employer stole the work sample I created for an interview, coworker uses an offensive word, and more

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

1. Employer is using the work sample I created for my interview

A couple months ago, I went for an interview for a graphic design job in a small start-up. They asked me to come up with a logo for a publication to see where my skills were at and then they would compare it to the one they had made. I willingly did this and sent it back on the Friday when it was due the following Tuesday. Monday evening they get back to me, saying they didn’t like it and want me to “take another stab at it,” keeping the original due date of Tuesday morning. so once again I did, being very frustrated as I still had a part-time evening job. They liked the new one I sent and I ended up getting the job.

The past two months I’ve had minimal contact with them as they haven’t had any work to send me (so I haven’t gotten any pay from them yet). All of a sudden they tell me they’re using the logo I made for my test but I still won’t be paid for it.

My main question is can they legally do that? Take an assignment from my interview and use it for free? Especially since they put me through making changes and last-minute rushes like that.

No, that’s not legal. Employers can absolutely have job candidates do exercises, simulations, and sample work where the intent is simply to assess their skills. But if they ask you to do actual work that they then use (for purposes other than assessing you), and if they don’t pay you, in most cases they’re violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.

I’d say this to them: “I’m glad you like it enough to use it! We do need to figure out payment though, since otherwise we could get in trouble — federal law doesn’t allow employers to use unpaid work from job candidates.” (Note the use of “we” here — that’s deliberate, because it’s less adversarial and makes it sound like you’re all on the same side.)

However, if they balk, I’d go more hardcore with them. It doesn’t sound like there’s much to lose here, since I’m doubtful you’re ever going to get paid work from these people (and I hope you’re not counting on it). At that point I’d send them a formal invoice with a due date and tell them that you cannot allow them to use your copyrighted work without pay. (You retain the copyright for your work unless you assigned it to them; since you weren’t working for them when you created it, it doesn’t fall under “work for hire” as it would have if you had created it after they hired you.) And then if necessary, you can have a lawyer send them a cease and desist letter.

2. My coworker keeps using the word “retarded”

I got a new job about six months ago as an admin in a small, fairly relaxed company, and I’m having an issue with one of my coworkers, Heather. Heather is senior to me (basically everyone is, I’m pretty low in the pecking order) but as we usually take our lunch breaks at the same time, we’ve developed a friendly relationship and chat about our personal lives, etc fairly freely. Except, she keeps using the word retarded.

The first time she did it, I must have looked kind of startled, because she said “I guess I probably shouldn’t use that word, huh?” To which I replied something like “yeah, no.” The second time she used it, I said “hey, you should use a different word” and she then corrected herself and kept talking. The third time, she was talking to me and a coworker and used it, and I blurted out “Heather! Don’t use that word!” Which I guess was probably not great, partly because I had a pretty clearly exasperated and therefore unprofessional tone, and because both she and my other coworker just gave me a blank look and kept talking.

I find the word very offensive and thought that it was generally understood to be unacceptable in any environment, but especially not in a professional context. Am I off base with that? Is it unprofessional for me to continue to comment on Heather’s use of it, especially since no one else seems to have a problem with it? I would have a very very hard time hearing her continue to use the word without saying anything, but I also don’t really know where to go from here, since I have absolutely no clout with her or within the company.

From what I can tell, the message hasn’t actually reached everyone yet, and some people seem genuinely not to know that the term isn’t considered okay to use. But it sounds like Heather has some inkling of that, since she said she probably shouldn’t be using the word.

Now that you’ve called her on in the moment three times and it’s still happening, I’d try a different approach. If it happens again, approach her privately afterwards and say something like, “Can I ask you to stop using the word ‘retarded’? It’s a hurtful word to a lot of people and I know you wouldn’t want to cause pain to anyone.”

If she continues after that, it doesn’t sound like you have the standing to pursue it further but it’s perfectly reasonable to say something like this, despite your relative roles in your office’s hierarchy.

3. My boss keeps asking when I’m going to lunch

Every day my manager will ask when I’m going to lunch and/or if I’m going to lunch. I go to lunch around same time consistently, sometimes but rarely going 30-45 minutes later than usual. I’ve expressed several times that I will go to lunch at the same time every day and that there’s no reason to ask every day. Recently, my manager admitted that she checks for the sake of checking and that good managers always check on their employees. Is there any way I could convince her or say the right combination of words to get her to stop asking especially, since my only next option is to go through our boss and I don’t want to escalate the situation that far?

That’s weird. “Good managers check on their employees” doesn’t mean “good managers annoy their employees about lunch every day.”

This definitely isn’t something that you should escalate over her head — it’s not serious enough to do that. But you could say this to her next time: “To be honest, it stresses me out when you ask me about lunch every day! I appreciate you wanting to make sure I’m going to get lunch at some point, but I’d rather you not check on it each day.”

4. Writing a cover letter to former semi-colleagues

For 11 years, I worked for a nonprofit organization. During that time, I interacted a few times a year with people at a sister office about three hours away. I had a collegial, comfortable, respectful, casual and supportive relationship with the people from that office. Since I left the organization, I have been in a PhD program overseas for five years. I am nearly finished with my PhD and have begun job searching. There is an open position I am very interested in and qualified for at the sister office. The position is hired and supervised by two of the people I know from the time I worked in the organization.

I’m stuck on how to word my cover letter and what degree of formality vs. familiarity to use. I think they know my experience and skills pretty well from when we worked in the same organization. I plan to talk about the additional relevant skills that I have developed in the past five years. Can you give some advice on the tone and content for a cover letter when I am pretty familiar with the people I am addressing in it?

Pretend it’s not a formal cover letter, but just a conversational email to one of them explaining why you’re interested in the position and why you think you might be a strong fit for it. (Actually, this is a smart approach for most cover letters, even when they’re to strangers, but it’s particularly important when you know the people you’re writing to, so that you don’t come across as oddly formal for the context.)

5. Going on a business trip right before I might resign

I am in the running for a new job that I really want. I am currently employed by a great employer — I am just ready to move on to further my career. I have the last “interview” three days before I am to leave on a business trip for the current employer to Las Vegas (wherein a lot of money will be spent on my behalf, and by me, wooing clients and what not).

I feel so guilty about going on this trip while courting another employer. I don’t have a firm offer (still in the interview process), and it could not work out. Do I continue on with business as usual? How should I handle this situation? And if I do get an offer, how to I balance that with just having gone on a business trip on the firm’s dime?

There’s nothing to balance here. This trip isn’t a vacation or a prize your company is giving you; it’s work. The money that you’re going to spend there is in the service of work, wooing clients, etc. It’s not recreational; it’s business. (And even if you’re thinking of it as a little recreational, I doubt your employer is or they wouldn’t be sending you.)

It’s very, very normal to continue going on business trips right up until the point you leave a job, even fun business trips. If you do get offered and accept this job, you’ll just resign as you normally would. You don’t need to acknowledge the trip at all. It would be very odd for your employer to think “but we just sent her on a work trip!”

{ 572 comments… read them below }

  1. Greg M.*

    yeah I waged a war on the Rword at my work and it took time but it worked. I simply took the approach of “can we use a different word please” and then “thank you” when they corrected themselves. it can be surprisingly effective. Some people got their feathers ruffled and at one point I told someone to stop using slurs against the mentally handicapped and they dropped it.

    One thing I’ve learned through this is don’t justify, don’t debate and don’t relent. Justifying or debating assumes their side has merit and well frankly it doesn’t. “I don’t care about your reasons, please use a different word” “that’s nice, please use a different word”

    I’ve also been doing this at Friday Night Magic at my local card shop. and I’ve made headway there but little more ingrained in that culture.

    I find that over time people start to “not say it around you” so as not to hear about it. Honestly that just means it’s working.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      I agree, especially on your last point–you can’t control whether or not they wipe it from their vocabulary, but if you’re getting pushback, then framing it as “I’d appreciate not hearing it around me” as opposed to “You’re using a BAD WORD!” can help make some headway.

      1. Specialk9*

        Given that she’s lowest on the totem pole, she may find continuing to reprimand someone senior to get old or poor for her career. Not good, but realistic.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          If she were black, and objecting to the use of the n-word, would you say the same thing?

      2. Noobtastic*

        Especially if you say, “You’re using a BAD WORD,” and they decide to come back with all the times the word, itself, is not only not bad, but technically correct, such as in a scientific setting, when the sample’s progress is retarded by X-factor, or some such.

        My understanding of it is that the word is a slur, when applied to people, and awful when applied to situations, but still has some technical merit. And that, I’m afraid, is just enough to open the door for people to push back when you try to say, “Bad word,” at them.

        But when you say, “Please don’t use this word around me, because it makes me uncomfortable” you’ll likely get a much better response.

    2. Zip Silver*

      That’s gotta be a regional thing. I know oh so many (well educated) people who blow off that sort of PC admonishing.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        They’d consider a request with no PC explanation attached to be a problematic PC admonishment? That’s weird and, well, mean of them. After all, some of us don’t like the word for personal, not hypothetical PC reasons (my son has intellectual disabilities, so the slur refers to people like him).

        1. neverjaunty*

          “That’s PC” is way easier for most people than “oh, I didn’t mean to be hurtful; I’ll stop doing that”.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I mean, it IS PC admonishment. “Political correctness” isn’t arbitrary, it’s based on harms various phrases have on people. Your reason for disliking it is the same as the PC reason for disliking it, they’re not, like, different reasons.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            I know it isn’t arbitrary. I don’t have issues with political correctness; it is not a dirty phrase. But people who tend to get offended over PC issues seem to do so, IME, because they think the harms suffered by using slurs/obnoxious words are not real and not personal; they view the harm as invented, unreal. As in, if someone knows the word is offensive to me because of my disabled child, they are more likely to hear and recognize that the word is a problem, and it is harder for them to dismiss the harm when they are staring it in the face. That’s what I was trying to get at – Greg’s very mild, not-lecturing simple request to not use the word please being seen as “PC admonishing” is strange to me. Not trying to suggest anything else.

          2. Hills to Die on*

            I think some people feel like PC is just for the sake of being PC so it’s not necessary to do. I like the phrasing that Greg M used–‘stop using slurs against the handicapped’ because it’s a more real, tangible reason.

            1. Specialk9*

              I think that many people who object against “Political Correctness” are not the same people who deliberately created the term PC *in order* to be bigots. It can be hard from the outside to tell the two apart, though.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        Whenever someone brings up Political Correctness, I always remember the Neil Gaiman quote:

        “I was reading a book (about interjections, oddly enough) yesterday which included the phrase “In these days of political correctness…” talking about no longer making jokes that denigrated people for their culture or for the colour of their skin. And I thought, “That’s not actually anything to do with ‘political correctness’. That’s just treating other people with respect.”

        Which made me oddly happy. I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile.
        You should try it. It’s peculiarly enlightening.

        I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking “Oh my god, that’s treating other people with respect gone mad!””

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I do like that, despite what I asked below. So is this offensive only when referring to a person? Because I have to admit, I say this regarding other things like “can you believe that new policy? It’s so retarded “.

            1. Noobtastic*

              Exactly. It’s not to be used as a pejorative. It does have a real, technical use, that does not refer to people or situations or policies.

              I believe that the technical usage was applied to people, became a slur, and then that slur became “handy,” to apply to situations, and thus became widespread, to the point where people would apply it to a policy, or some such.

              Pejoratives should be real, applicable, and accurate. “That policy is foolish, possibly illegal, probably open for a lawsuit, and unenforceable.”

              1. MarsJenkar*

                I’ve heard of something called the “euphemism treadmill”. Basically it’s a cycle where a technical term is used to describe a specific type of person, and through use it becomes a slur. At a certain point, it becomes no longer acceptable to use even in the technical sense because the slur definition has become so dominant, and so they come up with a different term for the same thing, starting the cycle over again.

          1. Greg M.*

            Just like saying the new policy is gay, it’s not ok. you’re using a word that describes a group of people as an insult.

          2. AdAgencyChick*

            I used to say it a lot until my coworker, who is the nicest human being you can imagine, had a baby with Down syndrome. I knew that I could not ever say that word in front of him again and that in fact I shouldn’t be using it as a pejorative at all.

            I later found out that another former colleague, whom I like and respect, had a brother with DS who died young. She didn’t talk about him much, but when she did, she made it clear that hearing “retarded” as a pejorative will always bother her.

            Basically, the two of them made me realize that you don’t always know who you’re hurting when you use “retarded” (or “gay,” etc.) as a pejorative. I have since excised the R-word from my vocabulary (basically, I used aforementioned coworker’s paternity leave to train myself to say “asinine” instead).

            For the OP, I think one way that sometimes helps get people to stop is to make it personal. Saying “I know someone whose brother died from Down syndrome complications, so I really hate hearing that word used that way” makes it feel less like the PC police and can help people understand why it’s just as offensive as a racial slur.

            1. Alli525*

              I had a similar experience – I think I’d mostly cut out saying ‘retarded’ by that point, but I was in a car with friends a couple years ago and started using an altered tone of voice commonly associated with people who have Downs or other developmental delays that affect speech. They both turned around and reminded me that they had siblings with speech-affecting dev delays, and I felt so low and petty when I realized the impact it had. I haven’t used that tone or said the word since.

          3. Forrest*

            I mean, you can switch out that word for “stupid” and your sentence would be the same. So what do you think?

            And I’m not trying to be snarky but you should think of it that way.

            1. Julia*

              Isn’t there a discussion about the word ‘stupid’ in the open thread?

              Mark Reads bans the word ‘crazy’, which I understand, but it’s super hard to stop myself from using it. I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety and would NEVER use the word crazy for someone with actual mental health issues, but for “normal” people who acted in ridiculous ways, like my co-worker who told me that it wasn’t her whose loudness was distracting me from my work, it was the TV (she had turned on!) But then again, am I not saying that obviously, those ‘crazy’ people must be mentally unstable? I guess I should find a nice replacement word like ‘preposterous’ or something.

              1. Noobtastic*

                I find that the more syllables the better, when it comes to pejoratives. It makes me feel better spitting out each one, and by the time I’m done with a long one, the catharsis has just had more time to work for me.

                Preposterous is good. Four syllables, and some spitty-type sounds, too.

          4. Kelsi*

            If it helps to understand the context:
            The REASON words like that, and “gay,” are used to negatively describe things (even when you are not actually trying to literally convey that the item or situation is developmentally delayed, homosexual, etc.), is that it’s assumed that everyone listening understands that being those things as a human is terrible.

            So like…it’s still reinforcing the notion that mentally handicapped people, or gay people, etc. are bad and that it’s such a given that everyone around you can understand that so instinctually that they should be able to figure out what you mean.

            Or, in other words: it’s not a word with two separate histories, one where it came to mean bad and another unrelated one where it came to mean mentally handicapped. It has come to mean bad BECAUSE it means mentally handicapped, and that’s why it’s a problem.

            1. Noobtastic*

              Kelsi, I think this is the best explanation of the phenomenon I’ve ever read. This should be printed out and handed out at schools.

          5. JessaB*

            The problem with using it for things you think are bad is that you’re admitting you think the word “retarded” is a realistic descriptor of something bad. Otherwise why use it?

            It’s actually worse to use it about things. It shouldn’t be used about people either (it’s antiquated and after having been used as an insult and a put down for so many years the meaning has gotten out of control on the BAD THINGS side,) but at least if you’re talking about a legitimately developmentally disabled person you’re not -intending- to insult them, you’re using the wrong word but you’re intending to imply the person has an actual measurably low IQ (If you mean using it to describe people that are intellectually typical that’s an issue also.)

            Letting them hear you think a policy is the “r” word tells them that you think that word stands for something not good. Please don’t.

      3. Luku*

        I work in a Canadian community that is very progressive in respect of human rights and most people I know would never DREAM of using the r word.

        Husband works in trades in the rural outer area of our Canadian community. His coworkers used it while they were out at a restaurant WHILE THERE WAS an adult in a wheelchair at the table next to them who clearly had a cognitive disability. Husband admonished politely but firmly, then spent the rest of the night getting teased about being the “PC Police”. One of the people their, a spouse of the tradeperson coworker, was in community college to get her diploma for working with grade-school students with disabilities as an educational aide (I know the licensable title for her job changes by province/state jurisdiction so just figured I would explain it)…. she said she used the r word in class and said she “guessed [she] would have to stop saying it”…… YOU THINK?!

        Sigh. So much progress in some areas and so little in others.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I find it helps, sometimes, to explain to people why it’s hurtful and to personalize it. I grew up using the r-word on the playground and at school without any realization that it was extremely pejorative and effectively a slur. When a classmate with dyslexia flagged this for me (kindly) in college and explained how it affected her, I was horrified and tried my hardest to erase it from my language in all contexts. I’ve found that folks who rail against “PC” language feel differently when it affects personal relationships.

        In college I would sometimes still slip (which may be what’s happening with Heather), but I think it’s been 10+ years since I’ve used that word, now. And if it slips, I’m immediately horrified.

        1. Mine Own Telemachus*

          My (older) brother has Downs, and so I grew up with it not ever being an okay thing to say, and frequently found that personalizing it really helped with a lot of people to get them to stop saying it. If they insisted, they got a lecture about how they should go see the look on my brother’s face when he hears the word and then come to me and try to justify it.

          [My brother once ran from the room when he heard Joy Behar on the View say it about an inanimate object. Even if it’s not directed at a person, it’s still perpetuating the idea that being “retarded” is something that’s unlikable and unworthy of dignity]

          1. SSS*

            Depending on the inanimate object and circumstance, it might be an appropriate usage (I don’t know about The View specifically, I am referring to in general). I read something one time where a woman went off on a rant against a person for using the word ‘retarded’ in a scientific description. In the hard sciences, something that is having a ‘retarded growth’ or ‘retarded reaction’ is a clinical term that has specific meaning, not a slur against anyone and is still an appropriate word to use for specialized clinical work.

            1. JessaB*

              Yes it does, and it’s time for science and scientists to decide together to use a different word.

              I flinch every time someone on the Food Network or on a cooking show calls a Makrut Lime a Kaffir lime, because Kaffir is such a freaking loaded racist word. The fact that it’s the legitimate name of a piece of fruit used all around the world does NOT mean they shouldn’t stop using that word. In fact it’s possible that the physical look and feel of the fruit was how the word became a racial slur.

              Names of things, descriptions change, and some words just need to leave the vocabulary already.

              And of all groups scientists always have to get together to decide what to call things – that star they just found, that mineral they discovered, that new element, that new drug, that new procedure, equation whatever. It should not be hard to stand up and decide we’re going to describe that reaction as “slows by a rate of x” or just generally “slows, or slows quickly,” or whatever. Maybe even pick the word that’s defined as “retards,” in another language that doesn’t use their version of the word as a slur.

              But first we can get slurs out of the general vocabulary, and then work on getting them out of the specific.

              My response to the scientific usage would be “yes I know it’s a science word, it’s a BAD one, pick another.”

              1. Anna*

                Noooooo…I don’t think this is the correct approach. I give you this article about the kaffir lime on why your idea that “even in another language” it wouldn’t be offensive. If you’re going to admit that in another language retard wouldn’t be offensive, you have to admit that in its scientific context, it’s not offensive either. Because it’s meaning is understood to be something different.


                I think a word is important in its context. There are some words that, no matter what their context, aren’t acceptable. The n-word is an example. You can’t really use that in a way that isn’t a racist slur. With the scientific word, it makes more sense to stop using the slur and allow the original meaning to start taking precedence again.

              2. Specialk9*

                Oh my god, I didn’t know that kaffir was the South African N-word for black people. Given apartheid, oh my gosh no, not cool. Thanks for the heads up!

                1. Candi*

                  I didn’t know what it meant specifically, but I first came across it when watching The Color of Friendship. The way the senator/father is furious at the possibility of his daughter being called that (it was a misunderstanding, if I remember correctly) made it pretty darn clear it was a Not Good Ever Do Not Use word.

                  Then I never bothered to look it up, though I came across it again, in contexts where I decided that if a word is being used by those high in a power system to call those low in it, it’s probably safer not to use it.

                  Which, you know, ties into why “retarded” currently falls into the same realm as racist and sexist slurs…

              3. Apple Store Fan*

                Sorry, but this is where I came in. Banning the term “retarded growth” in a scientific study? That’s ridiculous. Just like the guy who was fired for using the word “niggardly” in some article a few years ago. That word has nothing to do with the racial epithet.

                Maybe we should ban the word “tardy” while we’re at it?!?! Makes me think people are deliberately looking for reasons to be contentious and offended. This is why Trump got elected, people.

                1. Candi*

                  JessaB? No. She is firm about her opinions and beliefs. Since this is a safe place to speak them, AAMers are able to discuss them with her, and she knows she won’t be shouted down.

              4. theChef*

                To say that scientists need to stop using the word is not realistic. Many words can be offensive when directed at a person. Fruit, Nuts, Chocolate, Fruit Cake, Ginger, Vegetable (I have been called some of these) can all be offensive when used in a certain context. Should we stop using them? Why assume bad faith when a word is used correctly. In your example “slow” might not be acceptable in some regions.

              5. Database Developer Dude*

                I’m sorry, but the idea that we should change a technical, scientific term that’s been used for decades is just ridiculous. I’m black, and I don’t gripe about it when IDE hard drives are daisy-chained and one is the ‘master’ and one is the ‘slave’ because it’s not being used in a pejorative context, it’s a technical context with a specific meaning.

            2. Alli525*

              I think it’s pretty simple to differentiate between the scientific/clinical use of the word and when it’s just being used as a lazy insult.

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          This isn’t directed at you and is sort of more an idle thought than a response, but although I realize that personalizing things may make the idea come across more easily for folks, I think it puts an unfair burden on the person who is asking for something completely reasonable and part of basic decency. I feel like I shouldn’t have to lay my minority group membership bare or get into the intimate details of how I’m hurt by language to get people to stop using it…

          Not that I think that’s realistic. Quite the contrary, I’ve used the personalization technique a lot when explaining these issues. It’s just something that came to mind.

          1. Candi*

            My son made an interesting comment about how only ‘our tribe’ is real to us, and everyone ‘out there’ is sort of imaginary/theoretical.

            The personalization brings the disabled into ‘our tribe’.

            And for some, personalization is easier than others.

            The “PC” types I’ve run into who think you can fix society’s problems with the right application of labels, without addressing underlying factors, don’t HELP at ALL. Unpicking and reweaving the threads of society and culture, and moving forward with a better pattern in future weaving, is fundamentally important. Not using derogatory terms is part of that weave, but “good” labels alone don’t fix the weave.

      5. Now I'm ticked off*

        If you could see the devastation on my sister’s face when someone cruelly uses that word to describe my beautiful niece with a traumatic brain injury, you would’t refer to it as “PC admonishing”.

        1. Candi*

          Your sister and niece have my deepest sympathies, and I hope they have the best life possible, surrounded by the kindest and most helpful people possible.

      1. Greg M.*

        really? wow. that’s one I’ve not heard before. Over here it’s pretty much the proper term I mean it’s the official name of the parking spaces and everything.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Over here we say disabled. Some people prefer to say ‘people with disabilities’ while others feel ‘disabled’ is better, for reasons I don’t have the emotional energy to get into.

          1. SchoolStarts!*

            At the union, it’s “people with disabilities.” But in French, it’s “personnnes ayant un handicap.” Disabled in one language, handicapped in the other…

          2. Elemeno P.*

            Person-first language! We work with that a lot. I remember brushing that off when I was younger as “PC nonsense,” and then I learned to not be a jerk.

            1. fposte*

              Well, it’s not just about being a jerk or not, though; person-first language isn’t always preferred, so you don’t want to push it on a community that doesn’t describe itself that way.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Sure, but there’s a huge difference between well-intentioned disagreement about what terms a group prefers, and brushing off any disagreement as “PC nonsense”.

                1. fposte*

                  Absolutely, but there’s also a marked tendency for outsiders to impose terms, and if you get locked into the notion that the term you want is “not being a jerk” it’s going to make it harder to accept the term of the people themselves.

                2. JessaB*

                  Thank you fposte. especially in communities that serve those with cognitive or non neurotypical issues, there’s a HUGE tendency to push language AT them instead of letting them tell you what they want in regards to naming what’s going on with them.

              2. paul*

                and sometimes it becomes incredibly awkward and verbose; for example we’re supposed to say “people currently experience XYZ” rather than for example “diabetics”.

                It gets to be really fun when it’s people with multiple issues too; “people currently experiencing homeless that are survivors of domestic violence victims” for example.

                1. Decima Dewey*

                  At my library system’s job class meetings this month, the presenter from the office of disability issues urged people to us person first language, but also not to argue with way a disabled person referred to himself/herself. For example, don’t tell a person who says “I’m autistic” that they should have said “I’m a person with autism.”

                  We also had That Guy in the audience who kept arguing that TPTB were trying to police what he said in private. The response was that he could say what he liked off the job–but while he was on the job, representing the City, he should use the PC language.

                2. Parenthetically*

                  A friend of mine worked for an agency that mainly dealt with housing and job placements for people with cognitive disabilities. For some reason I couldn’t figure out and that I still don’t understand, while she was working there, management required them to stop saying “our clients” and replace it with “the people we serve.” They used person-first language, so it because “a person we serve with blah blah blah.”

                3. Anna*

                  I kind of cringe when people are described as “diabetics.” I prefer “Anna has diabetes” personally. Because it’s something I have and live with and not something I am, if that makes sense.

                4. Noobtastic*

                  As a person with diabetes, I much prefer to be called diabetic.

                  I understand that a lot of people with autism prefer to be called autistic people.

                  The thing is, it’s fine to try not to be a jerk, by using person-first language, in general, but it is really jerky and awful behavior to force people with an issue to use person-first language when they do not want it for themselves. Just as it is kind and respectful to use another person’s preferred pronouns, it is respectful and kind to use their preferred means of referring to themselves, and whatever issues they may have.

                  So, IMO, using person-first language is fine, in general, but please be respectful of individuals who hate it for themselves.

                  BTW, I am fat. I do not “have fat,” nor am I “plump,” “fluffy, “curvy” or any of those other euphemisms for a “problem” I don’t think is a problem, at all. I am reclaiming the word Fat, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. That is a similar attitude to many people who reject person-first language. When you say “person with X,” you are implying that X is a problem. Whereas if you say, “X person,” then you are implying that it is simply another facet of their identity, such as their race, ethnicity, or any other facet that we don’t consider a problem, but do recognize as important in identification.

                5. Anon because reasons*

                  I have a friend who’s diabetic, and calls herself that. (Developed because of Chronic Condition, which causes X Problem, which often leads to diabetes.)

                  I don’t think of her as the person with Chronic Condition, X Problem, or diabetes. She’s the kickarse EA/SCA officer/embroiderer/writer who is actually making a tiny profit at Jamberry due to her very low-key sales tactics. (Not “in spite of”, poster on her JB page.) :P

                  CC, XP, and diabetes are just (big) things she deals with as a part of living.

                1. fposte*

                  I’ll post the source link in followup, but the objects are largely based on that language’s eradication of a key piece of their identity or implication that that’s something that needs to be downplayed.

                  “Person-first language, with its emphasis on the person and not the disability, is effective in separating disabled people from each other and lessening the strength of community formation. To form communities of political significance, we need to be seen as stutterers (and Autistic people, and wheelchair users, etc.) instead of people who stutter, people with autism, people who use wheelchairs.”

                2. Noobtastic*

                  Thanks, fposte!

                  It’s sort of like saying, “Person with dark skin and African heritage.” Most people I know who fit that description would rather be called Black, and are downright proud of it. The “with” makes it seem like a problem that needs to be “othered” and eradicated.

                3. Not a Morning Person*

                  Thank you, fposte. That’s an interesting perspective! I appreciate the explanation.

              1. Noobtastic*

                I hate person-first language when it applies to me, and a major part of my identity. Even the new stuff, that wasn’t always a part of my identity before has now become a big part of who I am, and how I live, and darn it, I want to identify it as a positive part of me, not as a problem I have no hope of overcoming.

                When you put the person first in the language, you are almost inevitably implying that “person with X” has a problem: X. But for those of us who live with it, every day, and have come to term with it, X is not a problem to be solved, or eradicated. It’s just US. It’s part of who we are.

                I’d much rather have accommodations to my actual needs than to have people pussy-foot around the language of how to describe me. Don’t use slurs, please, but don’t try to cut out a piece of me, because you don’t like it. This X is not something I just carry around in a backpack, and can drop when it becomes inconvenient. It is intrinsic to me. I am not “with” X any more than I am “with” a heart or liver or brain. Even the new stuff, X things I developed because things happen, are now a part of me, and that’s my new identity.

                So, although I recognize that person-first is an attempt to be respectful to people with any issue at all outside the norm, I really, truly hate it, at least applied to me.

          3. Jesmlet*

            There’s now a movement in the US to use “differently abled” which I personally find a weird term. I’ve always been of the opinion that no matter how many times you change the term, unless you change the perceptions that are attached to the population, the stigma will persist. Another issue is that there are different schools of thought even within the communities themselves regarding person-first or identity-first.

            My whole office uses the word retarded, and all but one of us has a family member with Down syndrome. Not sure why but I’m not gonna question it.

            1. fposte*

              That jibes somewhat with my experience with parents of Down syndrome kids, though like you I’m not going to claim anything broader from that. I think there’s some complexities to the dislike of the term, in that for people who aren’t intellectually disabled, the reactions are often to the unjustness of the comparison rather than to putting any group of people in category that’s so derogatory, whereas to people who are in the category or are associated with it, it’s that it’s a foolish and ignorant denigration. To put it another way, it’s “Am not!” vs. “So what if I am?” as a response. (“Gay” is an example of a slur use that’s defanged more often these days by a “So what if I am?” approach.)

              Doesn’t really matter when you’re talking about dialing it down, but it makes sense to me that it would elicit different reactions.

              1. Jesmlet*

                To put it another way, it’s “Am not!” vs. “So what if I am?” as a response.
                Exactly this. I’ve encountered a lot of people in the communities who take pride in the differences because it makes them unique, as well as a lot who would rather proclaim that they’re just like everyone else. Two different mindsets so you just have to be flexible depending on who you’re around. But at the same time, people who are part of those communities should try to be a little patient with what terms people use because they’ve probably been told different things by different sources.

                1. Cercis*

                  It’s like the guy I knew who was proud of his handicapped label: “in horse racing when one horse is better than the others, he has to carry extra weight to compensate for being better, I’m so awesome, I had to be handicapped to make it fair for everyone else.”

            2. JulieBulie*

              Argh… I can remember when “mongoloid” was in common use for people with Down syndrome. Compared to “mongoloid,” “retarded” seems tame to my ears (though I still don’t use it!).

            3. SystemsLady*

              As somebody with ADHD, I’m offended by parts of that movement, though I realize it’s because of specific conversations around ADHD (it could be a very different case for some types of autism/etc).

              No, I’m not “differently abled”, it isn’t society that needs to change, and “Big Pharma” isn’t trying to “pathologize my brain being different”, as many misguided (I’m tempted to accuse “misdiagnosed”) people claim.

              A part of my brain critical to doing what I want to do and being happy with my own performance (among many other things) doesn’t work properly. It’s broken and I actually do want it fixed – and I am definitely not the only person with ADHD who feels this way.

              If anything, society needs to change to recognize that this is a legitimate disorder.

              1. Anon because reasons*

                Right. Either something is miswired, the chemical mix is off, or both. Admitting that is off is the first step to finding out get it back on the rails -even though our ability is limited with current knowledge.

                Some of these people honestly sound like they haven’t bothered to research the known science behind (insert disorder here). While the medical details are often complex, the basic idea isn’t; X is not wired/chemically balanced according to standard functioning. Here is what part(s) of the brain is/are affected, here is/are the result(s) on existing and living. It’s not “pathologizing”, the problem is genuinely there.

                (And no type of snake oil will just fix it, either.)

            4. Anna*

              Agree, agree, agree. I kind of feel like “differently abled” is a little condescending in its way. As if we won’t actually address any barriers a person has or that they don’t understand what we really mean when we say it. “You’re not DISabled; you’re DIFFERENTLY abled!” Applause for how progressive we all are.

            5. Rafflesia Reaper*

              “Differently abled” sounds like inspiration porn to me. That guy can’t XYZ, but look how well he does ABC!! My broken pieces don’t give me any superpowers, unless you count knowing 17 ways to open a pickle jar as a differentiated ability.

          4. Indoor Cat*

            It takes a while for legal documentation to change.

            I don’t really mind handicapped people vs. disabled people vs. people with disabilities in the context of political activism (I myself am disabled and, while at college, worked with the Student Accessibility Services group to improve campus life for disabled students). All those terms are useful when creating policies that will help the whole group, and none (to me) are “bad” in that context.

            The only thing that gets in the way are when groups try to come up with totally new words that aren’t in any legislative documentation; I get so irritated with whomever came up with “differently abled” because it effed up so much of our paperwork and required additional reference checks, because there is no federal standard criteria for labeling a student “differently abled” and getting assistance, so we had to go backwards and figure out what criteria those schools were using and UGGHhhhhhhh >.<

            Anyway, it's generally better to be more specific. Blind people and deaf people almost always use those terms in that order, shying away from the term "disability" altogether. Deaf people especially don't generally view deafness as a problem, and there are Deaf Pride groups and events much like there are LGBT Pride groups, with just as high attendance in some cities (whereas general "Disability Pride" groups and events have had trouble getting off the ground). Then "learning disabled" is different than "cognitively disabled," (so, for example, an athlete must have a cognitive disability to compete in Special Olympics).

            Anyway, sorry for the tangent. The tl; dr version is refer to a person in that group about what words are okay.

            1. Noobtastic*

              This just really reminds me of Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and the feuding over the various People in Palestine trying to Liberate themselves from the Romans, ummm, at the Front. Trying to get all the pertinent words in there.

        2. Triplestep*

          In many US circles it is NOT the proper term; there’s a myth that “handicap” was derived from disabled beggars with cap in hand, but some people just don’t like it for other reasons.

          I work in the building trades as a designer, and we do not say “handicap” for parking, bathroom stalls, or any other requirements under ADA. Think about it – you see a blue and white sign of a symbol showing a person in a wheelchair – you do not see words (“Handicap” or other) on these accommodations. We use the words “ADA” or “Accessible” when talking about them.

          1. NotoriousMCG*

            My part time gig is as a house manager at our state performing arts center and we have an entire department dedicated to creating services for access patrons/patrons with access needs. One of the things this department stresses to us is to always use person-first language and not disability-first. So my report on audience makeup (for their statistics and reporting) doesn’t say ‘we had six wheelchairs’ but ‘there were six patrons using wheelchairs, one patron using an oxygen machine, and nine patrons using canes’. Language is really important when discussing people’s differences from you, and while specific preferences change from person to person someone is always able to tell if you are making an effort to be respectful of them

            1. fposte*

              I think in that situation it makes sense, because it’s the difference between excluding and including the people, but many affected communities strongly reject person-first language, too.

              1. LizB*

                I’ve seen the widest rejection of person-first language from autistic people (who often prefer that phrase over “people on the autism spectrum” or “people with autism”) — what other communities have you encountered that broadly prefer non-person-first language? I’m genuinely curious, I’m always trying to learn more about how to be respectful.

                1. AMPG*

                  The Deaf community often prefers “deaf” over “hearing impaired” – I’m not close enough to the community to be able to confidently speak to the reasons why, but I know that it’s a thing.

                2. Terry*

                  The big one would be the d/Deaf and hard of hearing community, but you will see that rejection in some mental illness communities (e.g. “I’m schizophrenic”, “I’m bipolar”) even sometimes in ones where it doesn’t make grammatical sense. I’ve also known communities with physical disabilities who reject person-first language (e.g. “I’m a wheelchair-user”) but I am not sure how that breaks down across different communities.

                  Sometimes communities are divided on this by geographical or age lines, or have a different preference for insiders and outsiders, so you can’t really assume and need to take cues from the individual people and communities you meet. Probably the only community I’d assume off the bat did not want person-first language would be d/Deaf & HOH (it can also be offensive in this community to refer to deafness as a disability or impairment at all). Otherwise I’d start with person-first and be gracious and receptive if corrected, or just ask first.

                3. Zillah*

                  Yes – I’m bipolar, and this tallies with my feeling/experience as well. It’s not universally the case by any means, but it’s not an uncommon perspective, either.

              2. Mes*

                Yeah, I hate person-first language, especially when its being pushed by able-bodied people. Its like they need to remind themselves that I’m a person.

                1. oranges & lemons*

                  Yeah, I think that’s why it bugs me too. Same thing with the phrase “happens to be” as in, “my friend who just happens to be Deaf” (of course, this isn’t disability-specific). It always sounds to me like they’re tripping over themselves to reassure you that their friend is also a person and hey, what do you know, she’s also Deaf, I barely noticed.

                2. Anna*

                  Ah! That makes sense. I still prefer (for myself mostly but when I do talk about other people) “has a disability” or “has diabetes” over “disabled” or “diabetic.” We don’t say someone is cerebral palsied, so…just the way my brain thinks about it.

          2. Artemesia*

            Terminology changes about every decade or so as whatever was ‘correct’ in one era becomes a slur in the next because the underlying condition is one that people who are jerks use as a slur. I have watched the terminology for the mentally disabled change several times. ‘Retarded’ was once the polite term; I can remember when ‘moron’ and ‘idiot’ were technical medical terms. “Retarded’ was considered the neutral medically correct label and then it became a slur and ‘special needs’ was substituted or ‘developmentally disabled’. ‘Special needs’ has become a slur in many places. No matter what the ‘correct’ term is today, it will be a slur tomorrow and a new term will be introduced.

            To use any term for people with disabilities as a slur as the OP’s co-worker is doing is disgusting. It is the mechanism by which each new term becomes unusable and insulting. Hope she can shut it down.

            1. JanetM*

              Gresham’s Law.

              Quoting from Wikipedia, “In economics, Gresham’s law is a monetary principle stating that bad money drives out good. For example, if there are two forms of commodity money in circulation, which are accepted by law as having similar face value, the more valuable commodity will disappear from circulation.”

              This seems to be true of linguistics as well (the “bad” meaning drives out the “good” meaning).

            2. Snazzy Hat*

              I remember in Kindergarten or so (sometime between 1989 and 1991), my class attended an at-school performance akin to Sesame Street. The topic was “people are different” or something. One of the situations involved a mentally disabled character and a mean character. In it, the distinction was that calling someone “a retard” was mean, and the correct term — as stated by the mentally disabled character — is “retarded”.

            3. Lars the Real Girl*

              Yes. I remember watching an old 1970’s episode of Match Game or Family Feud (early morning Game Show Network!) where the host asked a lady what she did and she said “I work with retarded children” and I just about fell out of my seat because it’s so jarring now, but was the correct, professional, and respectful term at the time.

            4. Helena*

              And this is why many people reject political correctness. PC is an arbitrary knowing-which-fork-to-use gotcha rather than basic respect towards our fellow humans. In Artemesia’s examples, “moron” and “idiot” are fine per PC, but “retarded” is not. I can assure you, as the mother of an amazing daughter with serious cognitive disabilities, all are equally hurtful. Similarly, “sucks” is an anti-gay slur, but it’s perfectly fine according to PC and is widely used by people who would never use other anti-gay slurs.

              1. Cherith Ponsonby*

                Similarly, “sucks” is an anti-gay slur, but it’s perfectly fine according to PC and is widely used by people who would never use other anti-gay slurs.

                I honestly did not know this. Thank you.

                (Now that I do know this, I feel it’s important to reclaim the word, because I don’t see why a perfectly lovely action (assuming consent) should be considered pejorative.)

        3. PLS in a PLSS state*

          If you are from the U.S. you are not entirely correct.

          My industry is in the US and interacts with the building industry. We have a document which when I give the name pretty much tells you the industry. It is the ALTA/NSPS land title survey. It is VERY specific on language that you can use for a lot of items and in Table A, item 9 they talk about the parking spaces. And there they are called disabled spaces. So we are not allowed to call them “handicapped” on our maps because we would not be in compliance with the rules of the survey.
          In my state, the paperwork for the permits and plates are labelled disability parking. So things are changing. And I am OK with that. My dad lost his leg to a 6 foot ladder when I was a young child and let me tell you, he was disabled but he sure the heck wasn’t handicapped. He just found new ways to do stuff and was a force to be reckoned with.

        4. Temperance*

          I think “accessible” is considered most polite. I’m in the US in a major city and work with some orgs serving people with disabilities, though, so I’m not sure if this is something that’s widespread.

        5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That’s not the proper terminology, anymore, in most parts of the United States. “Handicap parking” still exists as a phrase, but when speaking about people, the common terms are “people with disabilities,” “disabled people,” and “differently abled people.” When referring to physical issues (parking, ramps, doorways, appropriate restrooms, signage that folks with colorblindness or poor vision can see, ASL translation and the like), folks talk about accessibility.

          There are certainly pockets where people still use “handicapped” non-pejoratively, but it’s also considered a slur in many parts of the country.

          1. You're Not My Supervisor*

            But wouldn’t you say a parking spot was “handicapped accessible”? Not just “accessible”? If I was told “don’t park in that space, it’s accessible,” I would have no idea what you meant.

            1. Luku*

              Regional difference maybe? In my area most people understand that “accessible” means “people with wheels or canes can access”.

            2. Kelsi*

              Speaking for here, even if I had to specify, “handicapped accessible” wouldn’t be the natural choice. “Wheelchair accessible” would be more likely.

              On the other hand, the sign that you hang on your mirror to show you’re eligible to park in those spaces is, at least colloquially, referred to as a handicap sticker here, so…who knows.

              1. fposte*

                I like “wheelchair accessible” because it’s a reminder that there’s a specific kind of access it’s helpful with rather than just being an automatic clearing of obstacles for every kind of disability.

                1. JessaB*

                  Yes and often they are not accessible for other persons. The rules about parking are arranged around wheelchair access. Which means they need to be near a curb cut etc. Which often means they are NOT near a door. My disability prevents me from walking distances but does not require a wheelchair yet. Able bodied people take the spaces by the door and my wheelie friends have no issues with an extra few yards from the parking spaces.

                  Me, I hobble around and need my inhaler by the time I get to the building because accessible means “every space is about wheelchairs, not people carrying oxygen, not people on canes or frames, but wheelchairs.” Which means those spaces are too far away for people who walk but are extremely limited in how far/how easily they can do that.

                  And if you suggest they put a couple of spaces by the door, they tell you legally they can’t because ramps and curb requirements. Even if they have 100 spaces with ramp and curb requirements having two without is illegal in the US.

                2. fposte*

                  @JessaB–exactly. There are a lot of beneficial accommodations that don’t help everybody. One of the challenges in talking about ability, I think, is to resist the notion that there’s any kind of one-and-done solution, whether it be language or physical accommodation.

              2. Indoor Cat*

                Huh. I use the term “handicap sticker” and “handicap parking” myself (for my own parking), although weirdly I don’t think anyone has ever referred to me as a handicapped person except in paperwork.

                I don’t think I’d be offended; probably I’d figured they were just out-of-touch, since handicapped was the correct term back in the 70’s. Plus, you know, it’s not hard to tell the difference between someone well-meaning but clueless and someone who, on some level, believes that you’re disgusting or frightening or inferior and is just trying to hide it.

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        I never realised it was a slur to say handicapped, it’s not a word I’ve heard used in a long time but I thought it had just fallen out of fashion rather than was considered offensive.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          This is an interesting read: http://mentalfloss.com/article/69361/why-did-disabled-replace-handicapped-preferred-term

          For me personally, the word disabled sits at the right point. I don’t identify with the word handicapped. It makes me sound fundamentally inadequate and incapable.

          But I also don’t like being told: you’re not dis-abled, it’s the environment that’s at fault, you’re just differently abled and at a disadvantage because you live in a world designed by and for able people. Yeah no. I am disabled in any environment. I will never be able to stand up for long periods of time, or drive, for example.

          I like the word disabled because it sums up the fact that there is stuff I can’t do.

          I don’t know if this is too off-topic and I’ll understand if the comment doesn’t make it out of moderation.

          1. Gaia*

            See, and for my family we identify with handicapped instead of disabled because there are limitations but not a complete inability which is how “disabled” sounds to us. I think it is going to be really personal and we shouldn’t make sweeping statements and just go with what each person prefers.

            1. NW Mossy*

              My mom (who’s in her 70s and has had physical limitations since birth) mentioned to me once that she still thinks of herself as “crippled,” because people used that term a lot when and where she grew up. It’s generally considered a beyond-the-pale term today, but for my mom, it’s part of her identity.

              1. Em*

                In my circle, we use the word “crippled” but generally referring to a temporary state — eg if someone has broken a leg or had knee surgery or something, you might say, “Do you want me to carry that since you are crippled up?” I’m trying to think if anyone I know refers to someone who is permanently disabled as “crippled” or “a cripple” but I don’t think anyone does anymore, although that’s the way it was used when I was a kid.

              2. Lora*

                The first time I heard anyone say this, I thought I had somehow mis-heard them referring to gang membership. You know, like the Crips and the Bloods and whatnot. I mean, I had mis-heard them, I just didn’t know it could be used as a noun as in “he’s a cripple.” Like, don’t mess with Tony, he may look innocent and harmless with those braces on his legs, but he will TAKE YOU DOWN MOFO!

              1. paul*

                That’s because it is, and it is inane.

                I’ve got a friend in a wheelchair and it can be a bit…astonishing…how viscerally he hates that phrase when people that aren’t disabled try to tell him that he’s “differently abled”. I can’t blame him either; it’s not like not being able to stand up or walk is actually helpful. I still kinda blanch when gets going on it though, he just gets so intense.

                1. fposte*

                  The comedian David Birnbaum, who’s used a wheelchair for decades, years ago posted a hilarious gloss on how he hears many of the common terms. His take on “differently abled” was “modern, annoying, sounds like I signed up voluntarily to be in a wheelchair.” (His take on “wheelchair bound” – “similar to the song ‘homeward bound’ but you change 1 word and never stop singing.”)

                2. Anion*

                  I once participated in a discussion online about autism, etc., and a woman said something like, “I don’t have any children blessed with autism, but…”

                  My eldest daughter is on the spectrum (high enough to test out after therapy, but she’s still quirky and awkward), and I was furious by how patronizing her comment was. “Blessed with” autism? Like if I don’t think it’s wonderful to see my baby struggle sometimes with social cues etc., something is *wrong* with me? Like I’m supposed to be thrilled about that?

                  It just seemed and felt like such an obvious, cutesy attempt to “find a different way to describe” someone with autism or autism itself; it felt to me like she saw autism as an inherent negative and was basically trying to pretend she didn’t see it that way, so decided to use a head-patting phrase like “blessed with” instead. Especially coming from someone whose children are *not* autistic. Lady, don’t pretend you wish your kids were autistic or that you think it’s some kind of “blessing.” It’s not a curse, and it’s not something anyone should be ashamed of, but I doubt any parent of an autistic child would call it a “blessing,” either, and for her to refer to it that way also felt like she’s judging those parents for not being as enlightened as herself.

                  My kid is different from other kids. She’s awesome and delightful, I love her like crazy, I would never want to change her, and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed, but I don’t pretend that the day we were told she was probably autistic was the best day of my life, either, or that my husband and I sat there pumping our fists and going, “Yes! We were hoping our daughter would have developmental delays and trouble making friends! We’ll never be able to take her to the movies because they’re too loud and she panics! We’ve won the ‘blessing’ lottery!”

                  My daughter is a blessing. Her delays etc. are not. It’s patronizing to the extreme to pretend you think they are, especially when doing so makes it clear your feelings are the opposite. I would never walk up to your friend in the wheelchair and say, “I haven’t been blessed with an inability to walk, the way you have.” No person would, because it sounds so condescending. But some people seem to think that when you’re discussing autism or other neuro disorders or developmental delays, you have to dress it up somehow. Just say you don’t have any kids on the spectrum, lady; no need to pretend you go to bed every night disappointed by your kid’s neuro-normality and praying that that changes. And no need to imply that you think parents who are dealing with something you’re not are somehow ungrateful to not view that as a “blessing.”

                3. Candi*

                  Anion, I was diagnosed with high-functioning Asperger’s Syndrome before it was folded into the rest of the ASDs with the DSM V.

                  There are some advantages. There are also many disadvantages. And some apparent advantages can be disadvantages.

                  For instance: I can read the first paragraph of a book or article, or see a few minutes of a show, and remember, “I’ve seen this before,” complete with plot and multiple details. Great for schoolwork; I rarely had to study. Awful for entertainment; so much skipping and fast forwarding because ‘I remember this’ and just not being able to enjoy redoing certain things. (Although Horrible Histories, the Deverry Series, H. Beam Piper’s works, and multiple Eipix games don’t fall under that for some reason.) Part of the reason my reading criteria has long been “whatever looks interesting” is I constantly crave something new. (I love this site for that as much as the useful information.)

                  My body-language-reading skills bite, I had to consciously learn and process most social cues, I’ve bombed more interviews then I care to remember, and it’s frustrating to make anyone comprehend what I’m telling them verbally because I get so tangled. (In writing I’m much better.)

                  In the end, it’s no blessing. The costs are not worth what has been lost.

              2. SarahTheEntwife*

                And you’d never use it for someone with *greater* abilities at something than average even though by the straightforward definition of the term, most professional athletes are differently abled.

              3. Blue Anne*

                Yeah. The first time I heard that term was in the movie Saved (2004!) Hillary Faye, the Ever-So-Good Christian Girl Who is Actually A Jerk, is saying to her paralyzed brother “Why do you have to make everyone feel so awkward about your differently-abled-ness?!”

                Even at that point it was a cruddy term.

                1. VintageLydia*

                  I love that movie. My husband grew up in that evangelical culture so it’s extra funny to him. But that’s the first time I heard that phrase, too, and I almost never hear it from actual disabled people. Definitely informed my opinion on that phrase.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I think the goal was to get “abled” people to understand that they aren’t the default and that they should not design the world in ways that exclude or make it difficult for folks with disabilities. Essentially it’s trying to get folks to understand that exclusion is a choice, not a natural consequence of “how the world works.”

              I don’t think the phrase accomplishes that goal, particularly if a person with disabilities doesn’t like the phrase or identify with it (or in that way), but the bigger picture conversation seems valuable to me.

            2. Indoor Cat*


              1. It’s patronizing


              Like, frig, I appreciate the social model of disability to a point, but we have crossed that threshold when I have extra work to do because of a terminology change.

      3. bopper*

        I think there is a differnce here…if you say “that movie was retarded” you are using retarded as a slur.
        Would you say that movie is “handicapped”?
        or would you say there are handicapped bathroom stalls or that person is handicapped? Then it is not a slur, just not a perferred word by the people who have that aspect to them.

          1. The Snark Knight*

            But I’m not disabled. Disabled means that I can’t do something. handicapped means I have a harder time doing it.

            My hearing isn’t disabled, it’s impaired or handicapped, nor am I disabled by my autism. I’m quite able, thank you.

            1. Anna*

              I think if anything, it shows that this is incredibly personal and if you prefer to correct how someone refers to you, that’s all right. When we talk about groups of people, there’s no way a consensus can be reached on how everyone wants to be referred to, so maybe we do our best and risk making errors, but definitely don’t use differently abled. :)

          1. Lissa*

            TBH, I think people should be able to use whatever term they want to describe themselves, and that considering there’s such a wide range of likes and hates for certain terms, unless someone is obviously using a term as a slur to give the benefit of the doubt that they are using a term that might be acceptable. I’ve seen way too many arguments about whether or not somebody should “Call someone out” on their language, but the other person isn’t using a term that’s “wrong”, just one that the other person doesn’t prefer.

            That said it’s always fine to correct a term if someone’s applying it to you, I’d think.

            1. The Snark Knight*

              I don’t understand why “handicapped”, is offensive and disabled is not. Handicapped means a condition that markedly restricts ability. Disabled means UNABLE to do something.

              I am not without abilities. My hearing is not disabled, I am not deaf. I am hearing impaired, my hearing is handicapped.

              1. fposte*

                It’s a larger language thing. Steven Pinker calls it the euphemism treadmill, which I think makes it sound a little worse than I think it is, but it’s still a good phrase.

                Basically, one way nomenclature keeps changing is to lose old connotations and pick up new ones. That happens in business all the time–HR used to be Personnel, and our fundraising department has gone from Fundraising to Development to Advancement.

                If you’re a really literal person that can seem needless–why are you losing a perfectly accurate name? And sometimes it really is a treadmill, in that the connotations remain the same and you just get them with a new term. But sometimes there really can be value in saying hey, this is something we got called by people who thought we sucked or just patronized the hell out of us, and we’d like not to think about those people every time we describe ourselves.

      4. Anonymousaurus Rex*

        That’s not just in the UK– in the US disability community it’s really not acceptable either. I work with disability advocates, and was actually surprised to know the reasoning behind it has to do with the etymology of the word itself.
        “Handicapped” refers to someone who has a disability and holds out their cap for a hand-out. When seen in this context, it really made a lot of sense as to why many people with disabilities might bristle at the term. I’ve banished it from my working vocabulary.

        1. fposte*

          The thing is, that’s absolutely false as an etymology. It’s never referred to that. My guess is that people who are uneasy with the term for other reasons wrongly parsed the etymology of the word in a way that supported their dislike and never bothered to note that it’s not true.

          So there are some reasons to dislike “handicapped,” but the etymology isn’t one of them. (I actually kind of like it for the real etymology–I’m running the same race but I’m having to carry a heavier load on the trip.)

        2. Optimistic Prime*

          It actually comes from the game “hand in cap,” which involved a neutral party evening the odds in the game. It was eventually extended to horse racing, in which better horses wore heavier weights, and then the idea of carrying an extra burden that inhibits one was eventually ported over to people to describe disability.

          1. Triplestep*

            Correct, but enough people believe the explanation Anonymousaurus Rex wrote that it’s taken on a life of its own.

      5. Julia*

        In Germany, people use ‘behindert’ (disable) like English speakers use retarded, as in ‘that’s so behindert’. It makes my blood boil.

        I once talked with a friend about people in our circles (academic foreign language and culture studies) not using it at least, only to come across someone online from my field who would throw it around like free candy. Like, ‘the news coverage about Japanese politics is retarded’ and similar. I have asked them to stop several times, and reported them to the admins, but it’s a gaming forum, so it didn’t work and the person only doubled down. (Granted, they also said that they liked Japan because of the ‘exquisite women, especially compared with women here’, so I didn’t have much hope. Yuck.)

    3. Mookie*

      I find that over time people start to “not say it around you” so as not to hear about it. Honestly that just means it’s working.

      Exactly. Barring a formal law covering hate speech (or some such) or an organized campaign targeting the use of a specific word, this is often exactly how epithets and pejoratives fall out of favor. Enough people object to it forcefully and consistently in day-to-day interactions that it becomes inconvenient to use as faithful users of it grow increasingly wary of pushback, and either limit their usage to people ‘friendly’ to the term (a group that shrinks over time) or simply allow it to cycle out of their normal vocabulary.

      Regarding the pejorative we’re discussing here, I distinctly remember using and hearing it as a child, but, being privileged enough to never have had it directed at me, I can’t even pinpoint when I and everyone around me stopped using it, but I certainly don’t hear it much now and doing so would feel jarring.

      1. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

        I’ve only had it used against me a couple of times by other people; mostly I call myself it. Learning French was a trip, though, since it sounds like a perfectly innocent word in that language.

        1. SchoolStarts!*

          Yes, I was saying just that to my daughter the other day. Retard…and then in French, retard, which means late.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            I found that out when I was late for a train out of Paris and the member of staff I spoke to told me “the train has gone you retard”

            1. Zathras*

              This reminds me of a time I had been reading in French while waiting for a train, and a friend called me to see if I was on my way. I tried to tell her the train was late but had a linguistic brain fart and said “The train is retarded.” Even worse, my brain ever-so-helpfully dredged up *exactly* the exasperated-middle-schooler emphasis and tone age-13 me would have used, before I understood it was hurtful and stopped using the word.

              Luckily there was no one else nearby on the platform to hear. My friend went “what?” She laughed her head off when I managed to frantically explain what I had actually meant to say.

              1. blackcat*

                LOL. I can totally imagine doing this.

                When my husband and I were waiting for a (very late) bus in France, I asked another person there if they knew for certain if the bus ran on Sundays (it was Sunday). This sparked a whole conversation among strangers, as none of us knew for certain (all tourists, but many people from other parts of France).

                I did not warn my husband of what I was doing, so he then confusedly asked me what was going on/what were we all talking about. I said, “No one knows if the bus walks on Sundays.” Him: puzzled face. Me: “Uh, in France, busses do not run. They walk.”

                So, yeah, I totally give a French speaker a pass on describing something that is late as “retarded.” Faux amis (false cognates) and idioms are hard!

                1. Specialk9*

                  I *love* those idiosyncrasies in language. Even better when you hear someone use one in English and you know their native language.

                  In Hebrew, people “jump” over to someone’s house to visit, instead of come over or go over.

              2. Specialk9*

                I wheeze-laughed till I had tears in my eyes. If you had just said the word normally, it might have been less bad, but to say it with pre-teen disdain… Oh man.

                And I’ve totally done that language shift and had a laggard foreign word (pronounced like English) be super inappropriate.

                1. FormerEmployee*

                  Thanks to all of you for the French/English laugh/lesson.

                  I, too, had tears in my eyes about the walking bus and the unfortunate train situations.

        2. blackcat*

          It is also a term with a technical meaning in physics, and I have laid down many admonishments to students who joke about “retard potential.”

          (“Retarded potential”/”retarded function” has a mathematical meaning that has to do with how you are treating time as a variable. It is similar to the french usage, in that the effect is to delay certain physical effects. I believe French mathematicians deserve the credit, so the term is entirely unsurprising.)

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Yes originally I think the phrase – when it was used medically – came from “delayed” in the same way we might refer to delayed development of speech in a child, etc. Actually “cretin” was also once a medical term (again, I believe – I’m not an expert) – many formerly neutral words gained cruel meanings over time as they were used as insults, and are now no longer neutral.

              1. TootsNYC*

                And in fact, I remember when “mentally delayed” was proposed as the new official term, and after only a very few years, the schoolyard taunt was to call someone “a delay.” (accent on the first syllable)

              2. Elder Dog*

                A cretin was (is – it’s still a medical term although it’s seldom used because of the vulgarization of the term in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s) someone born with a malformed thyroid who did not produce the thyroid hormones necessary for normal brain development. The term is from the French and originally from an archaic version of the word meaning “Christian.”

          1. hermit crab*

            I also see it sometimes as a more general verb in scientific writing, for example “Chemical X has been shown to retard growth of plant stems.” I wonder if that usage is being phased out as well.

            1. Merida Ann*

              Any time I’ve encountered the word used that way, it’s pronounced differently, with the emphasis at the end of the word instead of the start, so even though it’s written the same, it’s not spoken the same, at least.

              1. Cercis*

                Hmmm, not here. It’s pronounced EXACTLY like the school yard taunt. You get used to it, but it’s jarring at first. And then you have to code switch for your audience.

          2. Construction Safety*

            The cam shaft timing and spark timing in your automobile can be advanced or retarded to vary the performance of the engine.

          3. Solidus Pilcrow*

            It’s also a musical term to slow the tempo. For example, “poco a poco retard” is to gradually slow down rather than abruptly changing the tempo.

            1. lemonjelly*

              Except that’s usually seen written as ritard., an abbreviation of the Italian word ritardando. It’s also frequently abbreviated rit.

            2. Liane*

              The musical term is ritard or, in the phrase you used, poco a poco ritardando.

              And I was called retarded by a lot of kids in school, so THAT use of retard cannot die fast enough. Probably, I suspect, because my second grade teacher believed I was, since I was dIdn’t do well with recess and PE stuff. (WTF? ) Or so she told my dad. My grown up reaction: “How did the @#$% survive that conference? Are there Guardian Demons for evil people?” (Dad was quite protective) and “Guess she couldn’t read, because it was in my records that First Grade Teacher tried to get me promoted midyear!” What a mean, ignorant, disgrace to the profession.

          4. Jolie*

            I’m Romanian, living in the UK, my boyfriend is British.
            One time I returned from a trip to see my family back home with a box of some kind to cold /cough medicine bought in Romania: Mucosolvan Retard.
            My boyfriend was like :”Why is there a slur on you cough medicine??”

          5. Specialk9*

            It’s like the term “aborted”. In non-pregnancy topics, it should still be fine, but darned if I can keep myself from erasing and finding another phrasing. Just too loaded.

          6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think when you’re using it to mean “slowed,” and you’re not referring to human beings, it’s not considered pejorative. At least that’s been my experience.

        3. Bobbocio*

          It is perfectly innocent in French. It used to be that way in English too… still see it used for example, in “fire retardant”, labels

          1. Zahra*

            “Retard” as being late is totally different than “retardé” as in “mentally retarded”. And people do use “retardé” (again, as is “mentally retarded”) and “retardé mental” in everyday speech. And it absolutely is offensive.

            You know, for a French-speaking Quebecker who isn’t aware of the subtleties of English, the f-word is just a word. Does it make it any less offensive? Of course not. When I work around English-speaking people, do I say it? Of course not.

            Changing vocabulary around “retardé mental”, “mongol” and others is pretty much as easy as in English, since a lot of the usual alternatives can be directly translated from English to French.

            1. Humble Schoolmarm*

              Lol, The f-word being just a word in Quebec caused some issues in my middle school French Second Language class when we read a novel where a character said “J’ai f-é l’examen”

      2. Mookie*

        I don’t think anyone is railing against or discouraging the conventional, non-derogatory use of “retard” and “retarded” as conjugated verb, participle, and gerund in English. We’re talking about the pejorative.

    4. LQ*

      With my family I’ve been calling this “you can do better” words. And if they use one I offer up a better word (because honestly slurs are never the best word for the situation, usually not the most interesting, or even the most colorful, just the laziest). Though it often has required a conversation around the first time I do it and say “you can do better” and explain a bit of why.

      (And sometimes that “better” is an invective laden diatribe (like what Magic night might be) because just using the slur is inappropriate, but a lengthy well crafted insult sort of sets the bar higher (in a very weird way) of what that can sound like.)

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I think that’s a great approach. I’ve been corrected for words I used thoughtlessly (“gypped” and “lame” – whoops) and I admit my first instinct to being corrected is usually defensive, not like OH THANKS FOR HELPING ME BE MORE THOUGHTFUL, even though ultimately that’s what it was. It’s okay to feel momentarily ruffled/embarrassed, then take a deep breath and resolve to do better. There are *so many ways* we are ableist in language, everyone is making a mistake every day, unfortunately we all need to be patient with each other while we all try to learn. In this case, I think the Coworker is not as far along as she should be. I hope she starts self-correcting soon since she has been corrected a number of times and knows this language offends a colleague.

      2. Specialk9*

        Ooh I’m going to borrow this.

        I love devastating insults that avoid curses. You can get fired for calling someone an a*hole, but calling them a doddering dotard or impecunious cretin, you might slide on by. (Though dotard is momentarily not obscure. Thank Ob – I mean Kim).

        1. Bobbocio*

          Actually “cretin” is offensive to those with congenital thyroid deficiency – I know you didn’t mean anything by it of course.

    5. ThatGirl*

      My brother is intellectually and developmentally disabled.

      I’m 36 and over the course of my life the terms have shifted a few times, from “mentally retarded” to “mentally handicapped” to “developmentally disabled”. But using the “r-word” as a slur has never been OK in my book.

      My in-laws are lovely people, but my FIL (age 61) specifically had a bad habit of using “gay” and “retarded” casually (usually to refer to situations or things, not people, but even so). I had to ask him very firmly not to use either of those, especially around me, and mercifully he seems to have broken the habit.

    6. Andie Elizabeth*

      The place I work has both office work and warehouse work coexisting pretty closely, and I’ve had to make this point a lot. For the most part I just told my coworkers that “I don’t like that word, please don’t use it around me” and that put a stop to it 99% of the time. The guys still slipped because I’m sure they still used it all the time when they were working in the warehouse, but I had no jurisdiction out there and as long as I didn’t hear it, fine. (Obviously I would prefer they dropped it from their vocabulary entirely but that’s not up to me). They would apologize when they slipped and that was the end of it.

      One of them, though. He’s one of those guys who prides himself on not being politically correct. So after asking multiple times in the course of a few weeks, he’s in the middle of telling a story when he goes “I know you don’t like the word, but that’s just the fact of that matter, this guy was f*cking r*tarded,” and I saw absolutely fucking red. I think it’s one thing when an ingrained word slips out when you don’t mean it to, but it’s entirely another thing to make the conscious decision “I know this is an inappropriate word, and I know you’ve asked multiple times for me not to use it, but I’m going to use it anyway”.

      So I tore into him about the reason that I don’t like the word, and why I keep asking him not to use it around me, is because my partner’s younger brother has cerebal palsy, ie: he’s one of the people you’re referring to when you use the word r*tarded in a derogatory way. The look on his face and the sudden backtraking was priceless (and I didn’t like this guy anyway, so there was a lot of satisfaction there) but at the same time I am furious it had to get to that point.

      What I wouldn’t give for an actual HR department here *shakes head*

    7. Red 5*

      I agree that part of the key is don’t justify or debate.

      I’ve known a few people (thankfully only a few) that double down on this kind of thing when challenged, and that can be kind of hard to deal with, and debating or arguing only makes that kind of behavior worse.

      In the end, if the only thing I’ve taught them is that some people don’t want to hear it and in some contexts you don’t say it, I still call it a win. Because that’s one step closer to them realizing that maybe they should just stop in general.

      At the end of the day, if asked, I’ll explain that basically most words aren’t that important to me and even if there’s only a 1% chance that it’s hurtful, none of the rest matters to me because I don’t want to be hurtful, and especially I don’t want to hurt somebody on purpose, so why not just pick something else to say? That’s actually worked a couple times, but you have to know the person will be receptive to that, not everybody will. A lot will go on to the “it’s their fault for being sensitive” thing which you know, just shows me they’re not somebody I want to talk to anymore. Which you can’t do with co-workers.

    8. JenB*

      This approach really works!! When my husband and I moved back to his small town after living elsewhere for 5 years, we were dismayed to hear how many people used this slur and other disrespectful language. We simply said, “Please do not use that word around us as we do not like hearing it.” If they tried to get defensive we’d just say, “I don’t really care why you are using it, I just don’t want to hear the word so please use a different one when we are around. Thanks.”

      A while later my husband was golfing with the guy who was one of the worst offenders and that guy’s cousin. The cousin used the word and my husband’s friend corrected him with, “Hey man don’t use that word, that’s not cool.” Later my husband asked him about it and the friend said that since we spoke out against the word, everyone in the friend group stopped using it even if we aren’t around, because “none of us wanted to be an asshole.” Success!

    9. Stranger than fiction*

      I’m being sincere here, I swear. What words are appropriate to use instead? Moron and idiot seem the same to me.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Omg I’d never use it towards someone who is developmentally disabled. I meant when people are referring to a non-developmentally disabled person acting incredibly stupid. “I can’t believe she did that she’s so stupid” is ok?

          1. Annabelle*

            Honestly calling people stupid is still like, not great. It’s not on the same level of the R-word, but still. I think fposte’s example makes sense. If you’re frustrated and stay “omg the stupid copier won’t work” that’s one thing. But maybe don’t insult actual people.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Are you trying to tell me there’s no one in your life who you ever feel is acting stupidly that you comment on behind their back or to yourself?

                1. name*

                  Yes, and this would be a great place to replace “stupid” with, for example, “dangerous” or “ill-advised,” or something else which actually names the problem.

              1. Kelsi*

                I mean generally I comment on their choices, not on their innate mental faculties? Like–I can’t believe she did that, what an asshole! Or UGH, why is he so ignorant (in the sense that ignorance is a choice–say, spouting “vaccines cause autism” nonsense despite being provided with the ample evidence there’s no correlation).

                Your example of people who text and drive is a choice they’re making. There are plenty of words to verbally eviscerate folks who make uncool choices that affect everyone around them that don’t take you into offensive territory. (Other than perhaps offending folks who don’t like curse words, but that’s a different conversation)

              2. Annabelle*

                When I comment on someone’s behavior it’s normally like “why is he being such an ass?” or something of that ilk. I’m not saying I don’t get frustrated with people, but I generally don’t comment, to myself or others, on their mental faculties.

                I spend a lot of my down time in activist circles, and most of the disability activists I know have been rallying against the causal use of abletist terms for some time now. So I’ve tried my best to follow their lead and eliminate that sort of stuff from my go-to vocabulary.

              3. olives*

                One of my favorite ways to say things like that is to talk about the effect on me instead. That person is so “frustrating”, that situation was so “embarrassing”, this is really “aggravating”, that was so “irritating”.

                Usually those feelings are what is actually bothering you – it’s not necessarily inherent to the person / thing.

                There are always ways around lashing out at people and things, even verbally, and still expressing what you mean.

            2. TootsNYC*

              My children went ballistic if I used the word “stupid.” In ANY context.

              “That’s a bad word, Mommy,” they would scold me. “We don’t say ‘stupid.'” It didn’t matter if I was saying the dishwasher was stupid–it was a bad word and they would make me stop.

              Ditto “dumb.”

          2. name*

            A thought–you might start by asking what you are trying to communicate when you refer to someone (or something) as “stupid.” When I find myself using that word, it’s often as a kind of shorthand or catchall for any number of things (“frustrating,” “annoying,” “incorrect,” “poorly designed,” etc). If I force myself to be more specific, I’m better able to avoid harm and likely to communicate more effectively.

      1. Emi.*

        I think “moron” and “idiot” are less offensive because their use as technical terms is much further in the past (and possibly even apocryphal?). “Retarded” was an actual diagnosis in recent memory, so its use as a slur more immediately evokes “I ostracize you just as I ostracize children with disabilities!”

        I’m having trouble coming up with a situation where you would need a substitute but couldn’t just decide not to call people names instead. Why shouldn’t we just take this as a call for everyone to be more polite in general? But otherwise, slurs like “retard” are usually quite general, so say whatever specific thing you would use as justification if someone said “Why do you think he/she is a retard?”

      2. Annabelle*

        Why do you need to call people names anyway? Those are both ableist terms for sure, but they’re also just really unkind and I don’t think there’s a need for insults in professional spaces.

          1. Snark*

            I get a little more specific with my printer. “Cough up my goddamned print job or I’ll Office Space your beige ass, you embarrassment to the field of mechanical engineering!”

    10. Emi.*

      I really like the “we” because it’s less adversarial. It sounds like not using words like that is part of taking care of a our community or something we have in common, which sounds corny but I think it’s true. I’ve also had success with this technique when one of the guys in my research group called someone a “p*ssy.” (He seemed taken aback by the idea that it was offensive to anyone except the guy he directed it at, like it had never occurred to him, and then he just accepted it and I never heard him say it again. YMMV with people who are more jerks.)

    11. Peach*

      Greg M. – I know what you mean. I was at a restaurant and someone used the word “accessible” to refer to specific washrooms. RIGHT IN FRONT OF EVERYONE, with no shame as far as I could tell. I tried explaining to him how non-inclusive that term was, but it went right over his head. I mean, society has made so much progress in some areas, but in others, it seems like it it is two steps forwards and then one backward. It’s almost 2018 already – you’d think people would be using inclusive language as the standard by now.

      1. ZTwo*

        I have to admit, I’m genuinely confused because accessible is generally the preferred term here (in the US) for a bathroom that is wider or has bars in it to aid with mobility issues. Not sure if I’m missing context or a parody?

            1. Peach*

              If anyone is still reading this thread…

              Yes, of course I shouldn’t have been so surprised. As much progress as society has made, I think 2016 showed that it hasn’t happened everywhere equally, and some people still think its fine to separate out some people from others, even for things as universal as bathroom needs.

              1. Tara*

                Mind explaining what on earth you think the acceptable term is, then? I literally could not find anything anywhere that recommends calling it something else. You’re being rather insulting for someone that isn’t offering up an alternative.

      2. Tara*

        I gotta say, I’m with ZTwo on the confusion here. I even decided to google it to see the reasoning, but could only come up with a dozen sites that said basically “Don’t call them handicapped washrooms, instead call them accessible”.

    12. FortyTwo*

      I never had “retard” as part of my working vocabulary, so that hasn’t been a problem. However, recently someone complained about “crazy,” and I realized that I didn’t have great alternatives to it (and “insane”). As someone said above, though, avoiding these words allows me to be more specific: “erratic,” “irrational,” “unpredictable,” “ill-conceived,” “inexplicable,” etc.

  2. Birdie*

    #2 I would keep reminding her. It took me too long to quit saying that awful word, but I’m so glad I did. Sometimes it’s a bad habit and the people using it don’t understand the effects. You are doing the right thing.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Same here. It was regularly used when I was growing up and I thought nothing of it. It was just a word kids used as an adjective for anything (people. places, things, etc.) they considered stupid. Now that I’m older, I totally realize why it’s a slur and I don’t use it. I have a much older sister who still uses it and her kids use it, and I cringe every time I hear it. I try to correct them, but they are basically, “yeah I don’t care.” It’s just so ingrained in her, and them because they’re her kids, that I don’t think she will ever wipe that word from her vocabulary. One of my nieces by another sister used to work with the mentally disabled as a job coach and she always yells at her for using that word.

    2. Lindsay J*

      Yes. It sounds like she does acknowledge that it is hurtful and is making an effort, but it can be difficult to excise these types of words from your vocabulary – especially if they are words that do not make you personally viscerally upset, or if they are words that you used a lot previously (like as a teenager).

    3. shep*

      Same. I used to say it when I was a kid, but washed myself of the habit by high school. My old boss was overall a very well-meaning person, but she had a knack for using that word CONSTANTLY. We were the same age, and although most of my peers had stopped using it by the time we were in high school/college, I don’t think she ever realized how offensive it was in order to take it out of her vocabulary.

      I regret that I didn’t do more to ask her to stop, but she was my first boss and I was new to the work world and felt like I didn’t have latitude. (She was also extremely young and had some issues with professionalism. Really liked her as a person, but she wasn’t the greatest boss.)

      1. Specialk9*

        In the future, without saying a word, put a picture of a kid with Downs syndrome in a picture frame on your desk. Don’t mention it. Let the picture make the message for you – this could have been my brother, you don’t know, now do you get why that term is so bad?

    4. Justin*

      Yeah I resisted it too because it was normal to hear, and I think a lot of the time it’s the idea that realizing you are saying a slur makes you come to terms with your own flaws.

      I had to shake a friend back and forth (metaphorically) a few weeks ago for saying it on facebook (and he’s a goddamn teacher). And he went all “rick and morty i don’t care about PC blah blah.” For an educated educator, it was remarkably obtuse, but I think, for many, it’s just not wanting to be told what to do.

      That doesn’t excuse it though. They know not to say the n word (well…. most people do….)

      1. Justin*

        Sorry for the profanity, it made me really upset that a close friend (and fellow educator) would do such a thing and defend it on Cartman-like stubbornness grounds.

    5. Zahra*

      I know it’s not easy in the heat of the moment, but could you start adding “yes, you shouldn’t use retarded when you mean [non-ableist alternative]”. Also “oh, you mean [non-ableist alternative]”.

      Most people know they shouldn’t use that word but don’t know what they could replace it with: it’s so automatic to use retarded that they just can’t see beyond it. Even if they know the alternative words and use them in different contexts.

      I’ll add a few links in my reply to pages that have a list of non-ableist alternatives (at least, I didn’t spot ableist words in there).

      1. fposte*

        I think it’s good to have alternatives at the ready, but I think telling people what they mean has high backfire potential. That’s why telling them you don’t like a word tends to work better; it doesn’t sound like correcting speech.

        1. Zahra*

          I think you’re right about that. However, something like “I agree. This sounds ridiculous.” maybe could help turn things around. The only thing is that I’m pretty oblivious to such subtle cue. Give me, explicitly, a list of alternatives and I’ll do my best to use them.

          Maybe offer up the alternatives in the private discussion AAM suggested?

          1. fposte*

            Yes, I think that’s a more useful place for them, and I like your notion of expressing agreement with the emotion.

      2. Employment Lawyer*

        As someone who tries to convince people for a living, the issue is probably “ableist” and not “retarded”.

        Which is to say: If you’re trying to get someone to use a different term like “differently abled” it is possible. People can switch words.

        But many people are trying to get someone to agree that there is no functional difference between the two groups. IOW, they assert that people with mental handicaps are on the same mental level of people without mental handicaps, and that considering that difference is “ableist”. That gets a lot of pushback.

    6. Iris Eyes*

      Do please keep in mind that it isn’t always an inappropriate word. For example children’s sleepwear is supposed to be flame retardant. Retard means to slow, and there are perfectly legitimate reasons to use it when not referring to people. Just as it is perfectly ok to refer to an adult female dog who can/has reproduced as a bitch, that’s what that word means, however referring to a person by that term isn’t ok however accurate of a descriptor it might be.

      Really at a certain level its the attitude behind the words that we use that is more important. We don’t use some words because they carry baggage, but that isn’t the word’s fault. Retarded isn’t an awful word in and of itself, people who used it to mock and dismiss others as inferior are awful people (or, if you prefer, people currently being awful and ignorant.) I predict that, because every generation has people who need to tear others down to feel better about themselves, the words that are considered appropriate/inappropriate for those who deviate from average will change every few years.

      Your value as a person doesn’t depend on what others think of you, or what you can/can’t do, or how much money you make. If you don’t have to maintain your value in comparison to others you are freed to treat them well, you are freed to treat yourself well. You are freed to love.

      1. Amelia*

        Plenty of people have said why the find this word offensive. It is commonly agreed to be offensive. I don’t appreciate being schooled by you on why we shouldn’t actually find it offensive.

        1. Turquoise Cow*

          I don’t think Iris Eyes was saying why you shouldn’t find it offensive, I think the message was more that it is a legitimate word that still has a purpose in certain contexts – the word “bitch” to describe a female dog is a good parallel here.

          1. Winifred*

            I actually find the word “bitch” even when referring to a female, unspayed dog as offensive — it is completely unnecessary given how “normalized” the word has become and is mostly used to denigrate women.

        2. Iris Eyes*

          I’m simply pointing out, as many other commentors have, that the sounds of the syllables themselves aren’t somehow evil, there are many ways it is used in an appropriate way that isn’t derogatory to people. I’m sorry that you seem to have missed that I specified that it shouldn’t be applied as a descriptor of humans, that’s the offensive usage.

          1. Amelia*

            I did see that you said it shouldn’t be used for humans. What I should have said instead was that I don’t understand why you are bringing the use of the word in other contexts into this discussion–which is about a coworker using it inappropriately. Bringing up unrelated, innocent uses in the middle of this discussion is tone deaf, as would be bringing the unrelated use of the word “bitch” in a dog context into a discussion of a woman who was offended because a coworker uses it in a derogatory context. It seems like special pleading and minimizing, and comes across as patronizing.

            1. Iris Eyes*

              But we don’t know that that is the case. We don’t have the context of the word, just that the word was used. Regardless I would still like the emphasis to be on changing minds and hearts over patterns of speech (not that they are mutually exclusive.)

              Remember to that telling someone they are offended by something (which, yes, is the opposite of the LW situation) takes away from them their choice in how to consider themselves. That is part of the reason why some communities have chosen to “take back” the terms that others have used to degrade them.

              1. Snark*

                Unless they work in a children’s sleepwear company, my wager is that the OP knows very damn well what sense of the word their coworker was using, and it wasn’t the benign technical one. Move on. This is not a productive line of debate. We take OPs at their word here.

          2. Snark*

            You’re pointing out the obvious. Of course there are certain uses of the word that are not offensive. That’s so obvious that you’re coming off pedantic.

      2. Always Shaking My Head*

        So the word itself is not evil, but considering it has been used as an insult it should be used rarely and only for those instances where it is the accepted scientific term or when speaking in French. In both of these cases the word is used in the French meaning of slow and has nothing to do with insulting people. Outside of these instances the word should be avoided because no matter your intent you will sound like you are insulting people and belittling them. No matter what your personal opinion on the word the fact is you will seem rude if you insist on continuing to use the word simply because you don’t find it insulting.

      3. Birdie*

        I was using it as a slur in my own case (regrettably) . You are correct, in this case I’m assuming OP’s coworker is using it inappropriately.

      4. Specialk9*

        I don’t think anyone DOESN’T get that there are very narrow ways in which this and other words can be used appropriately. We all get the difference between “flame retardant” and “you broke my watch, you retard”. And we all get that “I’m breeding my terrier bitch with Pooky because he has fine haunches” is very different from “I hate you, you bleepin bitch”.

        It’s a reminder that is not applicable in this discussion.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          We don’t know that is the case. There are some people who have their sensitivity meter turned way up. Two people choosing to totally dismiss the comments of the LW after the derogatory use of the word has been taboo for a decade open up the possibility that the word might be being used in a technical way, we don’t have the context so we can’t be certain. Certainly, this could be a particularly out-of-touch group in which case I hope that the LW is able to reset what is considered normal and healthy conversation in a more positive direction.

          1. ZTwo*

            But generally here we take LW’s at their word. It seems really unlikely that the LW is offended that their coworker is talking about flame-retardant pajamas at lunch and far more likely that the coworker is, in fact, using an offensive word in a casual manner, as many people do. The fact that it’s been taboo for years doesn’t mean people don’t use it–there are other words that have been considered slurs much longer and are still used in a derogatory manner by many people.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            No—we take LWs at their word. Based on the context of the letter, it seems clear that OP is concerned that the word is being used pejoratively and not as an appropriate technical term. Even people with their “sensitivity meter turned way up” understand the distinction you’re drawing.

            I don’t know why you’re choosing this hill to defend; as Specialk9 notes, it’s not applicable or helpful for this specific letter.

      5. Jesmlet*

        It’s not even use in medical terminology anymore so if someone asks you not to use it, you really should respect that

      6. Ramona Flowers*

        “Your value as a person doesn’t depend on what others think of you, or what you can/can’t do, or how much money you make. If you don’t have to maintain your value in comparison to others you are freed to treat them well, you are freed to treat yourself well. You are freed to love.”

        That’s nice, if you can afford it. I still need to eat and pay bills. My disability has stopped me being able to afford that in the past.

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            Indeed for me this perfectly sums up why I dislike person first language. You can choose to see me as a person first but I don’t get to just disregard the things that make me less able, I can’t just put them aside and not have them be a lens through which my experience of the world is filtered.

            I don’t get to just be a person first. So when you try to describe me that way, it’s… unwelcome.

    7. Yomi*

      Agreed. This is actually a word I use as an example with people of something I had a hard time really completely wiping from my vocabulary, and one that I defensively didn’t see as a big deal at first until a very polite and patient person explained how hurtful it was to me.

      It’s not always the case, some people are jerks on purpose, but sometimes if you know the person’s character you can give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re trying. I’m so glad that my friend knew enough about me to understand that I wouldn’t want to be hurtful on purpose, I just didn’t understand. It just took time to retrain my brain, now it’s not even a word that idly crosses my mind when I’m looking for what I want to say, it’s basically gone from my vocabulary. But it did take work.

    8. Lissa*

      I admire those people who would correct every time, but I’ve gotta be honest here. If it was someone I was junior to and I didn’t feel like I had a lot of work credit, I cannot see myself saying it more than once. I just cannot see myself constantly correcting someone’s language if they are senior to me at work.

  3. Sami*

    OP#1: Keep up with your work against people using the R word. It’s simply offensive and has no place at work or anywhere else for that matter. I know it’s frustrating when people don’t seem to get that, but ultimately you’re doing the right thing and hopefully they’ll learn from you and this situation. Good luck!

    1. Lil Fidget*

      It can be done! When I was in elementary school both “gay” meaning something stupid, and “retarded” were common and I barely noticed them. There’s been such a big cultural shift that I would find either usage completely offensive now and would be really horrified to hear them at work. Persist, persist!

      1. Alli525*

        It’s also a maturity shift – I’m so glad my vocabulary has expanded to include MUCH more interesting (and sometimes hilarious) insults as I’ve grown older.

      1. academic escapee*

        Ah, you’re using “autistic shrieking” as an insult, because you disagree with someone’s choices/viewpoint? Just what is “autistic shrieking” supposed to mean, here? Nothing nice, presumably.

        As an autistic person you can of course describe yourself in whatever way works for you, but the fact that you are autistic yourself doesn’t make it any better to spew ableist stuff like that to make a point.

  4. Eric*

    #3: I wonder if this is just your bosses way of starting a conversation, and isn’t really about lunch at all. Maybe try thinking about it as if she was asking how everything is going.

    1. Monodon monoceros*

      This is what I realised about something annoying my boss was doing. I started a big project of updated all of our teapot designs, using specialised software that I was sent on a course to learn. Then for the next couple of months (which was within the estimated time for completing the project) every time she walked by my office she would say “still playing with the teapot design software I see”. “Playing” she would say. Every. single. day.

      Finally I asked her if there was something else I should be prioritising, because my assumption was this project was my highest priority, and she always seemed to be questioning why I was working on it. She was surprised and said no, that was my priority.

      I realised after that exchange that she had just been making conversation. A very annoying way of making conversation, but that’s all. Maybe the lunch questioning is this boss’s annoying conversation starter.

      1. Doodle*

        Oh wow! This reminds me of something that I hated with a previous boss/coworkers that I’m sure was in the same vein:

        I was the only one who who really traveled for work. I often had to run conferences in other cities, and without fail, boss/coworkers would say something like, “aren’t you excited to take a trip to [city]?” And then usually follow it with something they liked about that city. If pressed on it, I think all could intellectually understand that I’m working 15+ hour days in a convention center or hotel near the airport and then flying home to go to work the next day, literally never seeing any of the city. But they’d still say it every time.

        It was probably just a way to connect/acknowledge the travel. But wow did it bother me!

        1. birchwoods*

          Yeah I get this too. I travel a lot for work and sometimes I have more free time than other times. So it can definitely appear that I’m always spending a week in Greece or jetting off to London for the day, which is probably my fault because I really love Instagram and I also always try to find one small thing to do for myself on a trip. But more often than not I’m restricted to the hotel/a few cafes in the area/the time to grab a meal and not really time for sightseeing or tourism. I spent 2.5 weeks in Beijing and people were shocked that I did no tourism at all…. well that tends to happen when you’re working 14 hour days.

          1. OtterB*

            My office (small not-for-profit) has a policy that employees send a short trip report via email to the whole staff after a trip to a conference, running a meeting, etc., and then attach a printout of the email to their expense reimbursement request. In the report you talk about highlights of what you did for work, and you’re encouraged to mention something non-work – an interesting side trip or a funny airport story or an awesome restaurant. I think it’s the Executive Director’s way of reminding us that we’re allowed to be people and not just working robots.

            But, yeah, I staffed a meeting in Seattle one time where the meeting planner had finagled room upgrades for staff so that we all had balconies overlooking the water … and I was never in my room by daylight to enjoy it.

            1. Artemesia*

              I had a room on the beach in Jacksonville for a conference where I was a speaker and the plane was delayed and so I literally never once had time to set foot on the beach outside my door.

              1. Alli525*

                I flew to Houston once to run a 2-day conference. The only time I even saw the SKY was in my taxis to and from the airport – I was basically trapped in the hotel the entire time. Although part of that was my fault; I’d won the office’s NCAA basketball pool a couple days prior so I booked a massage at the fancy hotel spa. Could’ve gone outside, but the massage was the better call.

        2. McWhadden*

          Oh, man, I have definitely been on the other side of that. I definitely knew it wasn’t a vacation and that it wasn’t super fun for people. It was just a conversation starter more than anything.

          But I can definitely see how that would be frustrating.

          1. Doodle*

            Oh for sure! They were lovely people so I tried to remember that this was more my issue than anything they were doing wrong. Sometimes conversation starters are just awkward. (See: “how are you?” Or “happy birthday” when someone is very ill, etc.)

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah sometimes people just use a poor choice of words and don’t realize it. I like what you said to her.

    2. Mookie*

      Coming from a long-line of awkward interactors and oversharers, I think this is a possibility worth considering. Some people, as Monodon monoceros mentions above, really do unconsciously employ canned phrases and scripts like this*. A good test for it is answering in monosyllables — “yes” to “are you going to lunch today?” and “[time]” to “what time you are going to lunch?” — and then just looking expectantly at the person. If they’re just fishing for conversation and are hoping you’ll elaborate or try to explain more, they’ll find this pause uncomfortable and linger for a moment. If they’re genuinely interested in your answer, they’ll readily accept it and move on.

      *like when you mindlessly parrot what someone just said to you or when you pre-emptively respond “fine, thanks” when no one actually asked how you were

      1. a Gen X manager*

        oof. this is me. I don’t want it to be, but I am so ridiculously socially awkward that I find myself just asking questions so the other person/people will do the talking.

      2. a Gen X manager*

        ” awkward interactors and oversharers”
        I cannot adequately explain how deeply this resonates for me! Thanks, Mookie!

        1. Artemesia*

          I remember all those awkward moments when my elderly mothered shared all our current ailments and our life stories with, well any random stranger or sales person.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I wonder if there is some form of coverage involved? If not outward-facing, then her boss wanting to know when she’ll be available to take questions on something?

      If not, then it’s both a weird conversation-starter and a weird thing to believe upper management would care about. Probably makes sense to view it as how your boss says “goodmorninghowareyou.”

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Yes, this – my boss will ask that but it’s usually to make sure everyone doesn’t all go at once and there is enough phone coverage during the lunch period. (Having said that we all do sometimes find it irritating because we are able to work it out amongst ourselves and usually do!)

      2. Lunch Lady*

        It’s definitely not for coverage. The 4 people (including myself and the manager) schedule our lunches around each other. The manager is the only one who chooses not to take her lunch, and covers who ever goes out.

        1. Specialk9*

          Aha! This makes me think she may not be comfortable using her words and saying she wants to take a lunch. One explanation is passive aggressiveness, hinting that she’s unhappy. People often post a link about the difference between hint culture vs say it culture. (Someone help me out here with terms and link.)

          You guys may have worked out a system using words, and she used hints, and now feels slighted and disrespected. It’s a possibility. You might ask her outright if she’s happy with the system or if there’s another way to do it.

        2. Sarah*

          If your manager is the one providing coverage for you when you’re out to lunch, it makes perfect sense to me that she’d want to know when she’s going to be “on call” for taking over your duties. It sounds like you usually but don’t always follow a set schedule, so of course she’s going to want to know whether this is one of those days when she’ll be covering for you at a different time. Maybe it would help to post a paper schedule of lunch times in the office, and update it for days when someone has an appointment, etc. so the schedule has changed. That way you can point to the schedule when asked, and your boss can also quickly consult it to know when she’ll be providing coverage versus 2 or 3 other people being in the office.

          1. Lunch Lady*

            OP 3 Here

            Adding a bit more information

            As far as not taking my lunch on time I work in at a school and sometimes I end up going late because I am assisting families so 9/10 if I go late it’s somewhat out of my control since it would seem rude, for some conversations, to say to the families “Hey I have to go to lunch”. For some things I can pass it to my coworkers but not everything.

            I said in a response to someone else that posting a schedule ended up becoming a bigger issue than not having a schedule.

            My manager isn’t the only one who provides coverage there’s multiple people in our office all of us have coordinated our lunches around each other. We tried to include the manager but since she eats her lunch in her separate office she said its okay not to include her in our planning because she’ll tell us when she needs the time. We did try to plan our lunches with a enough time so whenever the manager decides to take her lunch it won’t inconvenience anyone.

            Also she doesn’t actually leave her office to provide coverage. She just makes sure to actually answer the phones (from her office). But other than that there’s not much she covers unless there’s only one other person and her or, if everyone but her is out of the office that day.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Maybe the company in the past got in trouble for not giving mandatory breaks lunch break to someone or some people,like maybe when the company was newer and smaller and now this boss is extra careful about it.

    4. Lunch Lady*

      Hi OP 3 here
      That’s a possibility I haven’t considered since she also is a huge micromanger and that’s may be clouding my judgement to non micromanaging behaviors.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        My sympathies for having a micromanaging boss. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. That’s a big reason why I left my last company. I couldn’t take being questioned about everything and treated as though I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. Never again!

      2. a Gen X manager*

        I am wondering if she actually has concerns about OP’s occasional “sometimes but rarely going 30-45 minutes later than usual” that she hasn’t addressed (but is mentally holding against OP and is perhaps trying to steer OP toward a strict lunch schedule without actually saying so or addressing the underlying concern).

      3. nonymous*

        Is it coming out of a place of perceived poor communication with the team? My boss current boss wants the illusion that all of his team is available at a drop of the hat to the rest of the team, so we have an online in/out board and I also note lunch status on IM.

    5. The Other Dawn*

      I wonder that, also. I’ll admit I’ve done that in the past when I’m trying to break the ice a bit and make small conversation. I don’t ask my employees on a daily basis when they’re going to lunch, but from time to time I’ve said things like that. I definitely wasn’t checking up on them, though.

    6. Emmie*

      I wonder if OP’s manager is trying to coordinate coverage, or manage work loads, or be aware of comings and goings for urgent or last minute projects.

    7. Specialk9*

      Or if the boss has a problem with when she goes to work but doesn’t want to Use Her Words.

      I once had a new manager ask when I planned to come in to work. I told him I usually work 9-5. He didn’t say anything. Then I get a call from the former person on that project – hey, he was upset you told him your work hours instead of asking, he wants you in at 7:30.

      Oh! Why the f#&$ didn’t he say so?! (Also, um, no. If you had Used Your Words like a big boy, I wouldn’t have accepted this project. I found another project in a month.)

      So this manager may be hoping that if she asks long enough, the worker will ask if there’s a problem with going to lunch at 11:30, and the manager can finally say ‘yes!!! I don’t get to have a lunch at all if you go then, how could you not have read my mind and known you’re being SO INCONSIDERATE?!’

      People are weird.

  5. Ellen N.*

    I used to work in an offices where coworkers used the word retarded all the time. I find it offensive. When the office manager used the word, I told him that as he was in management he was supposed to set a better example. When others used the word, I told them that they had no way of knowing what challenges their coworkers’ children faced and that if one of our coworkers had a child with Down’s Syndrome the use of the word retarded would be deeply hurtful.

    1. Eliza*

      Or what challenges the coworkers themselves may have faced, for that matter. My partner is a very intelligent woman, but she’s also dyslexic, and she was bullied at school and called retarded because of her learning disability. She definitely wouldn’t feel safe or comfortable in a workplace where the word was used casually.

    2. dragonzflame*

      Like when I was in high school and ‘gay’ was the word used to express displeasure. “That’s so gay”.

      Until one day one of our teachers called us out on it and pointed out that there was a reasonable chance that someone in our class was gay, and that we almost certainly knew someone who was (even if we were unaware), so in the interest of not hurting anyone’s feelings, we should stop. I stopped. Interestingly, it’s been a while since I heard that particular use of it, so maybe it’s died out?

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        That was fairly common when I was at school too in the early 2000’s, our head of year held a big assembly where she said the same sort of thing and it died out pretty quickly after that.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Same at my middle school (late 90s). I honestly didn’t even realize how messed up my language was until it was spelled out. And then I was horrified and have never used LGBT slurs, again.

          I hope OP persists on this. I know it might feel annoying, but in my experience, if you gently help people understand how hurtful their language is, they are often willing to shift it. If you make them feel attacked, taboo, or policed, they’ll often resist.

      2. Triplestep*

        I think it’s dying out. My kids are in their 20s, but when they were teens, it was more common. I don’t think they used it – we have too many Gay people in our family. But just to make sure, I once brought it up in conversation asking them how they’d feel if people said “That’s so Jew” to mean “That’s really inane”. (We’re Jewish). I think it made an impact on them, who knows. I don’t think they marched out on a mission to get their friends to stop saying “That’s so Gay”.

        I suppose this could be used in a work situation to encourage someone not to say “retarded” if you picked something benign about the person saying it (hair color, height) and filled in the blank. Not sure – maybe this only works with children or family-members.

        1. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

          >if people said “That’s so Jew” to mean “That’s really inane”. (We’re Jewish).

          Unfun fact: People at my high school did actually replace ‘gay’ with ‘Jew’ as Dumbasses’ Favourite insult for a little bit.

          1. Triplestep*

            I’ve had people tell me that “Jew it down” is a compliment, because Jews are such shrewd business people.

            1. Annabelle*

              Bleh, I’ve heard this too. It took me a depressingly long time to convince a close friend that she sounds suuuuper anti-semitic when she said that, even if it was “positive”.

            2. Alli525*

              OH yes. My brother* used to say “I’m gonna Jew you out of this” meaning he was going to haggle me down to an unreasonably low price. I don’t know if he’s completely stopped (he also uses ‘gay’ and ‘retarded,’ or did – I’ve been working on him and it seems to be helping) but it’s just such a lazy and mean insult.

              *To make the situation even stranger, we’re both adopted, and we believe his biological mother is/was Jewish, which technically makes him Jewish.

        2. Alex the Alchemist*

          Yeah that was one of my friends’ way of handling it when a mutual friend kept saying, “That’s so gay.” Or he’d respond with, “That’s so straight it’s not even funny.”

        3. Iris Eyes*

          As a woman with naturally strawberry blonde hair I can say that hair color is not exactly benign, to a lot of people that means I’m brainless and soulless (oh but that’s just a joke.) I’m not acutely offended by it, but I do wonder how it has impacted my thinking about myself or if other people have different expectations of my abilities because of it.

          My sister who has much more red, red hair has had to deal with crap about how she must have a temper and its a warning sign from God (which is possibly true but more probably self-fulfilling prophecy.)

          1. Specialk9*

            That red hair = soulless thing was something I hadn’t heard, as an American who has lived abroad a fair bit, until an online comment board by Brits. The only thing that makes sense to me is that it’s one of those things people do to dehumanize groups humans to whom one does atrocities… such as in this case the English trying to genocide the Irish through starvation and cultural suppression. Pretty gross actually.

      3. Myrin*

        Goodness, I wish. I’m not in an English-speaking country but weirdly, that kind of derogatory speech seems to transcend any kind of borders. It’s definitely still used heavily amongst teenagers here – especially teenagers who come across as kind of dumb in general, honestly – but weirdly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone past teenagehood use it (I mean, I probably have, but it must have been so rare that I don’t even remember it.). It seems to have a weird socio-cultural place here where most everyone grows out of using it but the usage itself somehow never dies. :|

        1. Zathras*

          Teenagers are pretty quick to pick up words their peers use and that their parents don’t, especially if there is anything ‘edgy’ about the word. I am somewhat ashamed to admit teenage me used both ‘retarded’ and ‘gay’ in everyday speech because my peers did. I don’t remember exactly what the trigger was to stop – I think I just eventually became aware how awful both terms were. But I remember that was my first exposure to how much of what comes out of our mouth is habit – even when I wanted to stop saying the words, they kept popping out for a while. (See also: the train story I posted above, which happened a good 15+ years after I successfully quit!)

        2. Julia*

          You’re in Germany, right? I’m German and as I pointed out above, I unfortunately hear both ‘gay’ and the German version of ‘retarded’ quite a bit from people out of their teens. Most of them don’t want to stop using those slurs even after I talk to them about it, although it seems as if I’ve at least convinced my brother to stop.

          Why is basic human decency and compassion not a mandatory subject in school?

      4. anon for now*

        “That’s so girl wearing a skirt as a a top!”
        Sorry, couldn’t resist, I used to love all those commercials that had to spell out to straight people why using “gay” in a negative way was hurtful/harmful…to gay people.

      5. The Other Dawn*

        Yup, “gay” was really common when I was growing up. And the same sister that still uses “retard” also uses “gay.” And so do her kids. I cringe every time I hear it. I’ve tried correcting, but it falls on deaf ears.

      6. BadPlanning*

        I had a very similar experience in school. It was a big self awareness moment for me — what I was actually saying. Like you, I still remember it.

        I had to make an effort to stop using retarded as well — it was also a popular phrase growing up.

        I recently was trying to describe the height of something and “I’m not a midget” came out. I was embarrassed. That’s not a term I want to use. Bad brain! Bad!

      7. Cruciatus*

        I remember the exact moment I realized I would never use “That’s so gay!” again. It was the early 2000s and I was maybe 19 and it was so common to hear, and I never really thought about what I was saying. I was just being totally thoughtless about the whole thing. We were at some weird dance a club on campus was doing and I said it in regards to a song playing to Jon who was gay and one of the few out people I knew on campus (or ever at that point). I will never know with 100% certainty if he heard me (music was loud), but I realized what I had just said and literally have never said it again (except for obviously writing it out right now). And that really cemented it to me that words are important and I also never wanted to make anyone feel bad because of something I said.

      8. Kelsi*

        I’m not being flippant, but I’m really a bit envious if that worked with your class…when I was in school (late 90s, so possibly the same time frame? not sure) people would have used that as an excuse to either witch hunt the gay person in the class, or, if they already knew, as an excuse to harass them further by using it even MORE often.

        Our teachers “solved” the problem by treating it the same way as they’d treat a curse word. You say it, you get a warning, keep saying it, detention. (I mean, you could still use it in proper context, but not as an insult/way of expressing dislike.) It sort of worked within the classroom, obviously did not work at all once the repeat offenders stepped outside of it.

    3. A Nonny Mouse*

      Pedantic comment, but it’s Down Syndrome. And a comment like that is offensive even if your child is genetically “normal.”

        1. Just Me*

          Thanks for these comments because for 50+ years I referred to it, as did everyone else, that I came in contact with, as “Down’s Syndrome.” I began to hear it referred to as “Down Syndrome” maybe 3? 4 years ago, and was struck by the difference.

    4. pop*

      I’m sorry, some of this is overly sensitive. If she’s not calling a person retarded, but maybe a process or a machine, it means its slow and stupid. It has a dictionary term.

      Now, calling a person this. . . another matter.

      1. Alli525*

        No. This is like calling something “gay” – you’re referring to something with a term that you indicate by usage as a negative one.

    5. Alli525*

      One of my favorite “this is why I left Wall St” stories is the time I had to explain to the sales team, then escalate to the president because they didn’t listen or care, why “tranny” was not an appropriate word to include in emails to clients. (We wrote research on transportation stocks.) I think they thought they were being cleverly brief, but transport–>tranny is only shaving off three letters, and the risk of offending someone is never worth those three letters.

      1. Lissa*

        Oh this is interesting! I hear car people use this term a bunch in relation to transmission, and had never cued that it would be offensive, even though I’d be *very very* offended to hear it used the other way.

  6. Artemesia*

    #5 Do your job relentlessly and well until you have a written offer you have accepted. If you successfully recruit new clients, it matters not that you will move on. It is work not play. Never count your chickens.

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

      Indeed. We hear so many stories about people being ghosted or not getting the job after a zillion interviews, so I would not count on this being a problem until the OP#5 actually has a new job offer and a start date in hand. And who knows how long that could take, even if they are actually offered the job!

    2. AndersonDarling*

      And this work trip is actually work, not a conference that would benefit the OP personally. If it was a big expensive training conference where the OP would earn a prestigious certification then there would be some ethical issues. The OP can keep drumming up business until he leaves the company, it doesn’t matter if it is here or there.

      1. OP#5*

        Hi! OP#5 here! Thanks everyone for their replies! I think the advice is great, and it was the guilt that was killing me. I’m not sure if a little more information changes your suggestions but here is more information. I was asked if I would like to attend this event/conference back in February (before the thought of a new opportunity crossed my mind). It’s an annual event, and I have attended 2/4 years I have worked at this firm (the first year not being invited, last year choosing not to attend due to a vacation scheduled the next week). It is a big industry event– with conferences, and exhibits and social events lasting a week. We’re attorneys, and we attend for networking-only purposes, meaning, we don’t attend the conference aspect. We generally have the days to ourselves (to do work that we have brought with us or whatever else), and a majority of our “work” is at night attending the networking and social events to (1) target new clients, and (2) strengthen our relationships with current clients. It is definitely work in the sense that we are up late courting businesses. It’s not a required event by any means.

        I guess what I am trying to say is, it’s more than a work trip, but less than a recreational trip?

        1. Where's the Le-Toose?*

          Doesn’t change the advice in my mind. You still don’t have a written offer and start date in hand from the new employer, and until those things arrive, I think most of us are in the boat of there is no ethical issue.

          And even if this offer arrives right after the conference, there is no guarantee that the potential client leads you generated at the conference, or the clients you’ve established a better rapport with, will follow you to the new firm.

          Have fun in Vegas!

        2. TootsNYC*

          “(1) target new clients, and (2) strengthen our relationships with current clients”

          Both of these things will benefit your employer even if you do leave pretty soon thereafter.

          There will be new clients identified, and you are not actually strengthening your PERSONAL relationship with current clients.
          Sure, it’s you doing it, and I’m sure part of it is the things you specifically, personally, do. But none of what you do will be wasted for the company.

          And, if you have in the back of your mind that you might leave, you can put a particular emphasis on building up your colleagues and your company in general, and not just your own abilities and services that you provide.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      So true. And you just can’t time exiting a job perfectly sometimes. Heck probably most of the time.

    4. Jenny Jenn*

      Agree 100%. I once had an interview in the morning then headed straight to the airport for a 3-day work trip for my employer at the time. I went directly to the airport from the interview and had to run around the airport to find a place to mail my thank you note. I ended up getting the job (and finding out during the work trip!) but committed 100% to my then employer. I would have done them a greater disservice by backing out of the travel at the last minute and making them scramble to cover.

  7. Argh!*

    re: #3 I check the schedule with my subordinates first thing most mornings to be sure that I don’t schedule something when I might be needed, or if something’s coming up that I wasn’t aware of. I don’t specifically check in about lunch, but just to put my own unit’s priorities in my head before I check my email. Maybe your boss was really saying what I’m saying here, and not that keeping tabs on you personally is necessary.

    There are way worse things that your boss could be doing! Just accept this habit and don’t let it get under your skin.

    1. Elsa*

      If you just have them check in on an online calendar you will have the info you want without also annoying the heck out of your staff.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Oh I don’t know, most calendar systems are immensely annoying.

        If there isn’t an issue with coverage, this just doesn’t need to be a thing.

      2. Argh!*

        That seems cold and impersonal, and would be annoying in its own way. If I scheduled a meeting and it turned out someone had forgotten to put something in the online calendar that would create more headaches.

        1. LQ*

          It isn’t cold or impersonal at all. I mean unless you aren’t interacting in any other way with your team. It’s just practical. And if someone misses something they decline or suggest another time. It’s all baked into the calendaring tool. It’s right there. And it lets you use person to person time for more important things that pulling out calendars and flipping through. (And how do you schedule rooms without an online calendar?)

      3. LQ*

        KEEP YOUR CALENDAR UP TO DATE is definitely the mantra when someone joins our team. It’s so weird when people don’t. And the only time my boss asks me about something for calendar is when he’s standing at my desk talking to me and I have my calendar open. I don’t know what I’m doing until the calendar tells me to do it. I obey the calendar.

        Mostly. But seriously, online/shared calendars are the best. Highly highly recommend.

        (For a little while we had someone who wanted to “just check in” and not use the calendar…that did not last long as everyone pulled up their calendar and tried in the kindest way to instruct the person on how to use it to check other people’s calendars.)

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I do keep my calendar up to date – my entire team is very careful about that – but my boss still wants us all to use this giant wall calendar and colored stickies (a different color for each member of the team) to indicate when we’re going to be gone more than a couple of hours, and she still wants us to email her a reminder, and despite all that, she also wants a reminder (face-to-face or text) when we’re actually leaving.

          It’s kind of exhausting. But whatcha gonna do? Outlook, stickies, email and text/talk, that’s whatcha gonna do.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            Ohhhh, I feel your pain. I have always been scrupulous about my online calendars, as was my office policy, but having to also do the whiteboard thing because 1 or 2 people weren’t, was SO frustrating!

            Worse, when I was scheduling big complicated meetings, via online calendars and *finally* getting a date, only to have the same person, every time, blithely come back with “oh, I’m on leave that day” – aaaaaargh!

          2. LQ*

            That sounds…exhausting. (And unless this was the only thing and only a weird quirk I might be looking elsewhere because oooof…but if that’s just sort of a weird quirk yeah…all the things I guess. )

    2. Oilpress*

      I sometimes do as well. That’s how I know when we might have time to participate an impromptu collaborative work effort. It also gives me an awareness of if/when they might have lunch plans so I don’t inadvertently prevent them from keeping those plans.

      The important thing is that this is not an attempt to log their minutes.

  8. Sue Wilson*

    #3: This sounds like a new manager who has heard management advice but doesn’t quite understand what it’s for. If she ever says that it’s good that manager’s check on their employees (and you’ve asked her to stop and she hasn’t), I would probe what she thinks the “checking”‘s purpose is, like “what are you checking for?”

    #5: I would reframe this for yourself. They aren’t sending you on this trip to be nice. You would not be going if they didn’t think they were going to get some productive work done. You would be going even if you hated traveling, trips or Las Vegas, since this probably has to do with your job. Which is to say, even if this was not a nice thing for you, you would still be going. They are not treating you so much as they’re treating the business, and some of that splashes on you in a way you like.

    1. Lunch Lady*

      OP 3 Here

      She’s been my manager for 5 years but, it makes me wonder if she heard it at some sort of recent training.
      My post in the letter is the answer I got for asking “What are you checking for”,and she’s got visibly upset and a bit aggressive in tone.

      1. Sue Wilson*

        Hmm, has she just started doing this then? If she’s getting defensive, I would probably try to let it go, or deflect when the questions is asked (I tend to do this by asking a question I needed to ask anyway. So like “have you gone to lunch yet?” “Hi Manager, I wanted to talk to you about the tps report! Do you think we should add more info?”). But if you are bursting to say something, I would tell how it make you feel about her as a manager (“Hey when you asked me about lunch everyday, it makes me feel like you think I can’t manage my time/trust me to manage my time”). If her point is to be a good manager, gently reminding her that this is not how you’re perceiving it can help.

      2. PLS in a PLSS state*

        Well, she wouldn’t care for my reply. I would, after the first week of it, go in my garage and make a sign “Iam taking lunch today at: XX:XX” with the X’s able to be filled in with a dry erase marker, hang said sign in my cubicle and when she asked on Monday just point to it. By Wednesday, she might get the picture.

      3. Finman*

        My thought is to say something like “I typically eat lunch sometime between 12 and 1, if I am planning on straying from that zone, I will let you know”

    2. OP#5*

      OP # 5 here— thanks for the suggestion. Here is a little more information if it changes your advice?

      I was asked if I would like to attend this event/conference back in February (before the thought of a new opportunity crossed my mind). It’s an annual event, and I have attended 2/4 years I have worked at this firm (the first year not being invited, last year choosing not to attend due to a vacation scheduled the next week). It is a big industry event– with conferences, and exhibits and social events lasting a week. We’re attorneys, and we attend for networking-only purposes, meaning, we don’t attend the conference aspect. We generally have the days to ourselves (to do work that we have brought with us or whatever else), and a majority of our “work” is at night attending the networking and social events to (1) target new clients, and (2) strengthen our relationships with current clients. It is definitely work in the sense that we are up late courting businesses. It’s not a required event by any means.

      I guess what I am trying to say is, it’s more than a work trip, but less than a recreational trip?

      1. Undine*

        They’re still sending you because it’s to their benefit. And presumably, even if you quit and someone else takes over your clients, the clients will remember that they got face time, etc., from a member of the firm, and some of that goodwill will carry over to your successor and to the firm in general. And if you bring in a new client, the firm still has that client, and that pays for your trip. You might not choose to go if you were asked now, but having made the commitment, there’s no reason not to attend. It sounds like you’re doing regular work all day and then on top of that oiling the machinery at night, so it’s definitely work.

        Also, having an interview does not mean you will get the job. You probably have at most a 50% chance of getting an offer (assuming there are only two people in the running), plus you might not like the final offer. In some sense in a job, you just have to keep acting like the job will go on forever, until the day it doesn’t.

      2. LJL*

        In that case, I really think you’re good. You are continuing to do work that will lead, directly or indirectly, to increased revenue or retention for these clients. You are directly affecting the profits of the company. So go in good conscience and continue to do good work.

      3. Sue Wilson*

        I see why you think it’s a fun trip for you, but your purpose is to bring in business and maintain clients and if you fail at that in someway, that would have a negative effect on how people view you at your job.

        Recreational to me means that whatever non-illegal thing you choose to do on your trip will have little to no negative consequences at your job. Here if you mess up a client relationship, there will be consequences whether you enjoy the rest of the trip or not. You have to perform to professional standards every time you attend the night events (which is not necessarily true in a vacation). This really isn’t leisure.

  9. Steve*

    #5 it’s not even like they’re sending you to a conference. It sounds like a sales trip (or similar). You will be performing work for them in exchange for pay. If they don’t want you to go they can send someone else.

    I knew someone who quit, effective immediately, in the middle of a conference his employer had paid for.

    1. Triplestep*

      I may be reading too much into what OP#5 wrote, but I suspect the issue is that her goal on this trip is to build relationships with potential clients. (She used the word “wooing”.) In that case, part of what she is selling is herself; if she gets the new job and resigns, her present employer might regret sending someone with one foot out the door, especially if there had been a peer to send in her place.

      All that said, Alison’s advice is spot on. Even after I had a written offer and start date, I didn’t let on I would be leaving until some required contingencies had been cleared. During that time I participated in some off-site team-building activities with a team I like a great deal. There were definitely guilt pangs.

      1. OP#5*

        Hi! OP#5 here! I’m not sure if a little more information changes your suggestions but here is more information. I was asked if I would like to attend this event/conference back in February (before the thought of a new opportunity crossed my mind). It’s an annual event, and I have attended 2/4 years I have worked at this firm (the first year not being invited, last year choosing not to attend due to a vacation scheduled the next week). It is a big industry event– with conferences, and exhibits and social events lasting a week. We’re attorneys, and we attend for networking-only purposes, meaning, we don’t attend the conference aspect. We generally have the days to ourselves (to do work that we have brought with us or whatever else), and a majority of our “work” is at night attending the networking and social events to (1) target new clients, and (2) strengthen our relationships with current clients. It is definitely work in the sense that we are up late courting businesses. It’s not a required event by any means.

        I guess what I am trying to say is, it’s more than a work trip, but less than a recreational trip?

        1. Steve*

          As an introvert, that not only sounds like work, it sounds exhausting :)

          Anyways even if you consider this partially an almost-sort-of vacation, just think about it as if it is a reward for your work. Payment for services already rendered. If it were a bonus being paid out, you’d presumably have no qualms about accepting the bonus and quitting right after.

    2. Oryx*

      A bunch of us were at a big national show over the summer and one of our co-workers quit, effective immediately, right before it started. He was in charge of the show and had flown into town long enough to make sure the booth got set up and then was out. We were all staying in the same hotel and had no idea what he did after that. We never saw him but it was unlikely he was able to find another hotel room in the city. He also was supposed to be on our return flight and that didn’t happen so I dunno.

  10. Close Bracket*

    Since we are talking about “retarded”, can we talk about “lame”? Granted, “lame” is no longer commonly used to describe a person with a physical disability. It’s history is recent enough to be considered an ablest term, however, and I see it here in this column. There are alternatives, such as pathetic. It would be nice to see alternatives used.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t want to get too off-topic, but I do want to note that I haven’t used “lame” here in years, thanks to someone pointing out the problems with it. (But a quick search shows I used it a lot in 2012!)

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          If I can stay off-track for just a bit (I’ll bring it back to your point in a second), loons are such beautiful birds! I love hearing loons call across the lake in the quiet of the morning (northern MN). If people knew what a loon looked and sounded like, they might have trouble using that word in a derogatory way.

          1. kittymommy*

            I don’t think I ever connected the word to lunatic, always thought of the bird so I just interpreted it as describing loud, annoying people (I’m not a fan of birds) . Huh.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I think the connotation with the bird is that the loons (birds) sometimes make a very loud call that people used to say sounded like a mentally ill person’s “insane” laughter.

          2. Jessica (tc)*

            I feel like this might have been said in other threads before, but I’ve always heard the etymology of the word “loon” (as in “crazy as a loon”) actually does come from the bird itself, used because of the way the bird looks as it propels itself up and away when in danger. OED backs up this interpretation that I’ve always heard as well:

            b. In phrases with loon’s (see quots.). Also frequently as crazy as a loon (in reference to its [the bird’s] actions in escaping from danger and its wild cry) and varr.; so, as drunk as a loon; to hunt the loon (see quot. 1880).

            If you’ve ever seen a loon skitter across water when trying to take off (due to the weird positioning of their legs, which makes it nearly impossible for them to move about on land), this definitely makes sense. Loons are odd-looking (but beautiful) birds, and they are pretty darn odd in many ways. (It’s my favorite bird for so many of those oddities.)

            The article linked above does trace the etymology of the word “lunatic,” but doesn’t mention the word “loon” at all as a derivative. “Loony” does, however, appear to be a derivative of “lunatic,” from what I can see, but words can come to us from different places and be spelled similarly (or the same) and even appear to end up with similar meanings.

            My boss once told the story of how she chewed a family member out for saying something about a “chink in that wall,” yelling at him for being racist. The original term for a fissure in something (a wall, etc.) has been around since at least the late 1300s, while the derogatory term came into use somewhere in the late-1800s/early 1900s. (The “chink in the wall” thing always makes me think immediately of Pyramus and Thisbe and dear, lovely Bottom.)

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          What’s a good substitute word for when someone is acting so outside of the norms of reasonableness? I usually use crazy in that circumstance but I know that word is loaded too. Even if someone doesn’t have a diagnosed mental illness they can be acting in a way that could be described as nuts or crazy or beyond the realm of reasonableness.

          To be clear, I’m not pushing back to say we should be allowed to use such words; I’m asking what the correct substitute is.

            1. CM*

              Hey, it’s good enough for Kim Jong Un…

              We can probably find a million synonyms that don’t explicitly refer to mental illness just by reading Roald Dahl: “He’s dotty!” they cried. “He’s barmy!” “He’s batty!” “He’s nutty!” “He’s screwy!” “He’s wacky!”

            1. Case of the Mondays*

              That could work for a lot of the situations! “The unreasonable client won’t accept the offer.” Eccentric might work for others like “she was eccentric enough to try eating an acorn.”

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I will say this is honestly a difficulty as you try to strip ableist language out of your speech. I have a friend who is on a campaign about it and there are SO MANY that are difficult to replace: “blind,” “crazy/nuts,” “lame” – the list goes on. I just put this out there as way for us to remember compassion for people who are still stuck with regressive modes of speech (as long as they aren’t being malicious, of course). Someone is flinching when YOU talk too.

            1. Squeeble*

              Similarly, I never call people crazy or insane, etc. anymore, but I keep wondering if phrases like “I had such a crazy day today” are alright.

              1. Sarah*

                I’ve moved away from it because it implies “crazy” = “out of control” and that’s not an association I want to draw.

          2. MoinMoin*

            I sometimes use “frittata” a la The League, but I’m conflicted since they used the word as a nonsense stand-in to avoid saying retard, but it’s exactly what it means so the mean-spiritedness is still kind of there.

          3. petpet*

            I like to say bonkers – my workplace this week has been especially bonkers. I mostly use it to mean things in general are overwhelming or busy, but I might apply it to an especially unreasonable person too.

          4. Indoor Cat*

            As someone with a mental illness, I’m not offended by “crazy” unless someone is using it to dismiss a mentally ill person’s concerns (usually a woman’s concerns).

            I’m actually a huge fan of the show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a musical comedy created by and starring Rachel Bloom. Bloom is open about having bipolar disorder, and having had suicidal ideation in her past. She’s very active in suicide prevention advocacy.

            Her protagonist, Rachel Bunch, has some kind of mental illness also; clearly depression, at least one bout of psychosis, and potentially borderline personality disorder. The character is self-aware enough to know that she’s doing “crazy” things, (like following her highschool sweetheart to California on a whim, even though she hasn’t seen him for ten years prior to that moment) but is incredibly smart (she’s a Yale-educated lawyer), and thinks she doesn’t need to take the advice of therapists because she’s smarter than them.

            The musical elements provide some meta / “greek chorus” type commentary, both on the narrative tropes she’s inadvertently fallen into and rationalizing behavior she knows is dangerous, which is frequently hilarious (as well as biting and even sad.) Sometimes the character seems trapped by her own craziness; other times, it seems to empower her to defy limiting social conventions. Interestingly, the relationship dynamics on the show feel more authentic than any other friendships and rivalries I’ve seen on television comedy before. Rachel and Monica have nothing on Paula and Rebecca.

            I’ve never dealt with mania myself (I think manic-ness is often what people term “crazy”), but from watching the show and dealing with my own mental illness, I think it’s safe to say the term “crazy” is nowhere near the level of “retarded” in terms of being offensive. It seems more like “bitch.” Tina Fey can say, “bitches get stuff done!” and Rachel Bloom can say, “I’m the crazy ex-girlfriend!” Whereas nobody with a cognitive disability would say, “retards save the day!” ever. The same way no Jewish people would refer to themselves using an anti-semetic slur. The connotation is too derogatory and has been put to too awful a use in the past, it can’t be made more normal.

            So, right. I don’t speak for everyone, and neither does Rachel Bloom. But, while neither “bitch,” “crazy,” or “retarded” should be used in a workplace setting, there are social and artistically appropriate contexts for the former two. Probably not the latter, though.

              1. Indoor Cat*

                SAME! <3 It's so underrated and I have no idea why! I think the marketing on the show is just really poor. I can't wait for s3!

    2. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

      I usually think of a lame horse, but I’m bit of a silly. A dumdum. A twonk. A booby. Fluffy-pated as a dabchick. (See all these alternatives for the word? Aren’t they delightful?)

    3. pop*

      Oh god, lets hate all words. What’s next? “Thats huge!” in response to big news is offensive to the large bodied population.

      Good grief.

      1. cheluzal*

        Everything offends. I have used the R word to describe myself or a situation. I would never use it to describe a person, and I think people with disabled loved ones think any use is at a person. My brother was disabled and I never got bothered by the R word because–guess what? I never considered him a retard. They never used it for him. *shrug*

      2. Pat*

        I’m with Pop. People who correct my language are people I don’t associate with if I can help it. They’re boring.

      3. Ego Chamber*

        Reluctantly agree. I try to avoid cliches whenever possible, because talking like everyone else is fucking boring, but I did start saying “lame” when I stopped saying “retarded,” so.

  11. Apollo Warbucks*


    Would it worth saying something to your boss like I plan on taking lunch at 1 o’clock unless I let you know otherwise.

  12. Ruth (UK)*

    3. I have a coworker who does this! We have this set up: in an office of 7 people we work either 8-4 or 10-6 and work it out ourselves with the rule that at least 2 people must be on each shift (for phone cover and so no one is left alone). The people on 8-4 always take lunch (half an hour) at 12:30 and the 10-6 people go at 1 (or as soon as at least 2 of the early group are back). It’s usually an uneven split though as 8-4 is a more popular shift.

    Anyway, we always do it this way and yet every single day my coworker says ‘when is evening going to lunch’ to the room at about 12:20. I usually just don’t answer and let others answer and if she asks me specifically I say ‘second as I’m on the late shift’ or ‘first cause I’m on the early shift’

    To be honest this is far from the oddest thing about her though…

  13. GD*

    OP 1, that is a very common trick to get free work out of designers of all type. They have given you no work since? They might not intend to at all and do the same thing to someone else in the future. At the end of the day you still own the copyright for that image, no contract was signed (that I can see in your letter) so you do have some legal options if they refuse to pay, even if it is just getting the image removed. Even if you have signed a contact now it can’t legally include that image as it was created before you signed it.

    If it gets to the point in which it is obvious you wont get anything from them:
    1. Send a polite cease and desist letter, I do mean polite. Explain that they are using a copyrighted image without your consent and that they either need to pay for the time it too to create or remove it from their branding and website. This does not require a lawyer.

    2. If they refuse file a DMCA with their website host, the host will then inform them that if the copyrighted material is not removed their website will be taken down, if they still refuse well, then their website goes down. This also does not need a lawyer.

    3. You can sue for damages but obviously this involves a lawyer. To be honest though the first 2 steps are usually enough to get a resolution one way or another.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Oh, fwiw the one time a company declared bankruptcy before paying me, but after passing all my work along to the company who’d subcontracted them, the freelancers’ successful argument for being paid by the parent company rested on the fact that the contract said I gave up my rights to the material I created in exchange for money. If I received no money, then I should still have the rights to everything I created on the project.

        It’s unlikely that they paid a lawyer to come up with an ironclad contract where you give them valuable stuff for free, if they aren’t willing to pay for basic graphic design work.

    1. Amber T*

      Something similar happened to a friend of a friend college. She was taking a higher level marketing/graphic design class, and the professor brought in a local (failing) business owner (who happened to be a good friend). Their assignment was to listen to the business owner for what she wanted and design a logo and some marketing materials, and the owner would choose the best one. Presumably this was all for a good grade, and maybe the owner might get some ideas for what she wanted, but she ended up actually using the best choice. My friend (and a few other folk) urged her to do *something* (I don’t think we really knew what, exactly). I know she brought it up to her professor, but the professor just kind of shrugged it off and said it was no big deal. The shop ended up going under within the year anyway (which, on the one hand, was a shame because it was a nice place to hang out, just ridiculously mismanaged, but on the other hand, karma).

      1. NP*

        That’s pretty irresponsible of a marketing or graphic design professor. In that field they should be teaching enough about copyright for the students to understand how to protect the work they create.

      2. Artemesia*

        I have seen lots of classes that do work for real clients usually non profits but not always. It is a lot of work for the ‘client’ to work with the students and the payoff for the client is to get some helpful work; most of the time they don’t get value higher than the work they had to put in hand holding the students. Probably most of the time they don’t get usable product. I was in a survey research class decades ago at the U of M Survey Research Center where the class designed a survey for an agency. The payoff for the student is that they now have actual real world experience for their resume and to talk about when they are applying for jobs. Seems like a fair trade to me.

        1. Artemesia*

          PS. Work prepared as part of an interview is entirely different and of course the OP should be paid if it is used. This wasn’t a learning experience.

        2. sstabeler*

          while that can be entirely legitimate, that really needs to be explained at the beginning of the task that this is a possibility- and it’s at least polite for the client to ask “hey, we really like the logo and marketing materials you designed for the assignment- do you mind if we actually use them?” (and preferably, offer to pay at least something- firstly, because it clearly was usable work, and second because it would look extremely odd to put a college assignment on your resume at best.)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, a DMCA is a great point! (I file these all the time because people are constantly reprinting my stuff without permission, and unless you get an unresponsive web host, they will take the content down for you. It’s possible that in this case the company will claim it was work-for-hire — although it wasn’t — and so it might not be as straightforward but it’s definitely worth trying. It’s fast and free.)

    3. Karlie Floss*

      I’ve known two colleagues who previously had interview samples stolen at other companies, but both instances were more subtle than the OP’s situation.

      The first was asked to make specialized packaging for an oddly-shaped product (“develop a box that can withstand international shipping of a teapot with an oversized spout made from glass”). She later checked up on the company, and saw a slightly redesigned product with packaging that was just barely different from hers (a coffee pot with an oversized handle made from straw).

      The second had mocked up a graphic to be used in a theoretical charity drive run by a company with intrinsic ties to the cause. She later saw a tweaked version of her graphic actually being used, but it was changed in a way that negated the clever meaning she had developed, so she didn’t bother doing anything about it.

    4. Tuxedo Cat*

      I like this advice a lot. I’ve seen other people trying to take advantage of performing artists like this. They have audition shows in front of an audience for a business. The performing artists do a great job and then never get a call back. I don’t know if they can fight it, but it’s just icky and cheap of places to not pay people for their work.

      1. Filmgal*

        Just when I think I’ve heard it all, here’s a new way to screw over hard-working, perennially poorly-paid theater folks yet again. BULLSHIT.

  14. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 Just make sure you do actually mention your skills and experience to jog their memories and in case someone who doesn’t know you also ends up reading it. However well they knew you, it’s been five years and it’s highly likely they would need a bit of a refresher.

    Good luck!

    1. MK*

      Yes, especially if you haven’t had any contact with them for the five years you were studying and depending on how close you had worked in the past.

  15. MK*

    #2, I sort get a vibe that the coworker is almost goading the OP by using the word. I mean, if you use this word, then say “oops, I shouldn’t have done that” and the other person goes “yes, you certainly shouldn’t”, if you keep doing it, it comes across as rather pointed.

    OP, by all means try Alison’s script, but if it doesn’t work I would scale back from interactions with this person nad go into “cool politeness” mode.

    1. Murphy*

      I read it like they use that word all the time, don’t see the problem with it, and aren’t interested in changing their language to please OP, not that they’re particularly goading them. Habits can be hard to break, even if you are trying (which it doesn’t really sound like they are).

    2. Ex-Rword User*

      I don’t there’s anything in the letter that should lead us to conclude it’s malicious. In one of the instances, the coworker was not even speaking to OP.

      I had a tough time removing “retarded” from my vocabulary. Where/when I grew up, it was a normal thing to say and I was well into adulthood before I’d ever even heard that some people regard it as a serious slur. I tried to stop saying it, but it would still slip out occasionally. I wonder some words can be a little harder to stop reaching for when they’re commonly used to express strong feelings? I would say it when I really meant “that’s unfair/unreasonable” or “I am embarrassed of my mistake.” I finally stopped for good when I accidentally said in front of someone that I knew had a sister with Downs. (I was mortified and immediately apologized.) But it took me a while to finally get it, despite the fact that I don’t have a deep desire to offend people.

      Anyway, I think it sounds more like this person is aware that it’s offensive, but has a really ingrained habit of saying it. (And perhaps the expectation to stop saying it is new to her as well.) I don’t think mistaking ignorance for malice is the best way of dealing with something like this.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I also grew up with it being a very common pejorative, and what helped me to excise it from my vocabulary was to replace it with “reject” and its derivatives. The mouthfeel is similar, but it doesn’t encompass any medical or identity labels.

        1. Sarah*

          I went with “ridiculous” – it was much closer to what I was usually trying to convey and because the beginning sound was the same I found I could catch myself before the word came out.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        I’m pretty sure almost everyone here has expunged words out of our vocabularies.

        I’ve got rid of words because I never realised they were offensive (“spastic” was the playground insult when I was 9, for example) or because I didn’t realise how rude they were, and because they just dropped out of fashion. Other people have to stop using words because, for example, a work terminology changes, or a brand name changes (Marathon to Snickers bars is a UK version), or changing from calling someone by her married name.

        The thing to do if an offensive word slips out is to apologise for it straight away. But I don’t really buy the “really ingrained habit”, because changing words is an almost universal experience.

        1. Ex-Rword User*

          I don’t think changing the name of a candy bar or using someone’s married is really the same. It’s an adjustment, but it’s not the same as a word used to describe a feeling or an idea. I think once you’ve associated a word with a feeling or an idea, that’s a little different. I think something closer to what I’m getting at might be the fact that I say “Oh please god don’t let XYZ” in moments of stress, even though I’m an atheist.

          Side note: TIL Snickers used to be called Marathon in the U.K.? Also, I thought for wayyyyy too long about how calling a candy bar Marathon might be offensive to someone? LOL

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            I also gave a ton of other examples of ways I’ve changed words. I maintain it’s universal. The swearword I thought was mild, but was actually a really shocking word, eg, was firmly associated with a specific feeling/idea – but I managed to never ever say it in work ever again, even though it was a fun word to say.

      3. crookedfinger*

        Yep, that word was hard to erase from vocabulary. Same with the word “gay” as a negative word substitute, although that one was a bit easier once I said it at a party and a girl standing behind me piped up with “I’m gay!” and embarrassment burned the word out of my brain for good. Oh, the silly things I used to say as a teenager…

      1. Specialk9*

        NB – it’s a habit she should break! But 3 uses of the word in a longish time period is not like those guys on Dear Prudence who started using a slur as many times as possible in a row, in an evening.

  16. Oolb*

    It’s startling how many times we see the “job interviewer stole my work” letter on this site. Some companies really can be horrible!

      1. Purplesaurus*

        For real. They outright told OP they’re using her design, for free without paying, and are assuming she doesn’t know or won’t raise a fuss about how illegal that is.

        1. Pineapple Incident*

          The ballsy attitude about this from the company is what’s throwing me the most. It’s also probably not the first time this company has done this, and probably won’t be the last. Basically until somebody important gets wise to this and they’re fined for doing this, it’ll keep happening to desperate job candidates- serious abuse of power in the hiring process.

        2. AndersonDarling*

          I guess the company thinks it invested so much of their precious time and mind power interviewing the OP that they deserve to keep her work.

    1. fposte*

      Can you remind me of the others? I was thinking that we’d seen ones where they’re worried about it happening but ones where it actually does are pretty rare. But that could just be my Friday morning memory lapse :-).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think there have been one or two others (in 10 years) so I definitely wouldn’t say common. What’s much more common, as you note, is people worrying that will happen when they’re asking to do work samples as part of the interview process.

  17. Valegro*

    I feel for you on the r-word. I have to listen to my co-workers talk about how they don’t think trans people should be allowed to be out in public. I can’t say anything because my boss will back them up. It’s awful.

    1. Jesca*

      That is disgusting. And I feel you. I have/do work with some really big assholes who only see their way as the best way.

      My generation was huge with words like “retarded” and “gay” to describe things. TV and movies can really define your speech. But as you grow up, you realize it is pretty derogatory. I am not even sure when I stopped using it? I swear to God though sometimes i feel like people just refuse to stop doing something just because they were told to though. Its stubbornness.

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    Growing up in the Boston area, “that’s wicked retahded” was pretty common when I was a kid…It would be pretty shocking to hear it in a professional setting now though.

    1. Allison*

      Yo I know you’re a parody, but that’s . . . not an inaccurate stereotype. Slight exaggeration, but not entirely off-base.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Yes, completely agree. I really am from the Boston area and it’s very accurate–wasn’t intended to be a joke!

      2. JulieBulie*

        I don’t think that was exaggerated at all. We called everybody and everything “wicked retadded” and/or “wicked gay” all the time.

        Hiring Mgr, I am now requesting you to provide a parodic version… good luck.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          Or “he’s wicked queeah” (not intended as a gay slur, just a general insult)..or for something good “wicked pissah” Very common stuff in this area in 70s/80s…

  19. Employment Lawyer*

    1. Employer is using the work sample I created for my interview
    You should register the copyright ASAP, because your damages accrue only for prompt registration.

    Then, don’t bother asking, just sue them. It’s completely illegal–you did not do “work for hire” since you were not working. And it’s a copyright violation, which can carry some substantial damages.

    1. Naruto*

      Um, first, “don’t bother asking, just sue them” is extremely irresponsible legal advice. Litigation is expensive and time consuming. Even if #1 would win that litigation, which you can’t really know based on the amount of facts in the letter, there are a lot of factors to consider in initiating a lawsuit.

      Second, you want to talk to an IP lawyer (not an employment lawyer) if you’re thinking about bringing copyright litigation.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        Are you a lawyer?

        I’ve done this exact type of case, from both sides. They generally settle, but you’re usually in a much better settlement position if you register and file: sure, you’re out the minimal cost of a bare bones complaint, filing, and service, but if it’s willful then you open up statutory damages, fees, costs, and cost of defense.

        And although one can never guarantee a win, it’s pretty likely that they are using the logo in a commercial manner and that it isn’t a work for hire, so it makes sense to proceed as if you’re going to sue. In any case, the lawyer who they use to sue will discuss it.

        1. Zillah*

          I think it’s important to be really careful about dishing legal/medical advice online to people one doesn’t know, regardless of one’s profession. Discussing the possibilities and giving advice about where to start can be helpful. Definitive statements are rarely helpful or appropriate.

        2. Tealeaves*

          Only do this if you plan to burn the bridge with them straightaway, forever. I consider the earlier advice by GD to be much less aggressive and still effective.

    2. Chickaletta*

      What?!? I’d never go straight to a lawyer. If I can get resolution for $0 and a couple hours of my time, why would I pay four figures and spend months in litigation??? It’s financially irresponsible, time-consuming, and unnecessarily hostile.

  20. Phoenix Programmer*

    #2 Count me as someone who does not understand the blanket ban on retarded. I agree wholeheartedly not to use it as a substitute for stupid or anything like that, but I do see a categorical difference between it and disabled.

    Some examples: lead in the water retarded his growth. This is very different then disabled his growth. One means to permanently reduce the other to stop on the spot.

    Also there is a huge difference between having a mental disability (which as a dyslexic I do) and being considered mentally retarded. One implies a learning disability that most likely had little to no effect on being able to function independently (I think of the spatial reasoning lw yesterday). I thought mental retardation had always meant a mental disorder resulting in the inability to care for one’s self or be held fully culpable for his or her’s actions. Very different from an intellectual disability.

    1. fposte*

      Being considered mentally retarded is technically an intellectual disability, at least in U.S. terminology. You can have that intellectual disability and live on your own and, for good or ill, be held responsible for your actions. One good place to look for the current U.S. approach is the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

    2. music*

      Because people have weaponized the word as a taunt, so much to the point that it’s hard for me to imagine someone using it as its original intended usage.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        But words like “gay” and “Jew” have been weaponized as taunts, and people have pushed back on the use as a slur without extending that ban to all use.

        I think “people with a mental (disability? handicap? I’ve seen both objected to)” is a lot broader than “people who are intellectually disabled in a way that makes them not as responsible for their own actions (not necessarily in the narrow legal sense here) in the way we would expect for their same-age cohorts”. But it’s a concept that comes up in planning for the needs of the entire community, just like addressing the needs of “the blind” or “the deaf”.

        1. Sue Wilson*

          Well a) nobody is saying that you can’t use it in a scientific manner where it has a scientific meaning, b) we are saying in casual conversation there’s just not going to be a reason to use it, so you shouldn’t, c) what this is in response to is people who would have been and have been called that word because of some aspect of their development (and the people who care for them) explaining how the use stigmatizes them, and people listening to the people most affected and doing something to make them more comfortable in a world that can be very hostile to them.

          1. Phoenix Programmer*

            But a lot of comments do say it is a hurtful word that should not be used and has no place in conversation. To me that is different then your claim in point a.

            1. Sue Wilson*

              I think you’re missing the context of this discussion. Nobody is saying that accurate jargon is a problem, because people generally exclud jargon from points about general conversation (nor do many people even know how it might be used in a professional context).

              1. tigerlily*

                Some people on this site absolutely have said that. Several comments in a thread close to the top said that retarded needs to removed from scientific use and that hearing it used in an accurate scientific manner is still offensive to them. Personally, I don’t agree with that stance, but it has certainly been said here on this post.

        2. Specialk9*

          “But words like “gay” and “Jew” have been weaponized as taunts, and people have pushed back on the use as a slur without extending that ban to all use.”

          As a proud Jew, I’m still pretty careful in how I use the term “Jew”. It’s got that uneasy bigot/Nazi feel now, so that I default to calling fellow Jews “Jewish people”. Which sucks.

      1. Gabriela*

        It is not, according to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Even before the DSM-V came out in 2012, when MR was still the technical diagnosis, very few practitioners actually said or wrote “mental retardation” opting instead to abbreviate. It has been out of fashion as a diagnosis for quite some time.

          1. ThatGirl*

            Yep… as I posted above my brother is intellectually and developmentally disabled and the terminology has shifted many times since the early 80s.

          2. JamieS*

            I thought “disability” was now no longer acceptable. Then again I just learned about the ban on retarded so clearly I don’t keep up on what is and isn’t currently acceptable all that well.

    3. MicroManagered*

      I don’t think anyone’s campaigning against describing a fabric as “flame-retardant” or something like that. We’re talking about using it as a derogatory name or adjective here. C’mon.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        There is indeed someone in the larger thread up top advocating for not using it even in the scientific context (as in chemical A retards the growth of Z bacteria).

    4. Temperance*

      Actually, no, they are the same thing. It’s a form of intellectual disability. There are different degrees, and if you’re speaking about a child, you might say developmental disability or developmental delay.

      I’ve heard the phrase “has mental retardation” used to describe a person in a very clinical setting / textbook in one of my classes, and I think that’s the most appropriate way to use it, but it’s a hurtful term to many.

    5. Nephron*

      The word use to be the clinical term for developmentally disabled, but as is common in the medical field when a word becomes stigmatized they stop using it because if you use a slur or insult as a diagnostic term you are going to get push back and non-compliant patients.

      When I was in high school I was taught about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), then in college the term became Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), because disease or diseased has negative connotations and when you are trying to educate and get people tested any stigma about the diagnosis is going to lead to problems. People are willing to have an infection, but they do not want to be diseased. The stigma around the mentally disabled diagnosis is part of the reason for the spike in autism diagnosis as autism in the chart leads to care and treatment with currently less stigma so doctors went along to get kids the help they needed.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yes it’s just a shame that in our culture these words are a moving target. Whatever we try to use in a clinical, neutral setting – as retarded, which literally just means ‘delayed,’ once was – becomes an insult over time as people outside the medical setting weaponize it as an insult. It then loses its usefulness as a diagnosis. The only real solution would be to reduce the stigma of mental illness / impairment so that it doesn’t make sense as an insult, but … that may take a while.

        Meanwhile, we just have to try to keep up with the commonly accepted standard for what is offensive – and “retarded” which no longer has a medical purpose, has jumped that shark.

      2. JamieS*

        I know this doesn’t help the point you’re trying to make but STIs and STDs aren’t the same thing. There’s not a 100% consensus but disease is generally thought to mean someone experiences signs or symptoms but not everyone will display symptoms but everyone who has a STI/STD would have an infection. Therefore I think the shift was more for the sake of accuracy than because of negative connotations associated with the word “disease”.

        1. Nephron*

          Accuracy of terminology is a part of it, but the social stigma is explicitly taught as a reason in my public health classes. I do appreciate your point though. A more exact example might be the removal of psychotic and sociopathic from the DSM.

          1. JamieS*

            I’ve literally never heard of it no longer being called STDs in health classes because disease is a bad word and I wasn’t able to find anything online indicating that’s what caused the terminology to change. Granted I didn’t spend hours conducting in depth research but given the word “disease” is still commonly used to refer to illnesses I can’t agree the shift was because of an issue with the word itself so we’ll have to agree to disagree.

            Why would sociopathic and psychotic be removed? Are they not mental disorders? Again I haven’t thoroughly investigated but what else would they be?

  21. Robbenmel*

    Re: The R-word…I will forever have engraved on my memory the first time this word hit my family. My two sons are exactly 11 months apart, and my second son is autistic. My oldest was only six when he heard this word being directed at his little brother on the school bus, and he came to me that night with the saddest look, asking why they called his brother that. I wanted to cry and yell and hug him and beat the living sh*t out of those older kids, all at the same time. So yeah…don’t use that word around me. I have told this story to coworkers who used it often, and thoughtlessly, not intending harm. They soon learned it was not ok around me.

    1. JulieBulie*

      My next door neighbor has two sons with autism. One of them had a similar incident on the school bus about a year ago. I can still remember my neighbor screaming at the bus driver (not sure if it was really her fault) when she found out, and crying for hours afterward. I know she contacted the name-calling girl’s mother, and it didn’t go well. I don’t know what happened after that.

      If I hadn’t already been convinced not to use that word as a slur any more, seeing how distraught she was would have done it. There is no excuse for causing that kind of pain to people.

      1. Robbenmel*

        Not the bus driver’s fault, unless she was using the word, too…but I TOTALLY get the impulse. Pretty much how I felt, and I feel it again every time I hear that word, even though it’s been nearly 30 years since that first sad 6-year-old face. :(

  22. bopper*

    You can also tell your boss to assume you will be going to lunch at 12:00, and if that changes you will let her/him know.

    1. Oilpress*

      Exactly. And if that still seems too restrictive to you then maybe you are trying to get away with having an excuse to not be at your desk any time between 12 and 2.

  23. Lindsay J*

    #3 reminds me of an ex-boss, who would always ask me, “Are you okay?”

    Like at least once a day, and sometimes multiple times a day.

    It got to the point where it frustrated me, like she didn’t believe that I was really okay, and didn’t trust me to tell her if I was not. It felt like when you’re in a relationship and the person keeps on going “Are you mad? You’re mad at me, aren’t you?” It got to the point where I wanted to be like, “I was okay until you asked me 4 times, now I’m annoyed.”

    However, I eventually realized that this was her way of “checking in” with me, and that she just didn’t have the soft skills to do it in a way that was non-irritating. She did other things like that that were very rote – using the exact same phrase to thank us every day, etc. It was like she knew or had read or was told that she should check in on her employees and be appreciative of our work, but didn’t really know how to do that.

  24. Angelinha*

    I think “we could get in trouble!” is way too cutesy. I agree you don’t need to be adversarial when you first bring it up, but you also don’t need to use “we” language or dance around it in any way. They’re using your work and it’s perfectly appropriate to, straightforwardly, explain that you need to be paid.

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      I agree, especially since they’ve admitted that the design was originally the OP’s (my approach might be different if they were pulling the old “oh, I have no idea what you’re talking about, we just found this design lying on the floor somewhere…” tack). I’d go straightforward, with a statement that you would like to negotiate a fee, or possibly just decide on a fee yourself and send them a bill and a polite letter. If that doesn’t work, try the DCMA / C&D / small claims court stuff.

    2. Tealeaves*

      Yes. Formal and straightforward language when you’re dealing with a sensitive topic like legalities gets the point across better.

      If you said “we could get in trouble”, they could say “haha don’t worry about it, we won’t”. Seen it actually happen a few times when coworkers try to be too polite with people that are doing something wrong.

  25. Hlyssande*

    OP #3 –

    Do you put your regularly scheduled lunch time in your calendar and mark yourself unavailable during that time? I initially did that to stop my old manager from always scheduling meetings during my preferred lunch (12:30-1:30 so the afternoon is short, but also staggered with the other local team members to avoid coverage lapses). It really did help, surprisingly – and I got a lot fewer questions from him and anyone about when I would be out for lunch.

    If you do that and tell the boss that unless something comes up and you need to delay your lunch, you’ll always be out during the time marked as ‘lunch’ on your calendar, it might help. Or it might not not because I saw that you said they were a major micromanager (my condolences), but it’s worth a shot.

    1. Lunch Lady*

      I did try that last year when she first started asking regularly. It ended up making things worse because if I didn’t go exactly when I scheduled my lunch she’d ask. To the point that if I didn’t go within 1-2 minutes she would ask and every so many minutes keep asking until I went.

  26. Bertha*

    #5 – I recently went on a work trip to a big city, and while I was there, was waiting to hear about passing a background check for a job. Meanwhile, I was getting lunches and dinners that I knew I’d have my company pay for. I felt a little guilty, so I understand where you are coming from. But I worked my butt off all day long and did work that wouldn’t have gotten done for years if I hadn’t gone, and provided a big write-up with a plan going forward for the project. I was anxious about putting in notice a few days after putting in an expense report for over $2k, but I don’t think it crossed anyone’s mind. They were, in fact, grateful I’d been able to go and get the project going before I left. So, I completely understand your anxiety about it, but in the end Allison is completely correct!

    1. Specialk9*

      Honestly, work travel SUCKS SO MUCH that it’s actually you compensating them in advance for you leaving. Here, I feel guilty for doing this totally normal thing, so what can I do for you? Oh uggghhh, fine, I’ll go do a work trip with exhausting travel, a weird bed, awkward socialization with strangers, uncomfortable clothes… But now we’re even, company. I get to leave and not worry about my old job, like at all.

      (Also, never forget, they will lay you off in a heartbeat if they need or want to. Do NOT feel guilty about switching jobs.)

  27. The Snark Knight*

    #1 happens much more often than you think. I’ve had a friend deliver “sample code” solve a “hypothetical” problem who ended up doing free work under the guise of an interview. Since this was for a giant in the industry, it wasn’t worth trying to fight them and risk getting blackballed.

    I had another friend who saw what the interviewer was up to, said “We can discuss the details of my solution once I’m hired” and they **DID** try to blackball him (different company). If you’re in any kind of creative or solutions driven field, be careful of this one. It’s not uncommon.

  28. Amber Rose*

    #2: “Heather! Don’t use that word!” makes you sound like a mom from a 50’s movie scolding a child for using curses like “damn.” Or Marge Simpson. Nobody is gonna take you seriously with that kind of image. I think you also need to revise upwards your estimation of how much time it takes people to change habits, particularly when/if they don’t view those habits as all that problematic. In this rather liberal space on the internet, everyone agrees that the r-word is awful. In many, many other places, it’s used just as casually as “that sucks.” And for various reasons, I tend to lean that way myself, so you very well might hear me use it at work. It’s not necessarily OK, but it’s not that shocking either.

    So try and get into the habit of talking calmly. “Wow, that word is pretty awful,” or “hey, not cool.” And then try not to get too upset if it takes a couple weeks to stick. It’s OK to be upset! But you’re not really in a position to be super strict about it.

  29. Jan*

    OP2, you’re not unprofessional for objecting, or for being exasperated because you had already told her not to use that word and she ignored your request. She’s the unprofessional one for using unacceptable terminology at work. I’m sorry, I know it sucks to work with jerks. I don’t really know what to advise you, but just wanted to let you know you’re not doing anything wrong by speaking up. I wish more people would.

  30. Lady Phoenix*

    #1 I dunno if Allison gets a lot of this because of her work, but it happens A LOT to designers. Employer “interviews” designer, gets a design, and then steals the design and leaves to designer to hang dry.

    Check out clients from hell. They have a LOT of stories on this. It is very important that you copyright your work, read all the contracts, and talk to copyright lawyers.

    1. Chickaletta*

      Oh yeah, I think almost every designer out there has some kind of story like this. When I was a graphic designer and applying for jobs, I became very wary of doing special projects as part of the interview process. If an employer wants to know about the quality of one’s work, THAT’S WHAT A PORTFOLIO IS FOR. That’s what references are for, that’s what interviews are for.

      Also, any designer worth their salt knows that a logo of all things can’t be designed in a vacuum – it’s a collaborative process with the client. So, the OP’s employer in this case was going about it all wrong from the start. Understanding whether someone is a good logo designer has as much to do with the communication, research, and collaborative skills as it does their design skills. “Make a logo and bring it back on Tuesday” is like telling your therapist “I’m depressed, please email me by Tuesday and tell me what to so I can be happy”.

  31. Ellen Ripley*

    To me, #2 and #3 are both the same category of issue: people are complex creatures, everybody is different, and you can’t force people to think or communicate the way you would prefer. OP2, you’ve registered your displeasure with your coworker’s use of the word, she hasn’t changed her behavior and in fact might be needling you about it, but you’re not her boss and it’s mostly happening in non-work conversation anyway. So stop being so emotionally invested in getting her to change. Stop hanging out with her on breaks or shift to vague and polite conversation, and if it happens during work discourse, loop your manager in if you think it’s really necessary.

    OP3, consider if there’s a coverage issue which needs to be managed by your boss, and if not just treat it as a conversational gambit that happens to bug you.
    “Have you gone to lunch?” “Nope, not yet, was planning to about 12:45. Anything you need from me?”
    “Have you gone to lunch?” “Yep, just got back.”
    Repeat ad nauseum.

  32. Cruciatus*

    Regarding #2 — I know this is a bit off topic, but does anyone watch Speechless? (If not, you should–it’s pretty wonderful! It’s about a zany family with 3 kids, 1 of whom has cerebral palsy (JJ)). Anyway, in their first season they had an episode opener where the family and JJ’s caretaker were eating dinner out and hear someone say “retard” at a nearby table. They have a contest for who gets to give the sensitivity speech to that table. Kenneth (the caretaker) ends up winning and goes to the table and gives a wonderful speech. Then we find out those people at the table were talking about having their driveway re-tarred. No point to this, but it’s a great show and doesn’t shy from serious issues with having a disabled son (language choices, abilities, sacrifices), but also brings a lot of humor to the subject.

    1. JulieBulie*

      There was also the one where the older brother had a chance with a girl who was into him, but she used that word. She was very pretty, and she almost had him convinced that it was okay, and JJ even told him to go for it – but he decided not to. (Or… did he diss her first, then approach her again after JJ said it was okay, only to have her ditch him? That sounds more likely.)

  33. Corrvin*

    Well, at least in my case, that broke me of using the R-word. If someone frustrates me and my urge is to say “What are you, r—–ed?” then what if their answer is “why yes I am!” …then what? I’ve just yelled at them for something they can’t help, and I’m not helping them fix the problem they just created. That’s way super uncool of me. The other answer would be “No I’m not, but how would you treat me if I were?” and I just answered that, too. Disrespectfully. Way super uncool.

    I do find a nice calm “Oh? How’s that working out for you?” to be pretty satisfying in the right situations, though.

  34. KaraLynn*

    OP#1 says:

    “A couple months ago, I went for an interview for a graphic design job in a small start-up. ”


    “They liked the new one I sent and I ended up getting the job.”

    and then later says:

    “The past two months I’ve had minimal contact with them as they haven’t had any work to send me (so I haven’t gotten any pay from them yet). ”

    Can you clarify how you got the job if you have had minimal contact with them? You implied you were going for a permanent job, you said you got it but then you say you didn’t.

    And we know it’s not a freelance “job” because you say it’s at a small start up.

    I don’t understand all of this. Please explain.

    1. Ex-Designer*

      It’s pretty common for graphic designers to work on an ‘as-needed’ basis and only hear from a company when there is actual work to do.

      1. KaraLynn*

        I’m a graphic designer. That’s called freelance work. But you don’t apply for freelance work. You don’t interview for it. You don’t “get the job” if there’s no specific project they need you for.

        None of this makes sense.

        1. Kiki*

          I have applied for freelance jobs, and gotten them, but not actually done work for the company for 1-2 months. There is one company in particular that I’ve worked with for 3 years. They interviewed and ‘hired’ 5 freelancers. When they need work done, they send it out to the 5 of us and see who has the time to complete the project within the deadline. Sometimes they give us specific individual projects based on our strengths. But I haven’t done work for them in the past month.

        2. crookedfinger*

          Maybe they just don’t do it that way where you’re from.

          Freelancers around here interview for jobs.

        3. Zillah*

          Even assuming that your experience is universal, I don’t think that asking for clarification in a way that shames the OP and sort of implies that they’re being dishonest isn’t helpful.

    2. Aisling*

      I’m not sure why you’re asking the OP to explain something that doesn’t have anything to do with their question. Since the point of this site is to comment if it’s helpful for the OP, would the answers mean you would have advice for the OP? And even with that, the OP doesn’t owe you an explanation of the specifics.

  35. Scott*

    How do you know when it’s time to move on? I have a history of stays under 2 years, in the marketing and advertising world, and I can’t seem to want to stay in a place any longer.

    Anyone else have this problem?

    1. Aisling*

      This comment would be best answered in the open thread post this weekend. Alison tries to keep all comments on a regular post about the regular post.

  36. YouThinkIamAwful*

    I love using the word retarded. LOVE it. At the same time, I would NEVER call someone with down syndrome, retarded. But I use it when someone is SO far beyond dumb.
    Having said that, I think it’s unprofessional to use at work. Just like I would never call someone a moron or idiot. I would never tell someone in a meeting that their idea is retarded. “If we did that, we might bump into an issue with widget copyrights.” And then I’d go home and tell my family “You won’t believe the retarded idea Fergus suggested we do with the widgets.”

      1. YouThinkIamAwful*

        Yeah. I don’t really care how I look at home. Home is where you’re comfortable. And I haven’t yet come up with a replacement word that conveys the same thing.