptable pre-watershed’.
        Personally, I’d rank ‘bloody hell’ as a pretty mild expletive but something I probably wouldn’t say in front of my grandmother or grandboss, just to be on the safe side.

        1. Cambridge Comma*

          Thanks for the data! I think there’s a huge difference in saying ‘bloody hell’ at someone in anger and just saying it in someone’s presence when something annoying happens like missing a bus or losing half a digestive while you’re dunking it.

        2. Cool Runnings*

          Agreed. I don’t see “bloody” as a swear word at all, so it’s certainly not higher than “damn.”

      5. Marzipan*

        I don’t agree that ‘bloody’ is particularly strong. And neither do Ofcom, who recently surveyed people and worked out a scale of offensiveness: ‘Bloody’ rated as ‘mild and generally of little concern’ i.e. you could use it before the watershed (the time before which it’s assumed children will be watching TV, and swearing is heavily restricted). F*** ranked three levels higher at ‘strongest words, highly unacceptable pre-watershed’.

      6. Anon Anon*

        When I was growing up bloody hell was in the same category as shit. Not quite as bad as the f word, but still completely unacceptable. Even now, when I curse in front of my parents I’d don’t use bloody hell or the f word because it will upset them.

      7. BF50*

        It’s really hard to compare because in my experience the F word isn’t as strong across the pond as it is here, so equating bloody to the F word doesn’t give a clear picture.

      8. Bonky*

        How old are your in-laws, and are they religious? I am British, I’ve lived in the UK all my life and I have never, ever, ever heard anybody express the opinion that it’s anywhere near the F-word.

        There’s definitely a (small) generational thing here; my mother would find it a mild swear, my peers (I’m in my 40s) not even worth comment. But I would be seriously hard-pressed to find anybody at all who thinks what your in-laws think outside the very cultiest of religions.

        It’s absolutely not inappropriate to use around clients in the UK. I’ve said upthread that in my professional life I’ve heard politicians, priests and teachers use it; it’s ubiquitous.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, this. OP#5, don’t use “bloody hell” in professional contexts (and please never use “bugger”—I had a friend who thought this was work-appropriate slang because it wasn’t the f-word). I’m imagining my grandmother and extended family reacting to someone who used this as a substitute for American expletives, and the picture is not pretty.

      [Please imagine a puzzled/confused tone of voice for the following questions:] Is he an American? Is he trying to be cute?

      1. Dizzy Steinway*

        Oh wow, no, never use bugger. Or sod. You’ll cover off sexual language and homophobia in one fell swoop.

        1. Clewgarnet*

          Huh? Bloody hell, bugger and sod are my go-to swearing replacements among co-workers. (Yes, I know the etymology.) When I’m with management/vendors, it’s drat, bother, cripes and crikey.

          When it’s the middle of the night and half the network’s down, I let the f-bombs fly and anybody in the vicinity can just duck.

          I’m 100% Northern English. Things may be different dahn sahth.

          1. JaneB*

            Also, bugger isn’t JUST homosexuality, isn’t it derived from the name of some group of heretics, who among other things were rumoured to sanction male homosexuality? I agree, currently living in’t’north, and bugger and sod are pretty common currency – the f word remains excessive, and the c word is completely No Go, whereas I know there are parts further north where that is practically a term of affection and applied to all sorts of peoples and contexts.

          2. AliCat*

            Yea I was about to say, I think this may be entirely regional as well. I’m marrying a Brit from the Northeast and when he properly curses my Londoner friends eyes nearly pop out of their heads.

          3. Bonky*

            I’m from the south and have worked in Cambridge or London my whole life. Bugger, sod and, yes, bloody (which is milder than either bugger or sod) are common currency in every office I’ve worked in. (My current office is one where only the c-word would be looked upon with a bit of surprise; f-bombs are totally standard.) Bloody has always been considered absolutely find in front of clients wherever I have worked, although I will admit that I will occasionally swap in a swear like “badgers” or “swan in a ditch” in client meetings to keep everybody on their toes.

          4. SKA*

            American here, delighted to see that apparently part of the UK has the same stereotypical pronunciation of “down south” as Pittsburgh!

          5. Liz*

            “Sod” is another one of those very mild words. “Sodding printer” might be a bit worse than “Bloody printer” but most people I know wouldn’t even blink, whether SE England or eastern Scotland.

        2. Wee Lass*

          I think there’s a vast difference in the strength and meaning of the word between countries. It’s a common word in Australian English but it is very rarely used in an offensive way (as in I’m yet to hear it used like that). We use it like “drat” and also in the context of “poor bugger” to express sympathy for someone who is feeling sick or experiencing bad luck. I remember I had a high school science teacher visiting from the States express real shock when a classmate knocked over their beaker and followed up with “bugger!”. He went on and on about how offensive the term is and we were all listening to him in complete puzzlement.

        3. Emi.*

          My mother once referred to microbes as “little buggers” in a fifth-grade essay, because she thought it meant “bugs.” Her teacher was … not pleased.

          But in (some parts of) the US, it means something a long the lines of “cutiebug,” as I discovered after hearing one of the nice, charming homeschool dads from church use it for his toddler.

          1. Retail HR Guy*

            Yep, grew up in Oklahoma and “bugger” the noun was perfectly fine and was used as you describe, calling kids “little buggers” and the like. The verb “to bugger” was a different word with a totally different meaning.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Sorry, I should clarify that I know OP#5 isn’t the one using “bloody” in regular conversation—it’s the slightly pretentious coworker. I just had a blinking marquee image in my mind saying “Noooooooo!”

      3. Blossom*

        Hmm, I don’t consider “bugger” that offensive. That, and “bloody (hell)” are my expletives of choice – because I consider them mild. I wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if someone else said them. Tone obviously matters; anything said in an angry or aggressive tone will obviously come across differently to a half-whispered “bugger” of mild frustration.
        There are some swear words I absolutely never say – generally anything toilet-based, as I just find them ugly, but I’m aware that they are generally considered mild. I will use the F word very, very occasionally, and never at work.

        1. Blossom*

          Oh, and I wouldn’t particularly think anything of an American using those words, if it was happening in my (UK) office – simply because they’re normal words to me and, even though I suppose I know they’re not used there if I think about it, it probably wouldn’t occur to me in the moment. I do get irritated by my (English) friends using American phrases, because it sounds pretentious and false in their mouths, so I understand the feeling!

      4. blushingflower*

        Yes, sometimes Americans will use British slang/curse words in order to fulfill the need to curse without actually cursing. You’ll also find that British characters on American shows can say “bloody”, “bugger”, and “sod” without any censorship, even in situations where an American character would not be able to say words of similar strength/meaning.

        This is also making me think of how Mel Brooks used INCREDIBLY dirty Yiddish slang in his films but the censors didn’t know the language so he could get away with it.

    3. Cambridge Comma*

      If an American said ‘bloody’ to me I’d assume it was a pisstake of my accent.

      1. Jo*

        Hah, “taking the piss” was something I had to learn – the first time I heard it I was very confused because as far as I knew, the person referred to wasn’t literally “taking a piss” i.e., peeing, which is the only context I knew for it.

      2. OxfordCommonSense*

        I’m a U.K. expat who has been living in the U.S. for almost twenty years. If someone in my office used “bloody hell,” internally (not with clients) I would not be offended by the words. I think the perceived level of severity is a generational thing. However, there is nothing guaranteed to piss me off like an American using a Britishism as an affectation. I would think they were a right pillock, plonker, numpty or, if I were feeling particularly lairy, a cockwomble.

        1. JeanB*

          Oh dear. I’ve been saying bloody hell for 35 years. (American here) Hopefully people don’t see it as an affectation – I just read a LOT of British books. However, I don’t use any of those other Britishisms!

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I sort of love numpty. But of course would not use it, as I am not Scottish and have no idea how to use it without sounding like an offensive bigot.

          1. GingerHR*

            Not Scottish either. Use it when someone’s being a bit of an idiot. It’s satisfying, as it fits the bill but isn’t as harsh sounding as something like ‘dick’.

            1. Bonky*

              I’m English, and I use “numpty”. One of my favourites is the very Lincolnshire “wazzock”, which comes down from my Mum’s side of the family.

          2. TheFormerAstronomer*

            It mostly denotes a kind of friendly-but-frustrated exasperation – normally at yourself or someone you know. Calling someone a f—ing numpty is much stronger though.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I thought it was similar to the Australian “bogun”? (but maybe with less of the class connotation?)

    4. The Database Overlord*

      English guy here bemused by all these comments. “Bloody hell” is about as mild as you can get while still being ‘edgy’. It’s nothing like the F-word, but is more like “Oh my god” without any religious overtones. While I wouldn’t use it around important clients, I wouldn’t have any concerns if my co-workers were using it.

        1. Bagpuss*

          ‘bloody hell’ as a swear word doesn’t.
          I believe that the etymology of ‘bloody’ is thought to be a contraction of ‘by our lady’, so a religious reference to the Virgin Mary, but it no longer has that connotation or connection to religion.
          although in general we in the UK tend to be fairly relaxed about things, I do know people in the older generation who would find ‘oh my god’ more offensive than ‘bloody hell’ because one is seen to have religious connotations / be taking the lord’s name in vain, and the other isn’t. My 86 year old, church warden, cousin will in extreme cases (you know, like when she was being picked up of the road after being hit by a car) use ‘hell’ or ‘bloody hell’ but would never use ‘oh god’, for that reason.

      1. Mookie*

        Yes. This is alien to me. I couldn’t get through a workday without blue language (and bloody, bugger, feck, bollocks, pleidhc, wanker, and blimey and the like are not ‘blue’ in the least). Strewth and zounds, however, is just offensively corny.

          1. Mookie*

            I will fumble badly if I try to suss out an IPA approximation, but something approaching “plighk”? Sometimes multi-syllabic (really, just a typical diphthong), depending on the contents of the speaker’s stomach. I’m not entirely sure of its antecedents / roots / etymology, but for my family it’s a less audibly dissonant, more pleasing-to-the-ear substitute for eejit.

    5. Bryce*

      Huh, I’ll keep that in mind. I tend to use it as a muttering word, sorta one step above “oh bother”. Never thought it could get me into trouble.

      1. JessaB*

        I like piffle so much that I had a boss that insisted it wasn’t a word. So I photocopied the dictionary and made up a fancy frame and hung it above my desk with a little label on it that said “It is too a word.”

    6. Bagpuss*

      I am English, and ‘Bloody, or ‘Bloody Hell’ are not strong expletives in the UK. They are expletives, but very much at the bottom end of the scale. It’s a long, long, way below ‘fuck’ (or ‘fucking hell’). I’d put it at a similar level to ‘damn’ but it is slightly more emphatic.

      I very rarely swear at all (partly because it saves having to think about whether or not your vocab. context-appropriate, but mostly because it has *way* more impact if people don’t expect it of you!)

      I don’t think that many people would be offended by hearing it. I wouldn’t use it in a meeting with clients as I wouldn’t use any expletives in those situations, but would have no issue with it being used in the workplace other than that (unless, of course, I had reason to believe that a particular colleague had a specific problem with it).

    7. Casuan*

      OP5, as Alison noted on her updated reply, “bloody hell” is a tricky curse phrase.
      The nutshell is that the phrase is indeed a curse and if it offends you then you can ask him not to use in your presence. If it offends several others as well, then you should ask him to stop. If he doesn’t then talk with your manager.
      As for your clients, tell your colleague that you researched the phrase & learnt that to some it’s a serious curse & for others it’s quite mild. Suggest that he refrain from using the phrase around clients. That said, your relationship isn’t too close then you probably should let it go.
      Actually you might want to give your manager a heads-up on your research so if someone else complains then she won’t be caught too off guard.

    8. Silver*

      In Australia bloody hell is so mild it was even used in a tourism campaign a few years ago.
      For those interested you can find a number of postmortems and critiques of the campaign by searching for the slogan – “So where the bloody hell are you?”.

      1. Rebeck*

        There was also an ad campaign that used ‘bugger’. Repeatedly. (I suspect one could google ‘Toyota bugger’ and find the ad. In Australia both ‘bugger’ and ‘bloody hell’ are so mild that *I* use them. And I generally consider myself a non-swearer.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yes, my husband who has fairly Strong Feelings about Swearing, says “bugger.” “Bugger it” is a very favorite mild swear.

      2. RVA Cat*

        Using it in tourist slogan reminds me of the internet-infamous Canadian health department’s Vitamin D campaign…”Everyone needs the D!”

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t mean to be rude, but isn’t swearing a required skill in order to qualify as Australian?

        I’m teasing, but I will say that swearing seemed to be less taboo anytime I was in Oz or talking to Aussie relatives (especially the younger ones). It’s kind of like the joke about speaking Mexican Spanish versus Guatemalan Spanish.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Not to my (Australian) husband, but yes, very very much in my American context. I can’t imagine the word “damn” in a kids’ show, for instance. Which reminds me… the Simpsons made a joke about mild swears (the only ones they were allowed on an evening show) years ago when Bart and his school friends got stranded together. His remark: “We’re going to live like kings! Damn hell ass kings!”

      2. BF50*

        I had a friend in college from the bible belt and he found damn to be much more offensive than the F word due to the religious context. If you said damn it, he took it absolutely literally and he was offended by it, though I do think he used other curse words.

        I found that very strange. Maybe it was his particular church?

        That said, yes, I think most americans would consider it a mild expletive. I would not be pleased if my toddlers said it, but I probably wouldn’t notice if a coworker said it.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Ooh, that reminds me of a catholic classmate of mine who used every swear in English and Spanish, regularly, and let’s say did not align his sexual behavior with catholic teaching, but wouldn’t use “God” as a swear. “F***ing gosh dammit” made me laugh every time.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I had the same experience. I’m not Christian, so “damn” has no religious meaning to me. But I used it around extremely religious friends/colleagues, once, and they also reacted as though it were more offensive than the f-word. I found the same was true in parts of the Bible Belt, so I think it’s kind of a “know your audience” sort of thing.

          1. N.J.*

            From a purely philosophical perspective, damning something or someone is wishing that person to hell to suffer eternal torment and the like. I use the word regularly but not around my more religious (Christian) friends and family. Really cool nauseating the literal meaning of damn or someone being damned, is actually kind of a heavy thing to wish upon someone.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Oh, I understand that, now. I just didn’t when I was younger because my faith tradition has no hell, so the idea of sending someone for an eternity of suffering didn’t have purchase for me. But I also never really say “damn” when referring to a person, so in context, its literal meaning is completely inapplicable to whatever I’m referring to.

        3. Teclatrans*

          I think there has been some cultural shift. Growing up in CA ~40 years ago, I was aware that damn, hell, Jesus Christ, etc. were genuinely offensive to lots of people, and found that scatalogical swears were preferable because they offended stuffiness and conformity without offending beliefs and traditions. Nowadays I have little awareness of the profanity in some of my swears, unless I am around someone I know to be a member of a socially conservative church.

          1. Betsy*

            I have grown up hearing “damn,” “goddamn,” and “ass” on TV, so while I knew they were rude and you don’t say them in front of your teacher or your grandma, I didn’t think they were horrible words to be avoided at all costs; so of course, at my second ever job I misplaced my wallet and muttered, “oh goddamn it,” in front of a customer… She gave me quite the earful, left, came back, yelled at me again, and then insisted on meeting my boss so she could tell him “what REALLY happened,” implying I’d lie about it, as if the whole thing wasn’t recorded on the security cameras.

            My point being, no matter how gentle a cuss you think you’re dropping, there will always be somebody who’s gonna get super extra about it. I’d recommend something that lets you get anger out while also making people laugh, like shouting the names of foods you like, or my personal favorite, said very loudly and bitterly, “God bless America!”

      3. VicCatLady*

        When I was in a play in high school in the U.S., I was told that we were allowed to say “Damn it” on stage if the script called for it, but not okay to say “Damn you.” The rationale was that it was allowable to wish damnation, in the literal sense, on an inanimate object but not on a person.

    9. someone101*

      OP#5 from my part of the uk, I would say ‘bloody’ and ‘bloody hell’ are more class related in regards to levels of severity. For example I’m considered working class which means (generally speaking) we hold jobs such as cleaners, fast food workers etc. I used to work for an upper class family (think private school, born into money, owns a multitude of properties etc) perhaps for our American friends the best explanation I can give to emphasize the difference between us would be someone who went to Harvard as opposed to someone who went to clown college! Anyway, for me bloody hell carries no weight as an expletive, it is no where near the F word (although to point out where I’m from that is also used casually although obviously restricted when at work). However, the family I used to work for were raised where bloody hell is considered an expletive and it is absolutely socially unacceptable to use it in an everyday setting. So what I would suggest is perhaps err on the side of caution and assume your English clients are high class and ‘bloody hell’ would not be a casual expletive for them since (generally speaking) someone like that would be more likely to hold down a job that deals on multinational levels. I hope this has made some sort of sense!

      1. OP5 Writer*

        Thanks for the clarification. My gut told me it’s wrong wrong. I have visited England and used to work for a (well-bred) English man, so that’s where my “gut” comes from. In my limited “circle” I never heard “bloody” used in conversation. My context for hearing it was stand-up comedy or a few British TV shows rather than anyone I knew in real life. In general, people at our workplace wouldn’t use curse words that would be considered “low class” in the U.S. but our idea of “class” is rather loose here.

        I’ll keep your comments in mind in the future.

        1. LilyPearl*

          Interestingly I have always thought of aristocratic types (scruffy country house, dogs, horses) as very relaxed about casual swearing, and middle/ lower-middle (think Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances) as much more easily offended by it.

          1. someone101*

            I agree Lilypearl, in fact it sparked a debate between myself and the owner of the house as I said ‘bloody hell’ when I nearly tripped over instead of (the more usual for me) f***. He was mortified and shocked I’d used it so casually, whereas I’d assumed the stereotypical ‘bloody hell old boy’ type language was acceptable. It broke down some barriers though and we had a laugh about stereotypes. And yes my aunt is a classic bucket/bouquet and tries her hardest to keep up with her catalogue life however she does sometimes forget herself and slips back into her common vocabulary!

      2. Bonky*

        To my great discomfort, I’m very close to what you’re describing as high-class English. (My nanny worked for Mark Thatcher, I get invites to the Palace a few times a year, my husband’s on the honours list. I do not own a horse.) I wouldn’t bat an eyelid at “bloody hell”, although my mother might be convinced to do a very mild blink if she heard a very small child say it.

        It’s of the order of the sort of thing I say if my sausage roll comes out of the oven a bit warmer than I thought it’d be.

        1. someone101*

          Bonky you last comment regarding sausage rolls had me in stitches so thank you for making my day there! It’s interesting because I think generation plays alot into at well, the grandmother and her son (the father of the household) were around 70 and 50 respectively, and it was a no go for them to use it, however the children who varied in age between 9 and 15 would mutter it under their breath and the mum would laugh. However I think she married into the money and came from slightly less so again, perhaps class. It’s a strange one!

    10. BananaPants*

      A coworker is married to a Brit and in their context “bloody hell” is not REALLY a strong curse. “Bloody” is quite mild, comparable to “damn” or “damned” – like, “this bloody computer won’t reboot” is basically the same as “this damned computer won’t reboot”.

      Caveat: I hear f-bombs dropped in the office with some frequency, although never around executives or senior management. The bar for profanity is set sort of low…

  6. This is confusing*

    3. yea, this isn’t ok of you – you are in fact misgendering her. She’s told you her pronouns, please respect them. And you straight up asked her if she’s trans? And decided that because she’s cis you don’t have to respect her pronouns?? You’re probably making her feel quite uncomfortable, because you’re showing time and again that you don’t respect her. She’s not having specific pronouns /at/ you.

  7. neverjaunty*

    OP #3, yes, you are misgendering your co-worker, and you are doing so in a pretty aggressive way. When she tells you that she feels misgendered by the pronouns you’re using, you well-actually at her. And now you’re trying to get her in trouble at work?

    I understand, you’re happier now, you’re out, you’d prefer that gender-neutral/genderless pronouns be the default. But you seem to have made this co-worker a substitute for your dislike of how gendered our society is, and not only is that a jerk move, it’s going to cause you trouble at work.

    1. SEAS*

      Plus, like, I’m pretty sure that OP would not appreciate being referred to as “it,” even though “it” is a gender neutral pronoun, because 1) ze has already stated hir’s preferred pronouns and those don’t include “it” and 2) “it” is considered an extremely rude way to refer to a human being. So this “I’m not misgendering this person, I’m using gender-neutral pronouns, not incorrect ones,” excuse is already total bull because it’s clearly not JUST about the gender (or lack thereof or neutrality thereof) implied by the pronouns.

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, your coworker is not in the wrong, here. It’s one thing to have used inaccurate pronouns because of how you perceive someone (although I’ll note as an aside that using gender-neutral pronouns because you perceive someone to be transgender is problematic). But if that person has told you their preferred pronouns, you need to respect their request. It is not exclusionary or silencing to non-binary, transgender or genderqueer folks for a person to assert their gender identity.

    Isn’t the purpose of an inclusive workplace the ability for each person to have the freedom, support, and respect to be open and comfortable with their identity? Inclusion does not mean that people must share one identity—inclusion and equity requires that we creating space and opportunities for diverse and different people. Sameness is not inclusion, even if the sameness you’re imposing on your coworker feels more virtuous to you.

    Although your coworker may appear “gender non-conforming” (I hate that phrase), they’ve told you they are cisgender and have asked you to acknowledge their identity when you speak to them. I’m really concerned that you think your coworker’s request to assert their preferred pronouns is somehow an attack on you that makes you feel uncomfortable and is worthy of escalation. I’m struggling to find a kind way to explain why this worries me, but I’m at a loss for words.

    1. Leah*

      That’s a really good way of putting it. I also wonder how many of the coworkers who are supposedly fine with OP’s behavior are just afraid to speak up.

      1. Eohippus*

        This. There are probably some who are afraid of it becoming an HR issue if they try to push back on this.

        1. Lance*

          And rightly so, from the sound of things, considering OP’s wanting to do just that over this (non-)issue. Please, OP, read these comments, understand multiple sides of the equation, and stop this.

      2. paul*

        I’d be mildly annoyed but probably not enough to bother making a fuss, so I can imagine others would be too.

      3. KTZee*

        Yeah – if someone was doing this to me at work (using gender neutral pronouns without my request or consent) it would probably not be a hill I was willing to die on in terms of constantly correcting that person, but I would start minimizing my interactions with that individual both personally AND professionally, to include avoiding staffing such a person onto my projects. So this kind of behavior could be damaging to one’s career, even if people aren’t actively pushing back on it.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Because it’s making the co-worker a scapegoat for cisgendered privilege, and punishing her.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I agree; I’m having a hard time capturing in words that it’s not ok to use your position as someone who identifies with a “subordinated” social group to turn around and punish someone in a “dominant” social group for not identifying the way you want them to. It’s a really rotten and awful thing to do, and I don’t think OP#3 understands why (or maybe ze does but doesn’t care because ze thinks their p.o.v. is morally/philosophically superior?).

        1. Dizzy Steinway*

          I don’t necessarily think being a cis woman puts you in a dominant social group.

          1. Dizzy Steinway*

            I realise others may disagree. But I’m inclined to reserve that spot for cis men.

            1. Mookie*

              When the bulk of violence and violent rhetoric against trans people is gendered, feminized, and aimed at trans women’s bodies and identities, cis women are privileged at that particular intersection.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Certainly being cisgendered is a dominant social group. You can be in some dominant social groups while not being in others (otherwise you’d have white women, for example, denying being in a dominant social group because of sexism, while ignoring their privilege as white people).

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I agree it’s not a dominant social group in the typology of all social groups, but, at least in most places I’ve lived in the U.S., I’ve seen a relative power differential (with lots of caveats and nuances and no absolutes, of course).

          4. Leah*

            You’re right, but I think here it’s used in terms of comparing trans/nonconforming people vs. cis women, not in the whole scheme of things that would include cis men.

        2. Cupquake*

          I think it’s that everyone has a right to be referred to by the pronouns they choose; so if you are non-binary/trans/genderqueer, etc. and you want to be referred to by neutral pronouns or not the pronouns someone might assume, then you have the right to do so. At the same time, cis people 100% have that same right. I’m cis, and if someone used gender-neutral pronouns when they first met me, I wouldn’t mind, but if I explicitly told them “it’s fine to use female pronouns, in fact, I would prefer it” and they didn’t respect that, I would feel like they were being dismissive of me? In the same way that it is dismissive when cis people refuse to use others preferred pronouns.

        3. LisaLee*

          Part of it is that is very gatekeep-y, like the coworker has to prove her queer cred in order to choose her pronouns. We don’t actually have any idea if she’s queer or trans or not, just that she’d rather not share that with the OP. (I also think this “you must be THIS oppressed to enter” thing is something that crops up a lot in the queer community. IDK why, but I see it often).

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            Honestly, I gave up on a lot of queer groups or certain areas of social media because there’s this uncomfortable situation some of them get into where it feels like everyone is just trying to say their identity has it worse than someone else’s identity. Or, like you said, you have to prove how queer you really are before you can be taken seriously.

            It’s exhausting. I know other people have it worse than I do, but that doesn’t make my struggle any less worthy.

              1. Gadfly*

                A friend of my sister’s jokes that as a poor, black, disabled, transgender lesbian she at the least deserves a medal in the Oppression Olympics

                1. Thlayli*

                  She should find organisations that have affirmative action in their hiring processes or are trying to be more diverse for political reasons. They’d hire her in a heartbeat!

                  Just imagine a team of her, and 3 cis white guys. “How dare you say we aren’t diverse? We are 25% female, 25% black, 25% trans, 25% gay, and 25% disabled.”

                2. Mirax*

                  Thlayli, I know you meant that as a joke, but given how often minorities are made to feel like or explicitly accused of being “the diversity hire” instead of someone who got their job on their own merits, I think it’s in bad taste.

                3. Thlayli*

                  I apologise for offending you. I replied to a joke with a joke in what I thought was similar taste. I guess I misread the sense of humour.

            1. Mookie*

              Or, like you said, you have to prove how queer you really are before you can be taken seriously.

              Paging bisexuals, your table’s ready. Be prepared to have the waitstaff undermine your every decision and try to convince you you only need the surf or the turf, not both at once, so stop being selfish.

              1. Gadget Hackwrench*

                Non-Binary people, Ace people, and Bi/Pan people are natural allies for EXACTLY this reason. Eff the gatekeeepers.

                1. all aboard the anon train*

                  Generally, maybe, but all those identities seem to have serious issues with one another on certain social media sites (tumblr in particular is pretty awful with it). I’ve encountered one too many arguments about someone’s identity being “queerer” than someone else’s in the non-binary/ace/bi/pan/etc. areas or calling out one of those identities for being bigoted because they are attracted to/not attracted to certain things, etc..

                  The latter seems to be a big issue between some bi and pan people (which baffles me since I was always told bisexuality was attraction to more than one gender/sexuality, not that it relied on only the male/female binary, and that’s how I’ve defined it for me personally. But this was before pansexual became a mainstream term, I guess)

                2. Kit M. Harding*

                  And then you get people like me: gender-confused biromantic demisexual. I’ve hit the trifecta! (And I’m usually not welcome in *any* of the queer communities because of it; I’m in the weird edge cases for every permutation of them.)

                3. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  You’re on a different tumblr than I am then Anon Train. Cause that’s exactly where the alliance I’m referring to is. The Bi/Pan/Nonbinary Brigade is all up in the Acephobes business on the regular. (Mostly because they sound like a load of Binarist TERF douchenozzels.)

              2. paul*

                I’m as het as they come, and for some reason bi erasure in LGBT community really royally chaps my ass. It’s like…of all people, you can’t understand how someone’s sexuality might not fit norms? I’ve got a couple of bi friends and maybe that’s part of it but I just don’t get how it’s hard to grasp.

                I figure if I can like a variety of different female body types, they can like a broader variety of body types.

              3. Marillenbaum*

                Thank you! And God help you if you want more surf than turf, or vice versa, because you must want both in equal measure at all times to count.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  You must also take exactly one bite of each, alternating bites of equal size in order for your meal to count as including both surf and turf.

                2. General Ginger*

                  And if you’ve found that really awesome surf (or turf?), be prepared to be booted from the restaurant. It’s a surf AND turf place, dontcha know.

                3. VicCatLady*

                  “You must also take exactly one bite of each, alternating bites of equal size in order for your meal to count as including both surf and turf.”

                  No, no, that would make you alternately a surfist and a turfist. You have to have both surf and turf in every bite if you’re going to be a “real” bi.

                1. Nessie*

                  There’s a “surf and turf” and “selfish/shellfish” dad joke in there somewhere.

              4. Nobody Here By That Name*

                Also for the waitstaff to never call your name when your table is ready, since everyone knows bisexuals don’t exist.

                (I say as a bi woman myself)

                1. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  If you think you’re invisible try being Pan and Nonbinary at the same time. We’re practically super-powered invisible! LOL.

          2. Allie*

            And some people don’t WANT to “prove their queer cred”. For some people who are transgender, the “trans” part isn’t the primary identity, the gender is. A friend of mine is very clear that “I don’t identify as trans and I don’t want that to be how I’m presented. I’m a man.” I think that makes sense for him. Not everyone transitions the same way and I think that should be respected.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              That is such a good point. I have a friend whose teenager is planning to switch schools in the fall so they can transition and present as their preferred gender to people who don’t know them.

      2. Dizzy Steinway*

        And because it’s implying that the colleague is prejudiced and should be reported.

        OP, I’m happy to use whatever pronouns anyone wants but I’d like the same respect in return. Wanting you to use female pronouns doesn’t mean this person isn’t cool with how you identify yourself – it means they’re not cool with how you’re identifying them.

        Sometimes other people make different meaning from a situation than we do. To you, gender-neutral pronouns are preferred, but this colleague feels differently.

      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        Describing it as making the co-worker a scapegoat for cis privilege is absolutely perfect. I’ve seen this scapegoat dynamic play out across other axes as well – a few women who make specific male individuals scapegoats for male privilege, a few people of color who make specific white individuals scapegoats for white privilege, etc. The psychology of it is understandable, but it’s crappy behavior.

        1. Someone*

          Besides, that kind of behavior really isn’t helpful at all, as it results in resentment rather than understanding.

          I’m a feminist, and while I hate sexist men (and women) I have a special kind of hate reserved for radical feminists who act as if the Western world was still stuck in the 50s in regards to gender equality and treat all men as sexist.
          Both is very much NOT the case (though there’s certainly still work to do) and with their radicalism they do not help gender equality – quite the opposite, I feel. They make a perfect target for sexist men who love to complain about whiny women and annoy those who actually have progressive views. Radical feminists do. Not. Help. They just make things worse. They just give people reasons to hate feminism.

          The OP does something similar. Not quite as radical, mind you, but by shoving gender-neutral pronouns down other people’s throats no matter their preference, they are likely to annoy even supportive people. It would certainly annoy me.
          Society at large might still be disrespectful towards people who are trans and such like, but that isn’t changed by being disrespectful towards cis-gendered individuals who, apparently, did nothing wrong… except for being in the dominant group. Of which they had as much choice as the OP had in belonging to a minority.

      4. Brogrammer*

        This is an amazing way of putting it. I’m keeping this in my back pocket for future reference.

      5. Sam*

        THANK YOU! I’m pleased to see that not everyone is assuming OP’s intentions are innocent when it is so very obvious that they’re not.

    3. LemonLymon*

      Well said, PCBH!

      Another thing that caught me off guard was that OP stated that when Coworker insisted on being called “she” that, “I thought this person was transgender” and “didn’t want to offend or upset if this were the case.” I take this to mean that if Coworker WERE transgender than it would be okay to use gendered pronouns but for cisgender corworkers gender neutral pronouns were most appropriate. Use the pronouns the person requests. That’s the most respectful way to approach it.

      1. Dizzy Steinway*

        And the best question to ask someone is: what pronouns would you like me to use?

        OP if you want everyone to feel safe and respected, start and end with that question.