coworker’s Facebook is filled with gross imagery, custodian says we have fleas but we do not, and more

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

1. My coworker’s Facebook is filled with gross imagery

I have just started a new mid-level professional job at a large company. One of my colleagues (“Michael”) seems to have taken a shine to me and to be honest we get on well in a work context. I’m not overly keen on socializing with colleagues outside the office a lot, but he is friendly and we have a chat most mornings.

He has just sought me out and sent me a friend request on Facebook. I had a look at his (public) Facebook account and what I saw was disturbing and bizarre. He is completely obsessed with vomiting. About three quarters of his posts are about vomiting, feature hand-drawn cartoons of people vomiting, or are photos of celebrities where he has drawn on vomit coming out of their mouth. The remainder of his posts are about demons, exorcism, and screaming priests. I always thought he had quite a strange sense of humor, but I am now worried that I have befriended a potential serial killer who is obsessed with vomit. His profile picture is a photo of himself but he has drawn vomit on using Microsoft Paint. Do I ask him about it? Do I not mention it? Do I start avoiding him or do I pretend none of this has ever happened?

Eeew! He’s most likely just someone with a very gross interest who lacks the sense to think about that before sending coworkers Facebook requests … but why?!

You can (a) ignore the friend request, pretend this never happened, and continue chatting with him at work if you still want to, (b) ignore the friend request and pull back on chatting with him at work, or (c) say to him, “What’s up with all the vomit on your Facebook page? That was really gross to come across without expecting it.” Any of those are reasonable options, and it just depends on what you’d be most comfortable with. (Personally I’d probably go with the last one because it would always bug me otherwise … although obviously his answer to that is far from guaranteed to make you more comfortable with him and in fact has a high chance of doing the opposite.)

2. Our custodian says we have fleas but we do not

I manage a library, and we have a contract with a small local business for custodial work. Our custodian, who works for two hours or so every morning before anyone else is in the building, has told me repeatedly this week that he is being bitten by fleas while in our library. The problem is that no one else — including people like myself who are in the library for 40 hours a week — has reported any flea bites. We have an exterminator who regularly visits and sprays for pests. We also check for pests and pest activity in materials returned by our patrons.

This situation is further complicated by the fact that our custodian isn’t very good at his job. He frequently does not show up for work without letting me know, and his cleaning leaves much to be desired. We have spoken with him about these things, and if we had another option for cleaning services, we’d cancel our contract with him and go with someone else. We have speculated that perhaps this “flea problem” is an excuse for him not to be in our building so he can avoid working.

Our custodian is the only one who thinks there are fleas in the building. He has mentioned that he has a dog; how do I politely and professionally tell him that perhaps the fleas are coming into the building with him?

Be straightforward! “We’ve investigated this and no one else has reported any flea bites or flea sightings. We have an exterminator who sprays regularly. We’ve not found any evidence of fleas in the building, so it’s likely that your flea bites are from another location.”

Also, though, if things are at the point that you suspect him of making up the flea problem to avoid working, it sounds like it would really be worth looking for other cleaning options! If this guy went out of business tomorrow, you’d presumably find an alternative; whatever you’d do then, can you do it now?

3. My coworker used an offensive word

I started a new job at a very large corporation a few weeks ago, which I got through a very close family friend. Everyone on the team has been absolutely lovely to work with so far, including a coworker I’ll call Sam.

I was chatting with Sam over the phone the other day (we all telework), trying to work out how to register for an online tool that our team uses. The tool is extremely poorly designed and Sam said it was “retarded.” This really surprised and offended me, although I’m positive it wasn’t said maliciously. I figured maybe it just slipped out as something perhaps he used to say (as a number of us did back in the day), and was inclined to let it go, but then he said it again within a span of two minutes in the same context.

Our company really emphasizes diversity and acceptance and has a policy where you report any instances of this to a particular HR group. I really don’t want him to have this on his official record, but I’m not okay with what he said either.

What should I do? It’s worth pointing out that the company as a whole skews towards the older side. I have two coworkers under the age of 40 and most others (including Sam) are 50 or older, so I honestly think this is a case where he hasn’t learned this isn’t an appropriate word to use anymore (not that it ever really was).

If he says it again, say something in the moment! For example:
* “Whoa, that’s a slur now — you might not realize.”
* “I really hate that word and would appreciate you not using it.”
* “Hey, please use a different word.”

In theory you could go back and say something now without waiting to see if he says it again, but as someone who’s new to the job, it probably makes more sense to just speak up in the moment if it happens again. (My advice would be different if he’d used, say, a racial slur.)

4. How do I ask for my bonus?

I work for a small private company as the head of finance. When I was offered the job, the CEO structured the offer to include eligibility for a bonus in the first year if I met key performance objectives as outlined in my job description. I’ve just completed one year here. When I started, there was a part-time HR person, but their contract has ended and I have assumed basic HR responsibilities. The CEO is likely the only other employee who was aware of my bonus agreement, and he has long since forgotten about it.

How do I raise the subject with the CEO about this agreement? It is in my signed job offer, but would be subject to his evaluation as to whether KPOs have been met (a couple of which are a little bit of a gray area since strategic business decisions were made that made them inapplicable). To make things more uncomfortable, company cash is tight and I’m one of the few who knows just how tight it is (because of my role), so it feels awkward to ask for a bonus. However, if we still had an HR person, I would have been able to take it up with them and remove a potential conflict of interest in that way. Any advice?

It’s in your signed agreement! You’re not doing anything wrong by raising that. Say it this way: “When I came onboard, we structured the offer to include a possible bonus based on my performance after a year. Since I’ve just hit the one-year mark, I wanted to talk with you about it.” If company cash is too tight to do it, let the CEO tell you that — don’t decide it for him.

5. Freelancer management company wants info that seems excessive

I’ve freelanced for a company for a long time. They announced a change to payroll and partnered with a company I’ll call ZYO that manages freelancers and said nothing was changing. ZYO has wanted a lot of info that felt intrusive — one of which was to “prove” we are freelancers, they wanted us to send documents of client contracts with the client name and date on it. If we refused, in order to remain a freelancer they require us to pay for an LLC and get business insurance with a minimum of $1M liability coverage OR we can become employees of ZYO and get paid with W2 and “contract” with the original company.

Is this shady? Supposedly it’s to make sure the OG company follows laws with freelancers but something about this doesn’t sit right.

This has gotten more common with freelancing now: the government has cracked down on the rules for who qualifies as an independent contractor versus an employee (especially in California, which passed its own more restrictive law), and as a result some companies have increased what documentation they require so they can “prove” you’re really a freelancer if it’s ever questioned. One way to do that is to show that the freelancers have multiple clients, not just them. (I’ve had more than one client ask for exactly this.) You can generally black out the sensitive info though, like fees.

{ 511 comments… read them below }

  1. Cazzy*

    I really really hope there’s an update for #1 because I am just so curious. What a bizarre if slightly hilarious situation.

    1. Myrin*

      I honestly don’t find it “bizarre” in the traditional sense because I figure he simply has a vomiting fetish – doesn’t make it better because people generally don’t want to know about their coworkers’ fetishes either but possibly that helps relax OP regarding her “serial killer” thoughts. I don’t know how common this particular interest really is but I’ve definitely encountered it before.

      1. Hrodvitnir*

        That was certainly my thought – which actually alarms me from the perspective that he’s wanting to share his fetish with OP. Even if just to elicit a disgusted reaction. :/

        1. Myrin*

          I’m about 50-50 (or 33-33-33, I guess?) on whether he wants to gauge OP’s interest (although honestly people being grossed out by vomit(ing) is certainly the vast majority reaction so, hm, might want to move at a slower pace for that), finds it hilarious to potentially gross her out, or just genuinely likes her and wants to be online friends, not thinking of how this kind of stuff comes across to those not in the scene.
          (I’d be interested in learning how likely that last one is – do people who are into hardcore commonly-viewed-as-gross things forget over time and when immersed with others who share their interest that they are commonly viewed as gross? I don’t know!)

          1. Irish Teacher*

            The only thing I can think is that he has a lot of other posts private, posts about his life, photos, etc and the vomit stuff is a small portion of his overall number of posts, but the only stuff he has public (which would be an odd choice in itself, but he might feel it’s just drawings, pictures of celebrities, etc and therefore, not as private as photos of his family, his holidays, comments on his life…), so he doesn’t realise how much of it appears when you just see his public posts.

            Not sure how likely that is as it would be odd to change the settings to make those public, unless there are others who share his interest that he’s met online and who he doesn’t want to give access to most of his posts or something. But I guess it’s possible?

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              That is an interesting point that he may have a lot of other posts that OP wouldn’t see without accepting the friend request, especially if a number of the posts they currently see are shared.

              Though it’s still quite odd that these are the posts he has decided he wants to share publicly lol.

          2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            Barring any evidence to the contrary (which the letter doesn’t provide) I’m inclined to believe the last. He’s a guy with a really weird interest/fetish who posts about it on his Facebook. Concurrently he’s a guy who made a new IRL friend and wants to connect with them on Facebook. It has not occurred to him that condition one is problematic for condition two.

            1. IneffableBastard*

              People with specific fetishes are very aware of how other people react to them. Unless it is his first month on facebook, he knows very well what he is doing.

        2. Boof*

          It seems vaguely possible he just finds it hilarious rather than a fetish; like adding googly eyes to everything, but grosser

          1. Lime green Pacer*

            Yup, that was where I went first. Particularly if he was showing politicians or celebrities he disliked, but he even did it to himself!?

            1. anne of mean gables*

              I think that’s plausible if it were a one- or two- off (I think I, at one point, have absolutely put a picture of my dog on social media with lines draw on to represent fart gas), but the level of posting (It sounds like multiple dozens of images, and the vast majority of his facebook presence) does move things into ‘fetish’ territory for me.

          2. Global Cat Herder*

            This was what I thought as I read it. He’s 3 second-grade boys dressed in a trench coat.

        3. Anonymous 75*

          ehh I don’t think most people think that deeply when they send a friend request. I’ve certainly never thought ” hey I want all these people to see my cat and wine pictures” I just thought of there’s Mary, let me friend request her.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            I don’t wonder about the cat pics or random pics from around my city, or the odd cartoon joke, because those are, shall we say, more common interests.

            I sometimes hesitate (eg, chose to not send a friend request to a coworker), because I know my facebook gets a bit strident on politics, or because I link to things with cussing, so I second and third guess how distasteful that is even to people who are like-minded.

            I’m pretty sure if I had a weird fondness for gross-out body humour I would in fact hesitate REALLY hard.

            1. Anonymous 75*

              it would not even occur to me to care about what I post when I send a friend request. it doesn’t occur to me to care about what they pay (as long as it wasn’t racist, homophobic, etc).

              the point being is that y’all read way to much into stuff like this.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                You’re just making it clear you don’t have a weird fetish you put all over your social media. Like, seriously, you can’t tell the difference between “I don’t think about what I post because it’s breakfast, cats, or wine” and “Guy didn’t think about what he posts when it’s all VOMIT”??

              2. sparkle emoji*

                This guy has a pretty off-putting and taboo fetish/interest. Most people I’ve encountered along those lines have the sense to keep posts about those interests sequestered on private pages or dedicated niche websites. I don’t think it’s overthinking things to be a bit shocked when someone posts fetish art on their main public social media.

      2. JSPA*

        People with extreme fetishes (sexual or otherwise) don’t happen to not notice that other people don’t share their pleasures, and that being unexpectedly exposed causes some sort of distress (whether fear or disgust or anxiety).

        It’s badly boundary-violating to spring that on someone, and it’s not something someone can happen to do by accident. That suggests that the actual fetish may be not “vomit” per se, but “making people deeply uncomfortable and violating their boundaries.” And, yeah, that’s worrisome.

        The manipulation is frankly just as bad as springing overtly sexual or excretory stuff on someone (which would clearly be a violation of work standards RE harassment) or hitting them with pictures of dead puppies or abbatoir photos (more overtly death- and flesh- related).

        IMO, this is even more so as being exposed to vomit stimuli can cause nausea! “I am springing this on you so that I can get off on the idea of how I made you nauseated” is totally problematic, IMO, even if it isn’t “sexual” for the LW.

        1. sparkle emoji*

          Ooh, the last paragraph especially. If he is this bold about exposing this content to LW and others on Facebook… it’s possible showing it to unsuspecting viewers and their ensuing reactions may be part of the enjoyment for him.

      3. redflagday701*

        I’m so glad/horrified I wasn’t alone in immediately thinking, “Oh, this guy absolutely has a vomit fetish and uses Facebook as a way to seek out like-minded souls.”

      4. Miette*

        This is my thought, but I’m baffled why he’d put it on his public Facebook and then send friend requests to the unsuspecting uninitiated, particularly colleagues.

        Also, to assuage OP’s concerns, just because he likes to look at and create exorcism and demon related stuff doesn’t mean he condones or seeks to inflict torture on others. I think you’re fine unless he gives you a reason to think otherwise.

        1. redflagday701*

          He really, really, REALLY wants to find the rare woman who is also into vomit, so he puts his Facebook out there in the faint hope someone like OP1 will see it and reveal her own vomit kink. And he knows that anyone who doesn’t have a vomit fetish will almost certainly not say anything at all.

          And I suspect the demon/exorcism thing is an extension of the vomit kink. Isn’t the possessed person spewing up a bunch of gross stuff a recurring thing in exorcism scenes in movies? I agree he’s not planning to physically hurt anyone, though — just scar them psychologically with his friend requests.

      5. H.Regalis*

        Same. OP saw his fb and we didn’t, so maybe it’s way creepier than their description makes it sound, but to me it just sounds like this guy wears his fetish on his sleeve, so to speak.

        1. Gerry Kaey*

          Idk, I think once you get into making fetish art with the likeness of real people (ie celebrities), you’ve crossed into creepy territory

        1. Myrin*

          I think it’s basically rule 34-adjacent – if something exists, someone will develop a fetish around it.

      6. Am I Normal?*

        I’m 68, not sheltered or conservative. Never have I ever encountered this. I have encountered the opposite. People never fail to amaze me.

    2. Rainbow*

      I am in a space where I simultaneously want to know more about the vomit guy and wish I knew absolutely nothing about the vomit guy.

    3. FearNot*

      I know a guy that fits #1 exactly (maybe the same, unless there are tens of them!) and he is genuinely a nice guy that is involved in a couple of common hobbies (a lot that skew horror/art) with me but is also just ridiculously obsessed with vomiting. Some people are just weird, but not malicious.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      The horror stuff wouldn’t bother me bc I’m a horror fan but the barfing is 100% a fetish; I’d bet money on it. >_<
      I too want an update.

      1. Anonymore*

        I’ve met many people with weird fetishes in a… specific scene.
        OP#1 ‘s coworker is testing the waters with her – if she’s not completely horrified by the barfing fetish, he will gradually lead her closer to the subject.
        She’s a grownup, so this is not grooming, but the process is similar.

        If OP#1 is put off by the the fetish, Say So Now.

        1. Critical Rolls*

          I hope you’re wrong, because that would be a spectacularly inappropriate way to treat a colleague who has barely crossed into work friend territory.

          1. DK Perler*

            It IS spectacularly inappropriate! Unfortunately for OP, it’s ALSO almost certainly what’s happening here.

            1. Satan’s Panties*

              What *is* an appropriate way to announce a vomit fetish and draw in like-minded people?

    5. Barrie*

      Along the same lines I deleted a Facebook friend (who irl is a friend of a friend that I barely know) because he would live stream himself throwing up after heavy drinking sessions and post pictures of his vomit with a strange sense of pride. I found it bizarre and gross and just thought he was immature weird and inappropriate (this is a grown man in his 40s!!). The thought of it being a fetish gives me the ick. Honestly people are weird.

  2. ENFP in Texas*

    #1 – I personally would go with option one or option two. I absolutely would not bring it up with him, because I wouldn’t want to ask a question that I really don’t want to know the answer to. As long as his vomit obsession didn’t start showing up at work, I would be quite happy pretending it did not exist whatsoever.

    And if he asks why I didn’t accept his friend request, just tell him “I don’t friend people that I work with.”

    1. Roland*

      I’ve always gone with “oh, I never check facebook”, even easier. Works better when your posts (if any) are all private of course.

      1. Smithy*

        I’m in this camp.

        I think far too many people don’t realize how professionally questionable their social media is. And even if this was just a case of the person being a huge fan of horror movies or very scary haunted houses and other frights. Even if it’s not the first examples of NSFW content – there are lots of people who don’t get it, don’t like it, are upset by it, etc.

        We end up working with so many people we’d never want to spend time with socially for countless reasons. And I think getting even more information on this guy’s Facebook page will only make working with him harder. If he pushes on the Facebook request, then it’ll probably come with other acts to document of inappropriate behavior at work that can then be flagged to a supervisor or HR.

    2. anarkea*

      Agree fully. I feel like asking about the interest *shows* an interest that you definitely do not want to show. I’ll just keep that door all the way closed, thank you.

    3. allathian*

      Yeah, this. I’m not on FB so this isn’t relevant for me personally, but that’s absolutely the way I’d go if I were.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      No friending until both people have left the job. In this case, I’d demur regardless as this interest is not shared.

    5. Rose*

      I agree, I cannot imagine anything he could possibly say that would seem true and also make you feel better.

  3. Calamity Janine*

    LW1, absolutely do not ask him about this ever. because on gut feeling alone, i am ready to declare: that is his kink. that’s his kink. why it’s on facebook, god only knows. but that’s his kink.

    he’s using it to test the waters. if someone mentions it and is disgusted, that’s also likely part of the kink. and then whatever your reaction is? you’ve now become a person to talk about that to. even if you don’t want to be. especially if you don’t want to be! don’t count on him taking a polite “what” or “please don’t” on this one.

    i mean, the man posts his kink on facebook before his grandma and everybody. that is a sign of his judgement lol.

    but yeah. calling it. would put money on it. this for him is a sex thing. do NOT open pandora’s box here. there’s no fluttering hope at the very bottom, just puke.

    1. Viette*

      Yeah, I (sadly) agree. If you don’t want to talk about it with him, don’t bring it up.

      HE wants to talk about it with YOU. You can tell by the way he presented you with a Facebook page filled with it. He is EAGER to talk about it with you. Watch out.

    2. Ink*

      My immediate thought. In the absence of any indication of, I don’t know, health problems or scientific interest that might lead to something like that being a common topic for someone (and neither would feature mspaint modifications… or entirely rule kink out), safe to assume inappropriately inserted kink

    3. Bilateralrope*

      Maybe. But if he bring it up at work after being asked to stop, that becomes an HR issue even without bringing up the kink aspect.

      1. Calamity Janine*

        oh, for sure. but lw1 should not be the first one to breech that barrier by bringing it up in the workplace.

        even if lw1’s employer perfectly has her back, those are some deeply uncomfortable conversations that most people don’t want to have in the first place. it’s like knowing your company would fire someone for punching you versus the desire to not be punched to begin with.

        it sucks that lw1 has to hunker down and work around someone as a potential hazard. but it is not worth feeding the bears here at all lol

    4. Daisy*

      Totally agree with what Janine and Viette said. Whatever is going on (probably sex!), there is no way this guy doesn’t know that the vomit stuff isn’t public, there’s no way he doesn’t know it’s not for public consumption, and it’s some sort of way of testing the OP’s boundaries before moving into more inappropriate stuff.

      Abort abort beep beep beep back up and get out of the situation.

    5. Juicebox Hero*

      I was today years old when I learned some people have vomit fetishes.

      I wish I was still yesterday years old.

      1. NeedRain47*

        If you’d asked me if it existed, I would have said yes, b/c there’s a fetish for everything…. but I’d have preferred to continue never having thought about it for sure.

          1. Mrs. Hawiggins*

            Me. Right here. #1 emetophobe. So much so that if I ever even looked at the guy again I’d probably pass out.

            Sometimes people just… well, you know. Ugh.

    6. danmei kid*

      You are 1000% correct. This is not my first rodeo with this exact situation and a negative reaction is entirely part of the enjoyment for the people involved. Ugh.

    7. Anonymore*

      Based on my experience in the fetish scene, I 100% agree. This is a s3x thing, and any reaction, (even mildly) positive or (even strongly) negative will feed the fetish and its bdsm aspects.

      Gray rock the guy, be bland and uninteresting, minimize all contact at work.

    8. Beth*

      AGree! Going any further with this will NOT make anything better.

      “Years from now, we’ll look back on this memory, get very uncomfortable and awkward, change the topic in a hurry and never mention it again.”

    9. lilsheba*

      It is definitely a kink and frankly I find it bizarre that this kink is displayed all over his Facebook profile. I’m surprised Facebook lets him. There are OTHER sites for that kind of thing, and if you are in the kink world you know what I mean. It belongs there.

      1. Calamity Janine*

        tbh this is the thing that really pushes it into mega-oogies for me. at some point this level of cluelessness is going to be deliberate.

        he’s not at the point where i think it’s just vomiting that is his kink. his kink also includes grossing out other people and blazing past their consent because he’d rather ambush them with this.

        humanity is a rich tapestry and all that, i’m not here to be relentlessly dour. but this attitude? the little coy “oh look at all these puke edits i just dropped all over my public facebook profile i sent a friend request to you from” thing?

        bad. bad. bad! the vibes are bad, the vibes are horrendous!

        it’s on fb on purpose and the purpose is likely to set a better ambush!

        …but also, nonzero chance he isn’t doing this in specifically kink spaces because he played this little game and got called out by people who emphasize consent.

      2. NumberBlocks*

        Yeah the crazy thing is, even if he doesn’t realize the pics are public, he DEFINITELY knows all his friends and family can see it. I don’t generally kink shame but I also don’t share any weird gross fetishes for Auntie Beatrice to plainly see!

      3. sparkle emoji*

        I think he probably sneaks through Facebook’s rules in the same way that a lot of kink content sneaks past the rules: if there’s not a rule you can report it for, it’s not getting caught. A lot of the bonkers recipe and craft videos on Facebook are kink content(the focus on feet for example) but they aren’t explicit in the way the guidelines expect explicit content to look so they get a pass.

    10. kiki*

      Yeah, this isn’t a “Oh, you didn’t understand visibility settings on Facebook well enough to realize your posts to a fetish group are very visible on your profile” situation. It seems pretty clear this person wants LW to see his posts and have a reaction. And for this type of stuff, I think it’s better not to have a reaction. I feel like if LW were to tell him that it’s gross and ask what’s up with it, he’d have A LOT to tell LW about it that they don’t actually want to hear.

    11. Godbert*

      I cannot agree with this enough. Speak nothing of it to this person ever again, LW1. 90% likely he’s seeing this as a win/win of “maybe she’s into it! and if she isn’t, I can get a rise out of her not being into it!” 9% likely that he’s legitimately so dim that it doesn’t occur to him that it’s a problem that this information is public. 1% likely that he thinks he’s being a brave advocate for people with fetishes.

      I mention the latter two because I do know a few of these people IRL. One partially learned his lesson after stopping in to a store to ask for an update about his (online) application for a retail/cashier job at that store (already a thing you shouldn’t do, but, again, impaired judgment with these people). The manager asked for his name and, upon hearing it, exclaimed “Oh my god, the [specific type of porn] guy? You’re the [porn] guy and you want to know why we didn’t call you for a job? Hey everyone, it’s that [porn] guy! You remember, the guy with the [porn] all over his Twitter and Facebook?! Ahahaha!” Then, after getting laughed out of the store, he angrily posted to his friends’ group chat about how horrible those people were to him, and got mad all over again when the universal response was “dude, you didn’t take all that stuff off your social media before you started job hunting?”

      He then did scrub the porn off his real-name social media accounts, and made new ones under not-his-real-name for his porn/fetish interests. But it took being publicly humiliated AND being told by all of his friends that yes, employers will judge you for having porn on your public-facing social media. And he was still kind of mad about it.

      1. Satan’s Panties*

        That’s a rather extreme reaction from the manager. Why humiliate him? Who was he hurting just by having his fetish on social media? Assuming the fetish is legal.

        1. Julia*

          considering how many people on this very site have leapt way past the professional inappropriateness issue to “it’s adult grooming!” about op’s coworker having his fetish on social media I’d say this reaction is pretty common

          1. NumberBlocks*

            I agree that the commenters have a strong reaction, but I don’t know if I blame them. It’s certainly not LW1’s job to disprove their theories.

          2. Calamity Janine*

            honestly while i wouldn’t call it “adult grooming”, inserting kink into spaces that it’s not supposed to be without explicit invitation? that’s bad behavior. and it’s not something hidden or that could be passed over quickly, like “this is a necklace i wear every day that my partner got me and happens to have a little lock charm i tuck under my shirt.” this is being very into a kink and wanting someone to directly be a part of that.

            it would be just as bonkers yonkers vibes in shambles if he had said “oh this is my only social media site, my fetlife account where i post exclusively about how people must call me master while i smack their bottoms”. but honestly, there is an element there of extra “ambush” by dressing it up as a mere facebook profile – fetlife is at least a kink space up-front.

            your kink is not my kink and that’s okay, but ambushing someone with your kink is something to set off alarm bells.

            and yeah, at this level of involvement? surprising people with it, not letting them know it’s kink, not letting them give meaningful consent… that’s part of it.

            if you’ve never met a dude who plays this little game, then honestly i admire your luck and wish all would be so blessed! but please spare the notion that everyone is being histrionic on this one – we have just seen how these bad actors work while you perhaps haven’t.

            (and really that’s the problem with the public shaming approach – for half these dudes, that is the appeal…)

  4. CB212*

    #3 I definitely know a NUMBER of people in that generation and younger who haven’t gotten the memo about this word being a slur. Good luck making the point as an informative update that they’ll be glad to be aware of! (It shouldn’t be awkward; may it not become awkward.)

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      I have been upfront in this situation.
      “oh, please don’t use that word; people with intellectual disabilities don’t want us to and I agree with them. can you just call it “difficult” instead?”

      1. Bluebird*

        I was just at a science-fiction convention where 90% of the attendees are of that generation and a panelist used that word and I was the only one who even blinked an eye, and this is a very open and diverse group. I agree that generation doesn’t know it’s a slur, and it’s fine to be upfront about it in the future.

          1. metadata minion*

            It’s still a slur when applied to objects, just like the 90s-00s habit of calling everything “gay” as an insult was inappropriate even when applied to objects.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Yes! It implies that there is something wrong or defective about people who don’t meet certain norms, & that this can be expanded to things.

              I find that word especially offensive, because it’s used for a group that is especially vulnerable in so many ways. (Not a fan of any slurs, but this one really raises my hackles.)

            2. Les Cargot*

              I once had a summer intern, a delightful, intelligent young man. We shared an office that summer. He was on the phone with a friend one day and referred to something (not sure if it was an object or a situation) as “sooo gay,” clearly in a pejorative sense. I had never had to reprimand a colleague before, not even an intern, but I knew it was necessary, and no time to prepare a nice speech. As soon as he got off the phone, I told him, politely but very firmly, that he could not use that word to describe something in a negative way. He tried to object, like it was normal among the kids he hung out with and they didn’t mean any harm, and I told him again, including that it could get him into trouble at work. Apparently he learned: he didn’t do it again, at least not in my presence, and today (years later) he’s a vice president at an international bank.

          2. ecnaseener*

            Nah, it’s still a slur! It inherently refers to people, so when it’s used to describe an object the message is “this object is bad, like those people.”

          3. Totally Minnie*

            When you apply a slur to an object rather than to a person, you are making an implied comparison between the object and the people group the word is generally used to describe. If you’re talking about a bad and difficult to use software program and you call it the r word, you’re saying that things that are the r word are bad and difficult. It intensifies that meaning of the word, which is associated with a group of people who are hurt and harmed by the word’s use. Continuing to use the word in a negative way like this is actually increasing the strength of its insulting potential, even if you’re not using it to insult a person.

          4. Lenora Rose*

            Call a piece of machinery a slur in front of someone the slur applies to, and they’re hurt by you and trust you less, just the same.

            Would you ask if you could call an object a racial slur?

          5. House On The Rock*

            Imagine using a slur that originally described a category of people, but could also be applied as a derogatory descriptor for a thing…would you feel comfortable saying that word to describe a thing? It still puts the word out there in the world, why not use something else?

          6. Mademoiselle Sugar Lump*

            That’s how I feel about it. But I know people disagree so I only use it in private.

            1. sparkle emoji*

              Why are you and Whatthe attached to this specific word? There are plenty of other words that can communicate the same meaning without the baggage. I genuinely cannot comprehend still wanting to use an offensive word badly enough that I’d use it in secret instead of simply finding another word.

              1. IneffableBastard*

                I agree. There’s a word in my first language that is often used as a synonym to cause minor harm, or, in a variation, to a synonym to “oh, the poor thing” when someone suffers minor harm. Since I learned it was an anti-Semitic term in its origins, I stopped using it. Some of the elders in my family still use it, and they are not prejudiced against Jewish folks — quite the opposite, as they worked for Jewish families they liked very much, and talk about them with fondness and gratitude. Even many Jewish folks there do not know it was a slur in its origins, centuries ago, but after learning it I just cannot bring me to use it again.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, a lot of terms for disadvantaged groups started as neutral or even positive, but over time became used against the group and are now slurs. Others have awful histories but became mainstream and many don’t even realize they’re slurs.

          I know I’ve been on both sides of the “actually, that’s a slur” conversation, and while it’s not comfortable it’s rarely a big deal (unless someone decides to be a douche about it).

      2. yvve*

        i have a coworker who keeps using it, despite me mentioning that its rude. she basically just shrugged me off tho i mentoned it twice :/ not sure what exactly i could do then. she doesnt use it often enough to be worth escalating or usually to me (its just in my vicinity). oh well.

        1. ecnaseener*

          If the word you’ve used was “rude,” she’s probably thinking you mean rude like a non-slur curse word. You could try “offensive” or “a slur.”

          1. Smithy*

            Yes – an example of that dismissiveness would be that my mother has long believed that the word “sucks” is equivalent to other swear words in their rudeness.

            While this was a mannerly way of speech that my mom tried to instill when I was a kid, it was a point of contention then and didn’t stick as the rest of the world really didn’t back her up. Now, even though I know she finds the word rude, I’m ok with an “agree to disagree” approach to using it. I don’t aim to use it a lot around her, but I also don’t police myself or apologize when I say it.

            1. Goody*

              My mom also doesn’t like “suck,” as well as “turd,” and reacts like they are F bombs. Sigh.

              1. Smithy*


                In terms of how I do or do not show respect to my mom by my use of the word in her presence – that is likely a letter for a different advice columnist. However, I do think it’s helpful in calling out the difference in telling someone a word choice is rude or impolite as opposed to a slur, offensive or hurtful.

        2. JustaTech*

          I had a slightly older coworker who used the word occasionally (directed at objects or systems, not people) and I had to ask her a few times to not use it around me. The first time I said something like “hey, not cool” but the second time I said “hey, I had a friend growing up with developmental disabilities, can you please not use that word around me?”

          And she stopped! I don’t know if it was that I said “around me” or if it was because I personalized it to a childhood friend, but people can change their speaking patterns.

          (Heck, sometimes I still think that word when I get super frustrated, but I try to replace it with something else to change my patterns so I don’t ever say it out loud.)

      3. chewingle*

        And if he doesn’t seem to get it, you can compare it to the same general era when people called things they thought were stupid, “gay.” Same idea — it’s incredibly rude. People seem to understand that one better, so maybe it will help put it into context for him.

      4. Anonymosity*

        I like this. I have this exact problem with a younger person at work and I was searching for a way to word it. Thank you.

      5. theletter*

        I like to use the word ‘Amateur’. It sounds much more professional, and can have that original biting intention or an air of compassion depending on the context.

      6. Anonymous*

        FWIW, I made the transition out of using this slur (grew up in the 80s/90s, and whew, was it common!) by using the word “ridiculous” because having the “re-” at the beginning gave my brain a beat to correct itself. Just mentioning this in case anyone else is looking for replacement vocab :)

        1. Thank you*

          I like this suggestion a lot. I’m also of a generation where this was a very common thing to say (mid-Gen X) and have realized that even substituting “stupid” or “dumb” isn’t great.

        2. Goody*

          Great point-it reminds me of “redonk” which I picked up from Adventure Time, I think I’ll make an effort to use it in place of the other R word

          1. Goody*

            To clarify I almost never use the R word but it has popped out once or twice this century, it is so ingrained from growing up in the 80s

      7. PlainJane*

        “Difficult” probably isn’t what he means. Maybe “frustrating” or “ridiculous” or something along that line. Or just, “This system kinda sucks.”

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          Maddening! Infuriating! I’m flabbergasted that someone thought THIS piece of junk was the way to go!

          There are so many excellent words that don’t get used nearly enough. R pejorative is passé.

    2. Anon for This*

      That’s not the only word that used to be common and is now frowned upon. I unthinkingly used an expression that was very common when I was younger and fortunately my co-worker called me on it in the moment. It was helpful in reminding me the origins of the word and that it is no longer acceptable. I have been careful, but given that it used to be common parlance I would not be surprised if it slips out again. You have to say something in the moment, otherwise it won’t land. But please be polite – it likely doesn’t come from a place of hostility, but outdated custom.

      1. Essess*

        Until recently, I also used to frequently use a term that turns out is a slur. I honestly didn’t know. The term I used ended up being a short version of a word for Romani that is used to refer to cheating someone. I didn’t know that the Romani was the origin of the word. I thought the 3-letter word came from a short version of the word ‘gypsum’ and thought the origin of the word referred to cheating someone by substituting gypsum for real stone. I was terribly embarrassed to find out it was actually a slur.

        1. Jiminy Cricket*

          You’re not alone! I remember the very moment the lights came on for me and I saw the connection. It was pretty horrifying. That word was probably in the top ten most used vocabulary words for kids of my generation — and most of us thought it was spelled with a j and an i.

        2. MassMatt*

          I was thinking of this, plus a word for someone who gives you something only to take it back, and a common term for a police wagon/van.

          I used to use all these words and more, literally without thinking about them, which shows why racism and xenophobia thrives on ignorance.

          The telling thing is how you react when the problem is pointed out. It’s natural to feel startled and embarrassed, but a better person learns, stops using the slur, and moves on. The worse person ignores the issue and keeps using the word claiming it’s just a habit—in other words, they cannot learn. The worst person digs in, becomes defensive, and starts trying to say the word MORE because “free speech” “no political correctness”, etc.

          1. tw1968*

            The telling thing is how you react when the problem is pointed out. It’s natural to feel startled and embarrassed, but a better person learns, stops using the slur, and moves on. The worse person ignores the issue and keeps using the word claiming it’s just a habit—in other words, they cannot learn. The worst person digs in, becomes defensive, and starts trying to say the word MORE because “free speech” “no political correctness”, etc.

            “…they CANNOT learn…”

            MassMatt, this is a wonderful explanation and I am going to use this and give you full credit!!! Thank you!

    3. MCL*

      As a person who grew up as a tween and teen in the 90s when this word was commonly used, I worked hard to excise it from my vocabulary. I still caught myself starting to say it for a while and trained myself to say “ridiculous” instead if I already started saying the “re-“ part of the word. I’m surprised and dismayed that it appears to be making a comeback??

    4. Maglev to Crazytown*

      My coworkers and I were given weird shocked looks by our admin when she walked by and overheard us talking about “retardation factors.” It is still a legitimate technical term without substitutes in some fields, as the Latin base word is “slow.” While it is wrong to use that word for humans in the capacity of a slur, it does still have legitimate definitions and uses in the technical world.

        1. Totally Minnie*

          Exactly. Every time I see a conversation about the r word, somebody brings up the verb as a defense and it’s exhausting. LW’s coworker used it as an insult, not in one of its related legitimate forms.

          1. sparkle emoji*

            Yes, reasonable people can tell the difference between terms like ritardando(Italian, music term meaning slowly) or a sign about brake retarders and Sam’s usage of the word, even though they all trace back to the same Latin word. Context matters, and in this context it wasn’t appropriate

      1. Rocket Raccoon*

        Thank you for pointing this out! As a baker who regularly retards dough, I get so frustrated that people don’t get this. To retard means to slow down! It’s a verb!

        I’m not looking for an excuse use to use a slur, I just hate it when normal useful words get ruined.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          In painting, there’s a medium you can add to acrylic paint to slow down it’s drying time and it’s called “retarder”, which I always hated saying even though I knew it was totally fine.

        2. ThatGirl*

          It’s also a word in French – “en retard” means late – but context 100% matters.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            I teach French as an additional language and have lost count of how many times I have said “Fergus, tu es en retard.” “Miiiiiiisssssss!!!!!” (Shocked Pikachu face). I’m always caught between “Context matters!” and being just a little proud.

        3. Jiminy Cricket*

          But it’s not ruined. You (and I) can keep talking about retarding our dough (if anyone actually cares to listen). Nobody is saying we shouldn’t. We all know what we’re being asked to do: Please don’t use intellectual disability as an insult.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            We also get that there are legitimate uses – that doesn’t change the charged nature of slurs and the strong reaction that tends to accompany their use.

            1. Lydia*

              I understand where Rocket Raccoon is coming from, though. Once upon a time on the bird app, the technical use of retard came up and there was a very vocal contingent who argued it shouldn’t even be used then because of its association. There are some folk see things very black and white and will argue that context doesn’t matter. They aren’t the majority, and it’s not a universal feeling, but they are vocal and do pick up traction sometimes.

              1. Willow Pillow*

                Those are outliers. It is a best practice not to let decisions revolve around outliers.

      2. Beth*

        Yes, there are legitimate technical uses of words like “retardation,” or even of “retard” as a verb (“to slow down”). But it’s not hard to tell, if you listen for more than half a second, when someone is using one of those technical terms in a technically relevant context vs when someone is using the noun or adjective form to insultingly compare a person or object to a person with intellectual disabilities. I don’t think there’s actually broad confusion over this.

      3. MassMatt*

        I was thinking about its use in a scientific context. Would words such as “inhibited” or “slowing” work just as well?

    5. Dust Bunny*

      I’m in my mid-40s and we used to use this as a put-down when we were kids, yes, but then we outgrew it and stopped.

    6. ldub*

      With a few coworkers with whom I’ve had rapport, I’ve had good luck saying in a lighthearted but straightforward way, “Nobody says that anymore, Sam.” or “You know nobody uses that word anymore, right?” Most times they already know that and will sheepishly say “I know but we used to use it all the time” to which I’ve again had good luck replying, “I understand, but I’d hate for anyone to think less of you or to take you less seriously at work because you use it now.” It stopped every time.

      1. Jiminy Cricket*

        This has worked for me, as well: “Oof! I don’t think we’re saying that anymore.”

    7. Miette*

      As a person from this generation, the memo has been received, and I don’t know that it should be his excuse.

      That said, his reaction to OP’s request not to use the r-word will be telling. If he’s genuinely surprised and seeks to be better in the future, that’s great. If he knows it is a slur and has been conditioned by life to use it, but won’t in future (or corrects himself next time) thanks to your reminder, that’s also good. If he reacts negatively (e.g. if the word “snowflake” enters the discourse), then keep this dude at arm’s length as much as you can.

    8. ThatGirl*

      My FIL is a good guy but definitely the kind of guy who used “gay” to mean “stupid” or the r-word in a casual way. Thankfully me saying “please don’t say that/use that word that way” got him to stop pretty quickly. I have a developmentally disabled brother, which gave me more credibility on the r-word. (I’m also queer but he doesn’t know that since I’m married to his son :P)

      1. listen up fives, a ten is speaking*

        My grandpa calls things that he thinks are dorky or something “f-ggy” and that really bothers me. He’s 87 years old and really conservative, though, so he’s proud of being “un-PC” and refuses to stop saying it.

    9. Potatoes gonna potate*

      I had removed that word from my vocabulary many years ago (I’m 38). But at my current job they constantly use this word, from the 60+ CEO to younger-than me supervisors/managers etc. It grated on me at first and while I’ve never said it out loud, I found myself constantly using that word in my inner dialogue (“i.e. don’t be a __”). Since therapy I’ve stopped using it but given my place and value here I don’t think I have standing to push back on that.

    10. Beth*

      Agreed! It doesn’t have to be a big deal. A quick heads up is all that’s needed here: “Hey, I noticed you using this word the other day. FYI in case you haven’t heard, it’s considered a slur nowadays. I know it’s really out of character for you to use offensive language, so I was worried you might not know–that’s been a big shift in the last 20 years, but enough people think of it as a slur these days that you probably want to avoid it!”

      My one note is, I actually don’t think it’s that different than a racial slur. Well, it’s different in that racial slurs are better known and therefore less likely to be unintentional. But I don’t understand why one would be worth calling out after the fact and the other wouldn’t. They’re both completely unacceptable language, both in the workplace and in life.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I agree, it’s not the category of slur, it’s how well-known it is that the word is a slur. For example, the common term for Romani is a racial slur, but it’s mainstream enough that I would start with education and only escalate if that didn’t work. (I would probably do the same if someone used “negro” or similar, though I’d be wondering what decade they were stuck in.)

        The n-word, f-word and c-word, on the other hand, are well enough known that I’d go straight to HR.

        1. Orv*

          I once had a friend who was a British immigrant use the n-word in conversation. He insisted it wasn’t a slur in the UK.

          1. IneffableBastard*

            In my first language, “negro” (no capitalization because no nationality or religion contains capitals there, and it is otherwise written exactly like in English) is the correct term to refer to Black people. “Preto” (black) was considered derogatory and has been recently reclaimed, but it is usually only within the Black community, and non-Black folks only use it meaning the colour (a black sofa, black coffee, etc). We were taught that “preto is colour, negro is race”. Variations like diminutives, augmentatives, and slang derived from the word “negro” are defined by voice tone and context, because their meaning ranges from extreme love to slurs such as the n-word.

            I only need to remember which term is the correct one when I switch languages, and it is not that hard. I never heard about the n-word not being offensive in the UK, though.

    11. Yellow*

      I addressed this a few years ago with a former coworker- And it was a success! We were friends, and rode the train to work together. He said “The R Word” while we were on the train one day and in that moment I voiced some concern. I told him that it wasn’t cool to use the word retarded as a substitute for dumb/stupid/whatever bad thing. He was very open to it, and stopped. So, it can be done! Good luck!

    12. WhodatMajority*

      I think if we all started treating this word it as if it WERE a racial slur, the point would come across more quickly!

      I don’t see it as much different from a racial slur – it is meant as a derogatory term for members of society who aren’t white, male, Christian, and ‘normal’.

      The same can be said for the “G word” (derogatory term deriving from the Romani people) – it SEEMS tamer than the N word to some, but maybe it shouldn’t be treated as such!

      1. I&I*

        Among other things, there’s a reasonable chance a company will have neurodivergent employees, and ND people are sometimes targeted with the r-slur. There’s no guarantee it won’t carry a personal sting.

        If it’s an innocent mistake, polite information is the way to start – but if someone keeps using it after that, I do not agree that it should be considered different from any other slur. Discrimination against people with these disabilities is real and horrific; it’s just under-reported.

  5. Commentmouse*

    A few years ago (2018?), I once heard a coworker refer to clients using the r-word twice in one day. When I brought it up to my supervisor (who was a very good supervisor), she didn’t know/wasn’t sure what I meant by “r-word” and needed me to spell it out. Not sure if that’s pretty common but it felt weird to me.

    1. Ink*

      I’d bet it has a LOT to do with how and with whom someone spends their time. It was HUGE when I was in elementary, and I’m only in my twenties. I started personally encountering information more specific than a teacher saying “that’s not a nice thing to say” in my teens, but only because I was in spaces where it came up. On top of that, there seems to be a generational gap to some extent- *I* only encountered it in derogatory contexts, but you don’t have to be that much older to have encountered it as the proper medical terminology, and that seems to provide a roadblock to seeing it as a slur rather than as outdated and not preferred.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        I know what you mean about how that word used to be acceptable mainstream terminology.

        Long ago, in a galaxy far away, I went to a university that had a big special education program offering specializations in teaching students with particular types of special needs, including that one, and yes, that term was used in course titles, etc. They eventually switched over to using the term mentally “handicapped,” which of course has also fallen out of favor sense then.

        I learned some time ago that the r word had come to be considered a slur, but I’m sure there are still a lot of older folks who haven’t gotten that memo. Awkward as it can be, I think it’s a kindness to politely set people straight on this, even though they may not be 100% appreciative at the time.

        1. Armchair Analyst*

          right, it was a clinical diagnosis, for a long time
          then it became a slur.
          then people advocated for it to stop being a slur. because of that, I think the diagnosis name was changed? not sure.
          still a slur :( also more of a prohibited word so I guess that’s good

      2. amoeba*

        To be honest, the actual medical context kind of makes it… worse to me as a slur? Like using “gay” as an insult, basically – I really wasn’t aware it had been used so recently, I assumed it was more of an “used to be used waaaaaaay back in the days (like, early 20th century or something), but would obviously never ever be used for actual patients nowadays” thing!
        (Like the word “idiot” – at least in German, yeah, there is the connection that it used to be used for people with mental disabilities, and in certain bubbles people start considering it an ableist slur. But for most people, there is really no mental connection to disability, as it’s been so long and seems so inconceivable nowadays to use it in that way!)

        1. Ridiculous Penguin*

          When I was in high school “queer” was still a slur, so much so that a few of my friends my age and older are offended and rather hurt that it’s become an acceptable and common label over the past decade.

          1. Madame X*

            The evolution of the word “queer” is so interesting to me because it went from being a slur to an identity. I’m of a generation that only associates the word with a neutral of positive connotation.

            1. Despachito*

              I remember times when “gay” meant “merry”, and “queer” meant “strange”-

              (As witnessed by “Lady Gay” by Joan Baez.
              “My little horse must think it queer
              To stop without a farmhouse near”

              (“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, Robert Frost))

              I am on the fence about the mental development related ones. Technically, anything related to “stupid” can be interpreted as “ableism”, but I think the understanding of what is and what isn’t acceptable varies very widely.

              I personally would find it unacceptable to call a person with a mental disability “stupid”, a “retard” or an “idiot”, and I tend not to use those words overall, but I would not see it as inappropriate to use them on rare occasions of extreme frustration to denote a malfunctioning system or a person who has no mental disability but is behaving stupidly.

              Perhaps it is because I have already totally discarded the option of using them for really disabled people (e.g. as the word “idiot” used to be a technical term to denote a certain degree of mental disability but is not used like that anymore and shifted towards a “a person without a mental disabilita behaving in a very stupid way”)?

            2. CommanderBanana*

              There’s a linguistic term for it – amelioration. Sometimes it’s a gradual shift in a word’s meaning from something negative to something positive over time, sometimes it’s a more purposeful reclamation/repurposing of a negative word by the community it’s used against.

            3. Andrew*

              The extra interesting thing is that “queer” (noun) has a longer history; it was an insider term before it was a slur. The Oxford English Dictionary has citations from the 1920s of gay men writing things like, “I want to move to New York and meet other queers.” It became a slur in the mid-20th century, but was pretty quickly adapted into “We’re here, we’re queer.”

            4. Beth*

              Queerness is interesting because basically all of our label choices are like this. If I’m looking for words that accurately describe me, I could go for lesbian, queer, dyke, gay…literally all of which have been used as insults and slurs. (Lesbian and dyke were big bad ones in my hometown when I was a teen–we were coming on board with using gay and queer positively, but lesbian was either totally unspoken or used behind someone’s back as an insult, and dyke was worse.) New labels we come up with for ourselves either stay so unknown that they’re not useful for communication, or get twisted into insults and slurs by homophobes. So reclaiming is a necessity! What else are we going to do, not talk about it?

          2. Queer Earthling*

            Queer was still used as a slur when I was in school (although “gay” was more common) but it’s been accepted as a community term and a term for academic study of our history, art, etc since the very early 90s, and reclamation efforts began well before that, at least in the 80s and possibly earlier.

            1. sb51*

              Around me, in the 80s-90s as a kid, “queer” was something I only heard as an identity, in a positive way, although I didn’t hear it very often. I actually knew quite a few queer people, which was unusual for a kid in that era—all of them used “gay” or “lesbian” speaking to me but would be happy with “the queer community” as a term for the larger group. I wasn’t having detailed conversations about this stuff as a kiddo but my parents were very active in left-wing politics and I saw a lot of t-shirts/bumper stickers. By the time I got to college in the 90s, the college affinity groups used “queer” in their names (there was both a queer group and a queer-straight alliance group).

              “Gay” was an all-purpose insult AND a neutral identity term simultaneously. If people actually wanted to insult someone’s sexuality, they used the f-word for guys, and “lezzie” for women.

              Those of us who were bothered by “gay” as an insult at the time switched to “lame”, which we didn’t realize was also a slur that had turned into an all-purpose insult. The r-word was also in use in the same all-purpose way as well as in a more pointed sense, and was stronger than the other two.

              (By all-purpose insult I mean that it wasn’t actually implying that the person insulted was (the meaning of the slur) but just that they were uncool.)

              1. Anonymous*

                I think in terms of both ‘gay’ and ‘queer’, the LTBG+ community fought a campaign of, “taking our words back”. I was a baby-gay back then, so I don’t have a lot of context on this, but I do remember others talking about the struggle to reclaim language of oppression.

                1. MigraineMonth*

                  Which is fascinating, because I think “gay” was originally coined by the community, was taken away, and taken back again. Language is weird!

                2. MassMatt*

                  Queer was indeed reclaiming a slur, it was also a shorthand for “gay, lesbian, and bisexual” (there was not yet much awareness of trans and asexual) before “LGBT” “LGBTQ+” and “LGBTQA+” became common.

                  It was also, because of its charged history, considerable more political and confrontational than “”gay”, as demonstrated by the ACT-UP inspired direct action group Queer Nation, who would do things like stage kiss-ins at straight bars, anti-gay churches, and police stations.

                  Ah, those were the days.

                3. Lydia*

                  There’s still some division about using queer as a reclaimed word. Some people who came up in the 80s and 90s and had the word used against them don’t like it, while still other people from that same era have reclaimed it and use it to describe themselves. The side I come down on is people can choose how they want to be described and no one gets to make a universal decision about it. One of the arguments against using it is that it’s mostly Gen Z who use it and they don’t know history. I like to remind people making that claim that “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” has been around for decades, long before most of Gen Z were born.

          3. WS*

            When I was in high school in the late 80s/early 90s “queer” was both a slur and being reclaimed, which was very confusing for me! You get it shouted at you and then you go to university and there’s a Queer Studies Department!

          4. Sorrischian*

            The way it was explained to me as a teen in the 2010s by a family friend who’s a Queer Studies academic is that any word used to neutrally describe us can and has also been used as a slur against us, so we’re going to take the terms we like and throw them back in the faces of the people who hate what we are no matter what word we use. That made and makes sense to me – for context, I grew up mostly hearing ‘queer’ in academic settings and ‘gay’ as a catchall insult (small town Midwest in the 2000s).

            And since then, for myself as someone whose identity falls in a sort of ill-defined bisexual/pansexual/asexual/demisexual zone depending on how exactly you define each of those terms, I love and embrace Queerness as a label of solidarity with everyone who doesn’t fit the restrictive norms expected of us by society, regardless of the minutia of our individual identities.

            1. Jackalope*

              That’s part of why I like the word queer too. I happen to be a variety of queer that’s included in the main “alphabet soup” used to describe us, but many people aren’t, and the math behind making as many people as possible feel included vs. having an acronym that’s actually pronounceable led me to using queer instead since it can contain everyone.

              1. Michelle Smith*

                I use it for myself as well, because it’s much faster and easier for people to understand that I’m queer than if I have to explain that I’m nonbinary but AFAB and would be considered a lesbian if I still identified my gender as female but also I’m somewhere on the gray-asexual spectrum. Like it’s just too much information for someone who’s not actively trying to date me.

                1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  This – agender, asexual, demi-romantic, and in a polyfamily; queer takes care of everything I don’t necessarily want to get into.

                2. MEH Squared*

                  Same. I’m agender (AFAB), bisexual (don’t love it, but I like the other terms even less), ENM, aromantic, and an a weirdo in general. No one needs to know all that when they first meet me. Queer works as an umbrella term for me.

              2. MigraineMonth*

                It hasn’t really caught on, but I’ve seen QUILTBAG suggested for pronounceability. I think my college class used “gender and sexual minorities” (GSM).

                Queer works for me, though.

              3. Pointy's in the North Tower*

                Same. I identify as queer, because it’s so much easier and shorter than “gender-nonconforming heteroromantic pansexual.”

            2. Critical Rolls*

              I appreciate that queer also lets people limit the amount of information they’re distributing to “not cishet.”

          5. ThatGirl*

            I remember having discussions in my college newspaper newsroom (circa 2000) about whether it was OK to use queer and in what contexts. It was becoming more widely reclaimed then, especially by lgbtq student groups. I’ve always liked it, personally, but I also respected the elder gays for whom it brought up painful memories.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes I know a couple of old gay men who hate being called queer because it was a term of abuse for them in the 1980s so they have really bad memories of having it shouted at them. So they’d never use it for themselves. I think the main thing is to use the words people want for themselves and listen to what they say.

      3. Gyne*

        I wonder if there is some regionality to it- I’m in my 40s and that word has always been a slur.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I don’t think you’re old enough! I think the word was phased out of medical terminology in the 1960’s (along with other formerly-medical words like “moron” and “imbecile”).

    2. Kate*

      So I was once politely called out for using the R-word.

      I feel like I was using it some out in a middle way— not medical for sure, not a compliment, but not an insult either? And never against a person. Like someone said below, in reference to a process or an inanimate object that doesn’t work the way it was designed.

      Anyways, that’s why I had no qualms about using it — it was an insult with anything behind it.

      That said, the call out was appreciated, and I’ve never used it since. If someone’s hurt by it, that’s enough for me to change my vocabulary.

      1. Kacihall*

        I’ve used it talking about making bread (as in, the eggs I added to the dough retarded the proving) and realized that unless I’m talking with people who also bake, it’s not a great word to use. because some people only know it as a synonym for stupid, rather than the actual meaning.

        1. Armchair Analyst*

          I remember some politicians using a word that includes the n-word inside it but is not related to the n-word meaning but usually means miserly.

          of course this came to light through the media, charges of racism, etc. since then I have rarely used, seen or heard that word.

          1. MassMatt*

            That word is an interesting case, its origins is Scandinavian for cheap or miserly, it has no connection to the word “negro” at all except it sounds an awful lot like it. Best to use “miserly” or “stingy” instead.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          For me it helps a bit that the way it’s pronounced changes in the local accent. Eggs as a dough retarder, or flame retardant material, don’t have inflection on the first syllable the way the offensive terms does. They’re obviously related words, but equally obviously non-identical.

      2. ThatGirl*

        My brother is developmentally disabled (he has a more specific diagnosis than that) but growing up, the language shifted several times – I remember “minimally mentally r—d” being used at one point. And it was definitely medical! But at some point in the 90s that fell out of favor.

    3. L-squared*

      Honestly, if someone said “the r word”, I don’t know that it would register to me either.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        I know not to use the word “retarded” in the old fashioned sense as applied to a person or as a insult to a person or thing. However if someone said “she used the r-word” I’d probably not be able to figure out what that person was talking about.

        And if someone talk about “retard” and used it as a verb as in “something retards growth” it’s obvious not meant as a slur or insult, and I wouldn’t notice a thing.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yeah I wouldn’t know what “the r word” meant without an explanation either, because it’s not a word I’d tend to think about.

      2. Caramel & Cheddar*

        A show I watched referred to “the f word” in it. They did not mean the one that rhymes with “truck” and it took me an unreasonably long time to figure out what they meant even though the entire episode was about homophobia. Sometimes even context clues aren’t enough if the person has literally never heard anyone refer to it with the abbreviation before and even if they do know the full word is a slur.

    4. metadata minion*

      If someone doesn’t realize that something is a slur, they’re not going to recognize what you mean by an abbreviation.

    5. John Smith*

      I believe a word in itself is not offensive, but the way it is used is. What about retardant? Is something going to be fire delaying? What does that mean? If were going to remove derivations and similar words, are we going to ban the word “niggardly” which has nothing whatsoever to do with a similar word that is spellled with an E rather than an A? And that word itself has been taken from a slur and owned by the people it was used against but dare not be used otherwise, yet the word “queer” can be chucked around left right and centre? Can we look forward to a few years hence when people with stereotypical neurological / cognitive issues address each other “Yo! what’s up, retard!? How’s you?”? I think people need to think on before making decisions.

      1. Elsajeni*

        I don’t really think that every case of “someone used a slur, in the manner it is normally used as a slur or insult” needs to be backed up with “but WHAT IF I can think of a situation where it WOULD be okay to say that word???” Well, in that situation, use the word, I guess! Meanwhile, over here in the situation the OP wrote in about, Sam needs to knock it off!

  6. Danish*

    For #1 I wouldn’t mention it and do #1 or #2… Because I’d assume he actually is trying to get an “ew gross!” reaction. Generally that reaction seems to be the appeal of gross out content for the people who spread it

  7. Name*

    LW 1 – My default is “I make it a practice to not have coworkers as friends on social media.” Makes life a lot easier.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah I’d probably go this route or “You know what, I’ve decided I’m just sick of Facebook/social media”.

    2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Yep. That’s actually advice I’ve gotten from AAM, and it’s made my life SO much easier. There’s been one person in three years at this company that I thought about wanting to connect with, but the benefit form being able to say “I don’t connect with people I work with except on LinkedIn,” FAR outweighed that desire.

    3. B*

      This is what LinkedIn is for, and it fills the role nicely. You can keep in touch with old colleagues at precisely the correct boring, sterile distance.

    4. ENFP in Texas*

      Exactly. I don’t Friend them because they’re not friends. They’re co-workers. The fact that we both work at the same place does not mean that I want them to have access to my personal life.

  8. Ginerapple*

    Honey… number 3… you can say “that’s not a polite term of phrase now.” … that is a good answer. When you know there isn’t… malice. Good for you… for making a kinder world, and also discerning

  9. Not A Manager*

    Michael knows exactly what’s on his Facebook page. He’s either (a) trying to provoke you or (b) exploring whether you share his “interest.” How you respond is up to you, but don’t assume that he’s unaware of what he’s doing or its likely effect on you.

    If it were me, I’d ignore his friend request, proceed with him as normal at work, and not pursue any further intimacy. My strong guess is that he will try to subtly probe as to whether you looked at his FB page or not. Be boring and bland in your responses.

      1. coffee*

        From his point of view, he’s aware of the timeframe between each post, so he might not have realised what it’s like to get an onslaught of all the posts at once. Kind of a “For them, it was the most vomit-filled day on Facebook. For me, it was a Tuesday.” situation. Maybe he DID forget. (Maybe.)

        And I absolutely would tell myself he forgot, and decline the friend request, and never bring it up. Denial! It’s a nice holiday destination in Egypt and also in your head!

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Yeah, I was thinking maybe he regularly posts photos of say his kids and family parties and stuff but those are all private and posts the vomit stuff maybe once a week, so it doesn’t seem like a high portion of his posts to him, but when you only see the public posts… But honestly, it’s probably not the most likely explanation, especially as it would be an odd choice of post to make public.

    1. Large Pink Rabbit*

      Yes, he does know exactly what’s on his FB page. Unless he is otherwise provocative or seems like he’s feeling out LW’s interest level, I wouldn’t assume he sent her a friend request for effect. After all, even people with strange, gross, or niche interests connect with their friends online.

      1. doreen*

        He does , on some level know what’s on his Facebook page but he may or may not know how it looks to someone else. I know people who don’t want their family photos to be visible to everyone who sees their FB page, so they set it so that only friends can see them. But they don’t necessarily realize that it then appears like they post nothing but ( fill in the blank) to someone who isn’t their FB friend.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          I truly think this is the most likely explanation. He’s got a weird vomit thing. He’s OK with that being public on FB. He met LW, they’re friends, he’d like to share his family, etc with friends so he asks to friend LW. But she looks at his page and it just looks crazy to her with only public posts featuring vomit.
          Having said that, LW, you’re under no obligation to accept his friend request to see if this is true or not. Just mention that you’re never on FB/don’t use it anymore/what have you, and move on.

          1. Anonymous 75*

            I think that it’s giving way to much credit that most Facebook users think that deeply about friend requests at all.

            1. AngryOctopus*

              That’s my point. He’s not thinking anything beyond “I made friends with LW and want her to be my friend on FB because that’s where I share things about my life!”. Not thinking at all how his public only page looks to a non-friend.

              1. Anonymous*

                He drew vomit on his profile pic. There are no private posts that are better than the public ones.

  10. Why am I always tired????*

    OP3 – this is the wording I sent to a former manager regarding the use of the R word. I hadn’t raised it for a long time, because we had multiple other issues happening, and there were so many issues to focus on first!

    ….There are many words that were formerly commonplace that have now quite rightly been withdrawn from common use as they cause offense. The word retard is one that is now considered by all as offensive, and there is a worldwide campaign to educate people to stop using the word. There have been many instances where you use the word “Retard/Retarded” to describe a process that you feel is outdated, you don’t like, or you feel is not needed. As a person active within the special needs community, as well as having a special needs child with an intellectual disability as well as Autism Spectrum Disorder, I find the word particularly grating, and offensive when used in a derogatory way (such as calling a process that you don’t like retarded). You are, in effect, likening a useless item to someone with an intellectual disability.

    I’ve attached links to The R Word campaign website and other similar articles, plus a link to words that can be used in its place for further information/reference.

    I know that you don’t mean to cause offense when you use the term, however, now that you are aware of how offensive the term can be, I hope you are able to find alternate words to use in its place.

    1. In need of a better thesaurus*

      I haven’t used that word from the day I discovered it was offensive in my late teens, but it did leave a hole in my vocabulary that I haven’t been able to fill. I used to use it to describe things that were out of date or slow to come into line with current standards; e.g. ‘Wow, XYZ software doesn’t have 2-factor login authentication? That’s (insert slur here).’. I will admit, as a fallible human I do sometimes find myself thinking the word in similar contexts even though I would never let it fall out of my mouth. (Please don’t pile on me, I’d scour my brain if I could!)

      Does anyone have any good suggestions for a word to use/think in such circumstances? None of the 35 words on the list capture the nuance of being slow in development, and I fear that this may be one of the reasons that this term continues to hang around like a bad smell. It would also be great to be able to offer a viable alternative to anyone I hear using it, rather than just implying that their insult vocabulary is small when that’s not *really* the root cause of the continued usage.

      1. coffee*

        – Archaic
        – Lagging behind/the developers are dawdling
        – Old fashioned/old school
        – Fucked up/effed up
        – been sitting on the backburner until its old enough to vote

      2. Bit o' Brit*

        There are plenty of words that mean outdated, ancient, archaic, antique, passé, but none carry the same insulting bite so I can see why they don’t feel the same.

        I similarly used to refer to myself as “socially retarded” in a semi-literal sense, then learned I’m autistic so it’s actually kind of true? Problem there is it’s just being replaced by using autistic as a perjorative which is hardly an improvement.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, it’s frustrating. Either it’s being used as a straight insult, or it’s being used to excuse certain behaviour, when most of us who are actually autistic have to learn to manage situations in which we go too far in certain directions. (I said this the other day on the notice to come into the office thread, but even if we find things difficult, there are as many hardships and frustrations out there as there are individual people. Being neurodivergent does not excuse us from having to find ways of adapting to situations which we might find uncomfortable or get us special dispensation to act strangely or against the expectations of our peers. We’re the centre of our own worlds, but just a bit part in many others, and playing the disability card in some circumstances can just make us look fragile.)

            1. Bit o' Brit*

              If your native language were English and you lived in France would you insist on only ever speaking English or would you speak French so people could understand you?

              You can call it internalised ableism, I call it trying to be understood rather than turn my every social encounter into an activism struggle.

            2. GythaOgden*

              You have no idea how infantilising that sounds, as if my 44 years on this Earth have taught me nothing about how I go about forming my own conclusions about the world and navigating it as best as I can.

              You might think you’re being smart, but I lost my husband to cancer 4 years ago today and I am NOT in the mood to be told how my own worldview is somehow internally ableist, as if I’m some poor sheep who doesn’t know her own mind, hasn’t been through some horrific events and seen much, much worse happen to those around me than has happened to me.

              You may be the centre of your own world, and that’s awesome, but I’m autistic, not stupid.

      3. Bit o' Brit*

        Personally I’ve replaced it with “f—-ing ridiculous” followed by a more specific non-swearing complaint/rant, which has shrunk my insult vocabulary and probably isn’t appropriate in some (many?) workplaces. But it’s the emotional catharsis I’m reaching for more than anything, so it’ll do.

      4. Not Totally Subclinical*

        For a poorly designed item or system, my go-to is “half-assed”.

        For your example, I could see saying “how retro” or “love that turn-of-the-century design!”, though if I’m around folks who have trouble picking up sarcastic intonation I’d need something else to say.

        1. Not Totally Subclinical*

          Oh, how about “that’s quaint”? “Quaint” has a negative connotation if it’s not describing an actual antique, so would fit this situation.

      5. GythaOgden*

        Stupid is fine. Crazy is fine. Ridiculous. Bizarre. Idiotic. (We all do things that are foolish or reckless or whatever, and while some of those words are relics of past approaches to mental health categorisation and treatment, they’re now used in such a way as to be plain English for something that someone did independent of any specific condition. Even lunacy is fine by me.) The r-word was never part of my own vocabulary (I didn’t grow up in the US, although I got the lesson about using slurs very early on from my awesome mother, who as a teacher knew exactly how to convince and encourage kids not to do things; in this case it was ‘how would you like it if someone used your name as a way of saying something was horrible?’) and I’m really surprised that of all the hills to die on this is your own.

        And as for the clinical usage, ‘slow in development’ part…that’s what you say. Developmentally delayed is the term I’d use for myself (I don’t have learning disabilities, but I do have developmental issues akin to what people with actual LDs go through). For most people acknowledging a specific condition — a neurological disorder in my case — is best done in a clinical fashion. The r-word is no longer part of clinical terminology and has been used in a hateful way and you know that.

        There’s a semantic difference to me between words that describe a situation that’s generally rubbish in a poetic or analogical way and something that is quite obviously hate speech. Semantics is slippery at times but it’s often a matter of degree rather than logic. That said, here’s my own reasoning on why I’m upset by the r-word but not some others.

        As neurodivergent and with mental health issues, I don’t have a problem with crazy, stupid, idiotic etc. The thing is, I’ve been there; they don’t call it mental illness for nothing — it’s scary at the time for me and it was pretty gutwrenching for my family and honestly, let’s call it like it is — I went crazy for a while because there were definite delusions taking hold of my mind. Sometimes while under the influence of altered brain chemistry you do silly things (not sharing because it wasn’t the wacky hijinks I talk about in other posts, it was just a crappy situation all round :-/) and it’s ok to admit to it. Likewise, my ankle was busted in a fall a few years ago and I can tell you now being lame in the literal sense is very much lame in the metaphorical sense. The difference is that:

        (a) as I said, doing stupid or crazy things from time to time is a part of human life even without having mental illness. We do need words for those situations and times and please, use them.

        (b) Being lame doesn’t define me as a person. My ankle hurts enough that I can’t put as much weight on it as before. I can’t run for a bus and I have to use a cane while out, which means I’ve also lost a usable hand for carrying stuff. It’s frustrating, sometimes humiliating and I’m now more conscious than ever of people who are oblivious to the need to, say, move away from the top of the stairwell at the station when I’m trying to get by. So ‘lame’ as a metaphor is very much one of those words which actually makes sense in context. But it doesn’t make me any less able to do the things I have always done that don’t involve physicality. And if I let it define me, it makes me feel like giving in trying to find a way not to be in pain for the next forty-odd years. It keeps me going to not absorb it into my identity.

        But there are loads and loads and loads of words that you can use for something being strange or weird or stupid without using that one word. That word IS dehumanising and condescending (at best!) and although it might be a matter of degree rather than logic, it bypasses all the semantics arguments above — which I’m ok with being matters for each individual and what they feel is appropriate — and goes straight to the jugular. The way you want to describe things, however, does impinge on someone else’s personhood and draws an analogy between their self and your stupid thing.

        For the love of all that’s holy, you have no need to use the word at all. As a fellow English speaker, trust me, you can get by without it. I agree with Alison that it doesn’t warrant too much fuss made about it after the event, but there is plenty of colourful but non-hateful language out there, and there’s really no actual need for you to be using that word.

        1. Appropriate username*

          Crazy and stupid actually also have really ableist roots and histories. Especially crazy is a word that people are also trying to phase out. So if you are going to replace the r-word maybe do not replace it with those two.

          The fact that you personally do not have a problem with those words does not mean that others also don’t mind them. Personally I find the word crazy very hurtful and I know the same is true for many others. (And I am sure we can also find people who would once officially be described by the r-word who wouldn’t mind people using it now in a casual way.)

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yeah, that’s why I said it was up to the individual. However, if you’ve never done anything crazy or stupid, you’re a better person than I am or most of the people here, so the jury is very much out on those words at the moment.

            1. sigh*

              Seriously?!? Those words are ableist, just because you want to use them does not mean the jury is out (just as people wanting to use the r word doesn’t make it okay). There is plenty of colourful but non-hateful language out there, and there’s really no actual need for you to be using those words

              1. yvve*

                it kinda is out, tho? slurs are usully slurs because everone agrees they are: people who use them are generally doing so with the knowledge and intention of using a slur. if something has problematic roots, but is commonly used by people not intending offense, then its not a slur sort of by definition

                however, i am willing to try to upset people less, if it does hurt feelings: what else would you suggest as a substitute?

                1. Red Sky*

                  Not everyone has to agree a slur is a slur, it’s really the targeted group’s feelings that matters.

                  I’ve replaced crazy with wild and stupid with ridiculous, I slip up sometimes because I’m old and human, but still make the effort as I’d like to live in a more considerate and respectful world.

                2. GythaOgden*

                  I am part of the targeted group. Living in a better world means actually going out there and working towards it, not taking pot-shots at each other on the internet.

              2. Former Red and Khaki*

                Hey as a person whose family has a long history with mental illness, I proudly come from a long line of crazy people who do crazy things. Performative outrage on the behalf of groups doesn’t help either. I don’t know if I know how to link it here, but I always refer people to Brad Williams – he has a very succinct message in his stand up for people who act upset on behalf of others.

              3. Courageous cat*

                Lol the jury is definitely out. If you think this is a commonplace thought then you’re spending a lot of time reading about it online – in real life, I have never met a single person who shies away from using crazy/dumb/stupid. Ever. And this is coming from someone with mental illness.

                Language changes and evolves. That is good and ok sometimes.

            2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

              I have done things that were ill-advised, silly, absurd, unthinking, wacky, irrational, unreasonable, extreme, extra, nonsensical, over the top, loopy, and goofy.

                1. DK Perler*

                  This is what’s been puzzling me about “bananapants”. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, I think it’s fun, I support trying to find alternatives to offensive words…but is it any less ableist than “crazy” when we all know that’s what we actually mean?

                2. Lenora Rose*

                  DK Perler: I feel like Bananapants has a connotation of being something the person has chosen (They put on those bananapants their own self and decided to behave that way), where actual mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder that are implicated when using “crazy” are usually not actually under the person’s own control and not something they decided to be one day.

        2. RowanUK*

          I’m an older millennial, and lots of kids said the r-word when I was at school. I haven’t used it for decades, but…I have a lot of Gen Z’s in my social circles and many continually call people out about using words like “stupid, idiot, crazy and lame” – I find it a real struggle to not say the first three words (saying lame = bad isn’t really a thing over here).

          I’m not saying that those words are as bad as the r-word, just that they’re probably ones we need to think about phasing out too.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Ugh. I’m older millennial (’79) and the one used was the three letter g-word ending with y and even that got shut down pretty quickly. And that was like 1990, because it was the boys using it at school and I was at an all-girls secondary school.

            Take it from me — I’ve been through mental illness. You bet I was both crazy and stupid. You can’t adequately describe that experience without those words, and it would be, IMO, ableist to erase that experience and the impact it has on other people.

            The ugly truth is that people undergoing mental stress do things that result in harm and distress to others, and being able to talk about that in a straight and blunt manner might actually help the people struggling with their mental health get treatment and even relative leniency that the justice system provides for them when things go very wrong.

            It also helps people like my parents who went through a year of stress trying to deal with my mental breakdown articulate their concerns, fears and get adequate assistance. I was ill — there are things that I did during that time that I’m now embarrassed and ashamed of doing and the situation for others isn’t going to be helped by denying bad things happen at all. To me, it’s like telling me not to say ‘my ankle broke’ because it implies bones are sometimes not whole and perfect — it makes no sense on either a colloquial or neurophysiological level, and I suspect people here would be the first to be upset at the erasure of mobility issues and how crappy and stressful they can end up being.

            My experience of mental illness was no different to someone else’s experiences of having a broken leg or arm. There’s something wrong and it needs to be fixed.

              1. sb51*

                The definition has varied a bunch — it is common to see the divide at 1908 or 1981 too.

                Signed, a young gen Xer who was also born in 79 but most of my friends growing up were a couple years older, so I’m squarely on that side of the line. But people have tried to tell me I’m a millennial by birth year.

                (The only time I ever described myself as a maybe-millennial was when we had a terrible work training with some awful generalizations about millennials and there were only a couple of younger people in the room so I felt obligated to call bullshit on it. It was bullshit about other generations too but the boomers in the room easily identified that part was bogus but didn’t realize the rest of it was too. And iirc it skipped gen X, as one does, lol.)

              2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                I prefer Xennial because I’m born in a year that fluxes based on who is defining when Millenial begins.

                1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                  Same. 1980 baby. Even my younger siblings (87) had a vastly different life because how computers infiltrated their lives so young.

            1. Despachito*

              I like this nuanced take.

              I get and share that there is a need not to use derogatory language, but there must still be a way to express something is an illness/a problem/difficult to deal with, just in a kinder way.

              1. Dahlia*

                I think “an illness”, “a problem”, “difficult to deal with” work quite well? Like especially if it’s an illness, “crazy” is inappropriate to call someone.

            2. metadata minion*

              I think there’s a huge difference between someone using “crazy” to describe their own experience of mental illness, and someone using it to describe something that’s irrational, useless, or hateful. The last is particularly frustrating because no, bigotry isn’t a mental illness and I really wish people would stop conflating the two.

        3. mlem*

          “Stupid”, “crazy”, and “idiotic” are not fine. “Ridiculous” and “bizarre” are, yes, along with “inane”, “annoying”, “irritating”, “inexplicable”, “ludicrous”, “frustrating” ….

        4. The Person from the Resume*

          So … “crazy” is no longer fine. It’s on it’s way out too but probably about 20 years behind the word we’re discussing.

      6. Oysters and Gender Freedoms*

        Quaint? Medieval? Neanderthal? (Probably unjust to Neanderthals but they can’t exactly complain.) Paleolithic? Some variant of “Don’t they know it’s the century of the fruit bat”?

        1. Dutx*

          That’s such a paleolithic expression. Don’t you know it’s the Century of the Anchovy?

          Or did the History Monks put you back in the wrong place when the glass clock exploded?

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I can’t use Neanderthal — they were quite intelligent and were awesome tool makers. Science has caught up with this expression.

      7. short'n'stout*

        I will sometimes say “how very 20th century” or “behind the times”to refer to anything outdated.

        Or you could describe the specific problem: “not up to current standards”, “a big security hole” “a threat to our IT systems”.

      8. anon24*

        I always use ridiculous simply because back when I was training myself to stop saying it I’d accidentally spit out “that’s re-” and my brain would go “oohhh noooooo don’t say it!!!” and so I could correct to “diculous” instead. Now it’s habit to always use ridiculous, even though it doesn’t quite mean the same thing.

      9. Just me*

        I’ve found that I come across as more entertainingly insulting when I use understatement, sarcasm and/or corporate jargon, especially if I pause a moment and let the listener imagine an insult of their choice.

        “Wow, XYZ software doesn’t have 2-factor login authentication? That’s, uhhh, let’s call it retro chic.”

        “How do I feel about Top Boss’s decision to abruptly lay off dozens of people by email and not tell the department why job cuts were even necessary? I think he’s, umm, not living up to his full leadership potential.”

        I also get some good mileage out of “yikes,” “not my favorite,” and “don’t love THAT.”

        1. Elsa*

          Yup, I also like the understatement option. My fav phrase for something that is pathetically outdated is “old school”.

          1. Bread Crimes*

            I’m very fond of litotes; there’s nothing quite like ironic understatement to really sell a point. If I say something is “kinda bad” that’s generic, but if I describe it as “not exactly optimized for its task,” it’s just… I dunno, more satisfying.

        2. curly sue*

          My teen has started saying “choices were made.” in a flat deadpan, and it cracks me up every time.

      10. Ellis Bell*

        I really like sarcasm for this kind of thing. So if I have to do something using outdated tools I say “that’s fun” or “that’s cutting edge”.

      11. Kate, short for Bob*

        Backwards, as in “I can’t believe someone wrote a list of 35 synonyms and left out that one, that’s really backwards”

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Fun thing about reading up on this stuff… some terms just no longer seem as applicable even when not actually insulting.

          Take Luddite. It turns out the Luddites weren’t anti technology as such. They were against technology being used to force people to produce more in the same time at greater physical cost, instead of to ease the labour process.

          A discussion we are still having today.

      12. DrSalty*

        Stupid and dumb are the ones I go to. Both are apt descriptors for poorly working systems. Or if I’m trying to be more professional, annoying, unfortunate, or frustrating.

          1. Fnordpress*

            To be honest those words are only ableist if you think stupidity correlates with disability. Stupidity isn’t a medical label like retarded (it’s not even comparable to words like imbecile and cretin, which were diagnostic labels in their own regard.) Anyone can be stupid; it connotes ignorance, not a medical disability. As an autistic person I find the comparison between the two words to be inaccurate, bordering on offensive. There is no comparison between calling something stupid and calling it *retarded.* I mean, people used to say “retarded” and then make noises meant to initiate people with Down’s syndrome. They’d slap their hands on their chests. It is not comparable to the word stupid in any way – or, if it is, then prove that. But you can’t just assert that the words are the same. To someone in the community they are quite different.

            1. Lydia*

              The decision that “stupid is ableist” reminds me of people assuming the phrase “to call a spade a spade” is based in the racist use of the word when it is not. Someone formed a connection and a lot of people agreed without really looking any deeper.

              Having said that, I tend to call people fucking toenails. Because nobody likes a toenail.

          2. Fnordpress*

            The word stupid isn’t rooted in any mental disorder. It comes from the Roman word for “fall guy,” like a guy doing pratfalls for entertainment. You can argue that words like cretin and imbecile are ableist; those used to be diagnostic categories, as was the word retarded. But the word stupid has no such etymology. It connotes ignorance, not disability.

            1. Anonymosity*

              I use ignorant when people who simply don’t know, stupid for when they willfully ignore.

      13. Firesquid*

        I really like the word “unacceptable.” It’s not a swear word (I have no problem swearing but I know some people don’t want to hear those words), it’s fun to say, and it can work for so many things. I also say it instead of “problematic” a lot because it’s so much more definitive. Like this is beyond being a problem and I straight up don’t accept its continuing existence.

        1. Waving not Drowning*

          Bonus points if it’s yelled out UNACCEPTABLE -a la Lemon Grab in Adventure Time style.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Inane is also a good one to use (out loud, at least, although dangerously close to insane if you’re typing on a device with autocorrect). The vibe of it is closer to annoyance and eye-rolling than to anger while still feeling satisfyingly sharp as a judgment against something.

      14. Manders*

        I last used it in a mean fashion when I was in the 4th grade. I think I was describing a boy in my class and I said “he’s so retarded”. My mom pulled the car over IMMEDIATELY and asked me what I meant, and then gave me a very stern talking to. All of this was in front of my much cooler neighbor to whom we gave a ride home every day. I wanted to crawl under my seat and die. Now I will 100% call out people – nicely – who use that word.

      15. Dust Bunny*

        How about “stupid” for starters, since that was what the r-word was used to mean in the first place?

        A massive pain

      16. JustaTech*

        Someone in another comment thread suggested “amateur” – related to that I’ve heard people in tech describe really bad choices/coding as “clown town”. ( “They used radio buttons in place of check boxes when the question requires people to check multiple boxes? Total clown town.”)

    2. Mangofan*

      Thanks for sharing this. I will confess that I personally had a tendency to roll my eyes inside when I hear people shutting down the use of the word retarded, and the links helped me understand why people find it hurtful and empathize with the people it hurts. (The first link appears broken, BTW.)

    3. A vampire’s opinion on wine*

      I…hope that campaign mainly focuses on how it’s used in English because in French something like “Elle est en retard” just means “she is late”, not the English meaning (though I’d guess the English meaning is derived from the French).

      I know that’s probably what’s going on here but I just wanted to flag this because uh…yeah I have definitely seen Americans lose it on perfectly innocent phrases from other languages because they have a very different meaning in English (not our fault y’all keep stealing words from other languages to insult people with)

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Okay, but in French that’s just the word, sort of like “flame retardant” in English, which is simply descriptive and not a slur. The problem is that “r—-” describes/described people with disabilities and was used a slur because those people were perceived as stupid. That’s also why it’s no longer used in a medical context–because it’s an unfair and inaccurate description even if you don’t mean it as an insult (and also let’s not pretend that medical terminology is never insulting).

        I don’t know what French terms are for the developmentally disabled, but if they are/were ever used as insults, that would be the same thing.

        1. A vampire’s opinion on wine*

          Like I said…I have seen Americans lose it on innocent words in other languages (such as the word “negro” on a black eyeliner) often enough that I wanted to flag this.

          As I also said, I am aware that that is probably what Why am I always tired??? meant.

          1. Bit o' Brit*

            I’ve seen “snigger” and “niggle” get that treatment for their completely coincidental resemblance to the n-word, too. Probably why you never see the also-unrelated “niggardly” these days, too.

            1. CommanderBanana*

              I remember seeing a news article a little while ago about some public official who got absolutely pilloried in a meeting for using the word niggardly. And another one for describing something as a black hole, as in, ‘a black hole where the documents vanish’ or similar.

              1. I Have RBF*

                The black hole thing is particularly asinine, because part of why it’s a black hole is that no light escapes it, therefore it is literally devoid of light, eg black. It’s not a dark hole, or a void hole, it’s a black hole.

                Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

            2. Lenora Rose*

              Niggardly was helped along to its demise by being used by people who obviously wanted permission to use the N word but knew it was past the line. So they used niggardly every single time they could describe something or someone as cheap or penny-pinching, to dance right beside the line in an “I’m not touching you” way. (This worked against at least one politician who *probably* didn’t mean it that way but came across that way when defending himself because the actual defense sounds the same as the plausible deniability.)

              Snigger is… okay in writing, I don’t even notice, but spoken aloud you need to both enunciate it well and not over-enunciate it (which draws attention to the resemblance). I just say snicker aloud.

              1. metadata minion*

                And it’s also just not a common word. I like obscure words a lot, but unless someone is sprinkling their language with unusual words overall, if they pick a $10 word that also sounds like a racial slur, I’m going to go “…seriously? was “stingy” not an option here?”

  11. Luck2U*

    For 1, if I felt the need to bring it up, I’d just say something like, “Hey Michael, gotta say, the FB request was a bit jarring. You might want to be careful with what to have public facing.” And then leave it.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      The thing of it is, it’s perfectly normal for him, so he probably doesn’t realize just how jarring it is to somebody else. I like this approach, but YMMV.

      Also, it’s possible that he hasn’t updated his Facebook page since he was thirteen. But you never know.

  12. Large Pink Rabbit*

    I used to work with a guy who used the r-word for everything. Every single time, I would repeat what he said and replace it with “ridiculous.” Here’s a typical exchange:

    Him: And they changed the llama ribbon color to pink, which is completely r*****.
    Me: Which is completely ridiculous.

    I didn’t give any speeches, I didn’t use any special emphasis, I didn’t give him any significant looks. I calmly repeated his phrase, replacing the offensive word with an inoffensive word.

    I wish I could say that he stopped using it around me, but he never did. He actually got really mad one time, but reigned in his reaction.

      1. Beka Cooper*

        I had a coworker who was offended by people saying “oh my god,” so she would repeat it as “oh my gosh,” and I remember just thinking she was agreeing with me. Months later I finally realized what she had been doing. So, it might not be a very effective strategy of the person isn’t aware the term is offensive in the first place.

        1. lilsheba*

          Ohhh this would make me mad. I have always said “oh my god” because I am an atheist and I don’t think or care if it is blasphemous. And other people need to get over it cause I’m not stopping. As for the other I was one of the kids labeled retarded in the 70s.

          1. Large Pink Rabbit*

            “And other people need to get over it cause I’m not stopping.”

            Why? If you know something bothers someone, why do you need to keep doing it? It means nothing to you, and everything to them.

            I had a coworker who would cross himself every time I said “Jesus Christ” as a curse. I noticed, asked him if he preferred that I not say that, and then avoided saying it around him bc my commitment to creating a workplace where my coworkers are comfortable is stronger than my commitment to any particular swear.

            1. lilsheba*

              I don’t feel I need to conform to other’s religious beliefs, and if they don’t like a normal expression that I have used all my life then I’m sorry but oh well. I don’t hold that mythical belief system. And it’s not a swear. It’s just an expression.

              1. ADidgeridooForYou*

                I mean, I say “oh my God” too, but couldn’t you use this logic about pretty much any request to stop using a word?

              2. Large Pink Rabbit*

                You don’t have to conform to someone’s beliefs to want to avoid offending them. Some people think the r-word is just an expression. Some people think the n-word is just an expression. Once you know you are offending someone, just stop. You won’t die, I promise.

                1. nnn*

                  What you’re missing is that religion has been pushed on people without their consent and to their detriment for centuries. Some of us decline to comply with this preference because the wider context for it is something oppressive. That makes it different than your other examples.

                2. Large Pink Rabbit*

                  @nnn So deliberately being offensive to your coworker is the answer? You’re not really sticking it to The Man with that.

              3. Beany*

                I’m also atheist, and my approach is generally to avoid using overtly religious phrases at all. I’m sure I still sometimes say “oh my god” (and I *know* I say “Jesus” as a mild swear from time to time), but I’d try harder to avoid this in the presence of someone who’s offended by it. Actually *embracing* it as an FU to the religiously observant is unnecessarily hostile IMO.

                In fact, I’d see it as opening a religious argument in a work environment, which is the wrong way to go.

      2. Large Pink Rabbit*

        Depends how you measure effectiveness. I spoke up, and I got the point across that I didn’t like it. He never stopped using it, though.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I guess it depends on your goal. If your goal was to practice speaking up against offensive language, then yeah, you got some practice. If your goal was to change his behavior, then . . .

    1. D*

      I stopped using that word as a teenager when an adult I admired heard me say it, then calmly, thoughtfully, said, “You use that word a lot.”

      Didn’t imply anything. Didn’t say anything more. Never brought it up again. Didn’t press on it. I just burned up and the word was immediately removed from my vocabulary.

  13. Just Me*

    I’m honestly curious why the advice would be different if he’d used a racial slur. That suggests to me that you consider slurs against people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are less harmful than other slurs. People with ID/DD are consistently dehumanized in a world where we have decided that intelligence = worth (thanks capitalism!). Impact > intent. If I were LW3 I would take this to HR via the process mentioned.

    1. RW*

      I do think the difference in intent matters though. I would expect everyone to know that racial slurs are not ok whereas I think there’s still a fair number of people who aren’t aware of retarded etc in the same way – and you’re going to get much more mileage with changing their use if you politely raise it than if you go straight to HR – the difference is between “oh I didn’t know this came across that way” and “this millenial is trying to police what I’m saying, gonna double down”. Going to HR would be the next step if they did keep using it willfully, but it’s not necessarily the way to a productive conversation

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yup, agreed here. Extending a certain amount of grace the first time is fine by me — it helps the lesson sink in more effectively in my experience of both delivering and receiving them if you don’t leap to anger and shame about it.

        If they were to double down on it that’s when I’d get the big guns out.

      2. Smithy*

        To the point of slurs and intent – I do think that this grace for racial slurs is different when you’re with someone who’s English language skills are in process and did not grow up in a country with English as a first language.

        Similar to how the OP’s situation was someone using the slur to describe an object and not a person (therefore having more context to presume their intent), hearing someone use a racial slur in the context of singing/quoting song lyrics or using pop culture phrases such as “my nXa” – combined with not being from an English speaking country – there’s context to use the situation as a teaching moment.

        I do think it’s fair to say that not every person at work will want to be that teacher. And that is why those HR options are also fair to take. But the reason for those middle ground options is that if you have the bandwidth and you do have more context on the intent coming from a place of ignorance, it can be beneficial to try.

        1. Anon This Time*

          I will agree with a story about a former boss. She was from India and not very familiar with world geography. We were alone in a room one day, looking at a world map. We had a new employee from Nigeria, and she asked me to point it out to her, which I did. She then asked why this country next to it is called (n-word), if we’re not allowed to say it. I immediately corrected her that the country is called Niger, using the French pronunciation and pointed out the spelling difference. I also told her that she was right that we’re not allowed to say it and that her mispronunciation was not OK, and could have cost her her job if anybody else heard it. She apologized and said next time she’ll just ask me how it’s pronounced first. She certainly did not have any racist intent, so I did not report it to anybody.

      1. Annie*

        It’s because most racial slurs have a longer history of being known as so offensive that they aren’t allowed in polite conversation, but this particular word has been considered a much more mild insult than any of the racial slurs up until a few years ago. Even then, I wouldn’t look askance at someone using the “I don’t like Word, please don’t use Word around me again” script even for better-known slurs on the first offense.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          The n-word has been excluded from polite conversation much longer than is popularly imagined. My mother, who is 91, told me once that when she was a girl she used it in hearing of her mother, a Southern lady. Her mother slapped her down (probably not literally, but one never knows), as this was not a word used by respectable people. I suspect that there was an element of social class here, but still…

          Going yet further back, in researching Black baseball in the 19th century, the n-word was used by reporters intent on disparaging Black baseball. Those who supported it, or at least were neutral about it, used “colored.” This could also vary by publication. One reporter, whose main job was for a respectable New York daily, also had a side gig for the National Police Gazette, an early sensationalist tabloid. He used the n-word in the latter, but not the former.

          The n-word was never–at least since the mid-19th century, been a neutral term. People using it meant the same thing then as do people using it today. The difference is not whether it is offensive, but what is tolerated.

          1. deesse877*

            This is well-said. I would also add that African Americans have rejected its public use for well over a century as well.

          2. UKDancer*

            Definitely. Interestingly my grandfather (in his 90s) used “coloured” to be polite when describing one of his continence nurses (let’s call her Lucy) because in his youth that was the polite term to use. He would never have used the n word, knowing that to be offensive

            So he described her as coloured and it took me a bit to explain that Lucy (who was a Jamaican lady) would probably prefer to be described as Black nowadays. The shift in language had passed him by because he wasn’t online and lived in a predominantly white, working class city. Once he knew the correct descriptor he used it.

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              I have taught at a community college in a very rural area and have met younger white students who will use “colored”, I assume because they hear it from parents/grandparents, and they don’t mean it offensively. I generally just restate with Black and move on so they can hear someone use the correct term but without making a big deal of it.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          “Even then, I wouldn’t look askance at someone using the “I don’t like Word, please don’t use Word around me again” script even for better-known slurs on the first offense.”

          I used pretty much that same phrasing when someone referred to someone as a “lib-t**d” while visiting my home, meaning it as an obvious insult. So I used the phrasing above, combined with a short comment about how the r-word is a slur and doing a mash up of it with liberal didn’t make it any better. The person has never used it again in my presence.

          (They weren’t talking about me, but using liberal as a slam was rude on it’s own, since I’m liberal (US) , but the r-word part of it was the really gross part that caused me to speak up. )

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I’d guess it’s because it became unacceptable far more recently. From what I recall, racial slurs have been unacceptable since before I was born; ‘retarded’ only started getting challenged as inappropriate when I was in my mid-teens. So there’s probably a largish group of people who through no malice ended up with it as part of their vocabularies and are now having to work to get it back out. I’d say that Allison’s “whoa, that’s not a nice thing to say!” phrasing is a good balance between acknowledging exactly what you said above while also acknowledging that language changes, attitudes change, and sometimes people with the best of intentions can get tongue tied. Someone who’s being deliberate about it will either be a jerk about it or keep using it, at which point you can conclusively say they’re a jerk and go to HR.

      I’d probably say the same for a number of slurs which have been used historically but have fallen out of context – I’m not going to go Googling them, but more than one I’ve seen someone go into depth on how a given word was a slur and thought “I had no clue people used this word like that”. That excludes ones that should be broadly known – again, not naming any here – where if a person uses them they’re either clueless beyond words or a deliberate jerk.

      1. doreen*

        Until 2017, my state’s agency for the developmentally disabled had “mentally retarded” – I can see how that sort of thing would make it take longer for the word to become known as offensive.

      2. Melissa*

        Yes— my mother was a social worker in the department of “mental retardation,” and still refers to “the MR community.” That was the 1990s so it is legitimately a recent change.

      3. Artemesia*

        ‘Retarded’ was the euphemism introduced to replace terms like idiot and moron which were technical terms about intellectual disabilities used when I was first involved working with people with disabilities. ‘Mentally retarded’ was the polite way to label developmentally delayed (which came along later). Whatever term is used to describe mental handicaps will eventually become a slur. And so we have new vocabulary about every 20 years as the old euphemistic phrase becomes reviled as a slur. And yes, people need a heads up when they are using language that people find insulting. No one using the N word is innocent in intent; it is possible that those using the R word are less aware especially if it is not directed towards a person but an object or process.

    3. Joron Twiner*

      I agree. I think the difference should be whether they seem to know it’s a slur or not, not who it targets.
      For example I have said something to people who use the word “jipped/gypped” as it’s a slur to Roma people, the nature of it is different than the r-word but the reason I approached it the same way is that they didn’t seem to know the etymology.

      We should handle it differently if it’s an obvious slur that everyone should recognize by now, regardless of who it targets.

      1. amoeba*

        I agree, that makes sense! Like, obviously, if somebody uses the N-word, the case is probably pretty clear-cut, but I’m sure there’s way more racial slurs around that people use without being aware.

    4. Lilo*

      Although I do think to that John Mulaney sketch “if you’re comparing the badness of two words, and you won’t even say one of them, that’s the worse word”.

      So it’s possible someone merely hasn’t been educated on one, but an obvious racial slur, you can presume intent.

      1. 1LFTW*

        Yes, this.

        The site reloaded in the middle of a previous comment, so if this is a duplicate I apologize. TL;DR: I’m old enough to remember when the r-word (adjective, not noun) was not a slur, and was actually considered to be polite. There’s a very, very good chance that LW’s colleague is using the word thoughtlessly and in ignorance.

        1. Dragon_Dreamer*

          I’m just barely old enough to remember that era, too. I’ve stopped using it myself, though. Not that I used the word itself much, but one of my favorite insults used to be “f-***d” Which is basically the same thing, with extra invective attatched.

          I’ve been mostly using “FUBAR” or “redonkulous” to describe situations, or “idjit” or “dumas” when it comes to people acting recklessly/without thought.

            1. Joielle*

              I’d recommend avoiding FUBAR in a professional capacity too, although I use it a lot in my personal life!

              1. Dragon_Dreamer*

                FUBAR gets used a lot in the tech world, but I see what you mean for other industries.

              2. I Have RBF*

                IME, FUBAR is used in tech a lot. It’s technically not swearing, because it can be parsed as “Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition” (or Recovery).

                Yes, when someone has asked what it meant that’s the definition I’ve given.

        2. Dutx*

          It’s not really just the word, though, is it? Imagine he expressed his dissatisfaction without using the r-word, but by politely comparing it to another group of people he felt incapable of being sensible. If he were saying “this process is intellectually disabled” or “this process is female” or “this process is gay” or “this process is Black”, it wouldn’t be any more appropriate or, well, kind. Even though he’s foregoing slurs.

          It’s not about the word falling off the euphemism treadmill and some people not having caught on.

          1. amoeba*

            Yeah, I’m actually waaay more sympathetic if there’s just… no connection in his head to disabled people when he uses it. Like, he just sees it as an insult.
            If he’s used to it as a way to describe people with a disability and *then* uses it as an insult, that’s… worse?

        3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I would have more sympathy for this suggestion if Sam had been describing an actual person. Using a term originally about people to describe a disliked inanimate object or process is *necessarily* derogatory rather than neutral.

          I will agree with you that this is highly cultural. Some of the alternative language being suggested by other commenters today has me wincing.

          1. Jackalope*

            Except it wasn’t necessarily? Part of the issue with this one is that unlike many of the racial slurs out there (n*****, for example), this word was – and still is – used for other stuff.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      Racial slurs are often a lot more intentional, or more obviously about people. There are some that aren’t that obvious; as Joron Twiner says, I know a lot of people who don’t know the origin or problematic nature of jipped. I think a lot of ableist slurs are more invisible because a lot of conditions were hidden away or hushed up, or exaggerated as something fictional, so the words don’t seem to be about real people. I know a ton of my own students who genuinely think ableist slurs have one definition only, which is average person (usually themselves) being a bit lax. Obviously I correct this impression! Race has been somewhat more visible and people have been talking about racism longer.

      1. GythaOgden*

        The best example of course correction in this respect was when Weird Al used a word beginning with S that is regarded as a slur in the UK but not in the US (referring originally to someone with cerebral palsy or related neurophysiological disorders). He took the correction gracefully and amended how he sang the particular song on his UK leg, and may well think twice about using it at all later on. I already loved his music — my husband was a big fan, and even the errant word in the song wasn’t an issue for me because I understood the American context beforehand — and he responded so gracefully to his error that he went up, not down in my estimation. As they say when talking about customer service, it’s not the mistake that’s the issue, it’s not putting it right. No, he shouldn’t have used the word to begin with, but no-one has a time machine. We can only go forward rather than backwards.

        If you stand on my toe, it still hurts, but just the act of apologising and being more careful next time is indicative of someone who actually cares. No one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes, and what goes around comes around — if we can take some minor mistakes in stride from other people, they will be more gracious when we mess up; if we fly off the handle at everything, mistake or deliberate action, then others will treat us with caution or mistrust and not learn why we’re so angry with them. The thing to do is to admit the mistake, apologise and move on sincerely trying to make it right next time. It builds bridges rather than burns them and that’s better for everyone involved.

      2. Dragon_Dreamer*

        Racial slurs can be accidental. I didn’t know “little boy” was a slur. (he’d been calling me “little girl” all week, and I just snapped. In retrospect, I think I was set up.) I have to correct a lot of folks about “gypsy.”

        The key is, is the person able to stop using that term once informed?

    6. birch*

      I’m totally with you on this. It doesn’t matter if the person didn’t know, if it has been “acceptable” longer in the vernacular, or if people not affected by that slur think it’s not “as bad” as another slur. It’s a slur, and that makes it inappropriate and unacceptable in the workplace, even once. It’s also different to a situation where a word has a relatively obscure connection to something problematic and people are trying to shift the language, like using “main bedroom” instead of “master bedroom” or replacing the “male” and “female” language of of tech hardware–the R word is a very clear dehumanization of a protected class of person, even when it’s being used to refer to a non-human object. It’s about directly insulting people.

      1. GythaOgden*

        The difference is not in whether you address it or what I used, but how. There are lots of words that are inappropriate in an office situation, but there’s a difference between saying ‘F— off!’ to a colleague and saying ‘f—‘ when you IDK lean too much on a bookshelf, books fall off and hit your toe. One is worse than the other and deserves a stronger response.

        As far as shifting language…eh. I’m not keen on it. Not because it’s not important — it is. But shifts are made because we understand the underlying issues better as a society and have a holistic approach to building everything better. As neurodivergent and having been through mental illness, I’d much rather people got out and about and worked to change minds and attitudes than spent time wagging fingers on the internet which, because a lot of the time we’re in our own communities, ends up either preaching to the converted or (as has happened a lot here in the past and led to the rule about language-policing) hammering people who are dealing with other bigger issues than what word they used to describe the guy who tied them up and left them in the back room while they ransacked the store. People aren’t always in the state of mind you need to be in to really police language closely, but because of overall social coalition-building in the past even people under stress don’t reach for some words as a matter of course.

        So I would argue that, given necessary limitations on time, energy and resources, you put the effort in to doing concrete things to improve society as a whole, not just sit around online and point fingers at others. Correcting someone using the slur in this instance is fine by me and I’d certainly have that kind of response in the moment. However, slicing and dicing things too finely just IME wastes effort that could be used on something more productive.

        And I’m saying this as a marginalised person myself.

      2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        Tangent, but what have you seen to replace “male” and “female” for cables, plugs, etc? The implied biological essentialism bothers me, but I don’t have an alternative.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          With fasteners, we can talk about internal threads (i.e., nuts) and external threads (i.e., bolts and screws). I’m hoping for something like that eventually.

          Although I’ve generally just referred to these things as plugs and receptacles, as in “Insert the plug into the receptacle.”

          1. JustaTech*

            Yes please!

            Especially since, one some of the connectors I use, both pieces have a bit that sticks out, and which one is called “male” isn’t immediately obvious! (It’s a real pain in the behind when you’re trying to order something online and there are no pictures, only “male” or “female” and you need the right one yesterday.)

        2. Em*

          Concave/convex? Protruding/recessed? I don’t know if any of those are in general usage, but they’d work.

    7. Earlk*

      I can only think of one racial slur that would’ve been in common use and considered acceptable enough to include in TV shows/films during most working adults lifetimes and that’s used as a name in the States. So it’s pretty different.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I can think of several which have gone from ordinary use to taboo in my lifetime (I’m 44), and a couple more which are slurs in one variety of English but used commonly in another.

      2. Dahlia*

        There’s a brand of ice cream in the US that’s named after a slur for Inuit/Nothern Indigenous people.

        1. Large Pink Rabbit*

          Yes, that term has been widely viewed as offensive in Canada and Greenland for quite a while, but I think it’s very recent that the awareness has spread into the US.

      3. Bumblebee*

        really? think of the sports team name debates in the US. Many of these are about slurs that didn’t used to commonly seen as slurs, at least not by a widespread majority of folks.

    8. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I agree with you. Giving Alison the benefit of the doubt, I suspect the distinction she meant to make here was “the well-known slurs that have been treated as taboo in most educational and professional contexts for several decades” as opposed to “slurs which have only been widely recognised and treated as taboo in the last 10-15 years” (broad generalisations here because there were obviously people who recognised the latter as slurs 50 years ago and people who still treat the former as no big deal.) I think people think of racial slurs as the former and slurs to do with sexuality, gender and disability as the latter, even though there are definitely examples of racial slurs in the latter category and sexuality, gender and disability slurs in the former, so it functions as a shorthand for awareness rather than type. But you’re completely right that it’s a false distinction.

    9. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      That bothered me to. I wish Alison had phrased it differently. I think she meant well-known slur. There are racial slurs and tropes that are less well known that the one in this letter… and I am assuming that her advice would be the same for those versus, for instance, the N-word which is very well known.

    10. Dictionary Friend*

      Perhaps the difference is that “r-” has a legitimate meaning in other contexts (A retarder is a chemical agent that slows down a chemical reaction, thus the reaction is “r-“). I can’t think of a racial or ethnic slur that also has a legitimate meaning.

    11. Beth*

      I’d probably start with a heads up to the colleague rather than an HR intervention–the main difference, to me, between this and well-known racial slurs is that there are still a lot of people who legit don’t know the r word is a slur and do change behavior easily and without pushback when someone tells them. But that’s a question of HOW to respond, not WHETHER to respond. I really disagree with Alison that LW3 should let this slide in a way that they wouldn’t for a racial slur.

    12. ImOnlyHereForThePoetry*

      Plus the guy was referring to a tool not a person. I’m not sure you could use a racial slur in the same manner.

  14. Viette*

    #2, the fleas mystery: this is weird but you’ve investigated it as thoroughly as anyone sensible ever would. The only appropriate response is to tell the truth as you understand it, which is that you guys totally do not have fleas and the flea culprits, real or not real, are certainly not in your building.

    This is also weird enough that Alison is probably right. You should get a new custodial service. This one is pretty rubbish (ha ha, sorry), and now it’s also strange and taking up space in your brain with fleas you don’t even have.

    1. Ann Onymous*

      I do think it’s worth noting that not all humans react equally strongly to fleas. When I was a kid, my family ended up with a flea infestation in our house after dogsitting. I was covered in noticeable bites and itching so badly that I missed a couple days of school, but the rest of the family had much milder reactions. Not saying that’s what’s happening here (especially given the rest of the situation) but still wanted to point out that some people not getting noticeably bitten doesn’t rule out fleas.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, I only feel the initial bite, but I don’t get a lingering reaction.

        –person who once treated an entire house with boric acid powder all by herself because she brought home a stray kitten.

        But it sill sounds like this custodian is a dud and y’all should start looking for a new service.

      2. Jamjari*

        This is what I came to say. I once shared a house with a mother and daughter with an outdoor cat. I started getting itchy bumps all around my ankles. Finally figured out it was fleas from the cat (or the raccoon that came in through the cat door). Mother and daughter didn’t believe me at first because they didn’t feel anything, but then I was able to point out the jumping insects everywhere.

        It seems strange that in a library, all the employees, volunteers, library users wouldn’t feel them but maybe they just don’t realize where the itchy bites are coming from.

      3. ferrina*

        True, but it sounds like LW has done due diligence and there is no evidence of fleas (beyond just the custodian saying that there is).

    2. Don't Be Longsuffering*

      Perhaps the company has other people they could send to your building. I would tell them this person is not working out but wouldn’t fire the company without them trying to find a solution.

    3. What's in the Booooox*

      If it’s a library, it might have to handle things like custodial contracts through whatever local government it is funded through. In that sense, it can be incredibly difficult to “just change custodians” and there is no simple “what would you do if they went out of business?”

      At my government building, we just straight up didn’t have custodial services for weeks. People were bringing their own toilet paper in and hauling their own trash out. And we aren’t open to the public, I can’t imagine how that would work with a high traffic open door setting.

      1. fine tipped pen aficionado*

        This is correct. I’ve had to contract custodial service for municipal buildings and it’s extremely complex to contract a new service. You are likely with the service you have because it’s the only one you could afford. There are emergency allowances your municipal leaders & finance officers would make if the business terminated your contract or went under that they simply would not do if you caused the emergency yourself by terminating the contract.

        In this case, you would likely be told to make a budget request in the next budget cycle and figure it out yourself for now. (Your budget request will be denied, just as it has been for the last 10 years you’ve made it.) So your only option is to try to find the money somewhere else in your budget, but usually that can only be achieved by cutting services, which your elected officials will throw a fit about because it makes them look bad.

        And even if your leadership was willing to do the emergency funding because your vendor sucks, that would take a long time and there’s a chance the only account you can pull the funding from would require a vote from your elected officials which is a whole other layer of hassle and may not succeed.

        Governing is fun!

    4. Hannah Lee*

      The fleas are a red herring and shouldn’t really drive LW’s next steps.

      LW’s employer has hired a cleaning service to clean, and that service is not consistently cleaning. Alison’s right, LW should just do what they would do if this cleaning service shut down, or relocated to another state. Find a different cleaning service or some other way for the cleaning to be done.

      Then in parallel, continue to have appropriate pest inspections and treatments.
      As you would anyway.

    5. TD*

      I would have an expert check for bedbugs, which can live in books and furniture. They come out and bite at night when it’s dark, and can be hard to find in the daytime. (They’re also hard to get rid of with regular extermination techniques.)

      My local county library system had them at least a couple of times — that’s when I switched to borrowing books on Kindle!

  15. Joron Twiner*

    #5 I wish that companies and services that ask for personal or invasive information like this explained why they need it. So many companies ask for unnecessary personal information just in case you fit 1 or 2 extreme cases where they need it, or they collect other data for marketing and selling purposes. I don’t blame OP for being suspicious.

    1. Hamburke*

      right? I’d be concerned that this freelance management co would take my client list and either misrepresent themselves as someone I’ve employed to manage my contracts or go after my clients for their internal folks or even to just market to my clients. I’m sure there is wording protecting from this practice, but I’m less and less likely to believe that this isn’t happening.

    2. The Meat Embezzler*

      Well a really easy solution for this is to just form a LLC, it’s smart for tax purposes, typically very inexpensive and going forward all you’ll need to send is a W9 form. This happens to me quite a bit when I bring on new clients and instead of having to ship over potentially sensitive information, I send over my W9 info and all is good.

      1. It’s Suzy now*

        I had to form an LLC a few years ago to receive a grant I qualified for and it has been nothing but an expensive hassle. I spend thousands every year in legal and accounting fees for it. No thank you.

        I feel really bad for the OP who was told “nothing would change.”

        1. nnn*

          Wait, what? This must vary by state. I have an LLC and it costs me $100 to the state a year, nothing else.

    3. KellyWithAWhy*

      I am by no means an expert and I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my understanding that in this particular situation, this level of documentation serves to protect the employee. It’s my understanding that some businesses mis-classify employees who should be W-2 employees as 1099 employees in order to avoid paying payroll taxes, offering benefits, etc. If that’s true, I certainly agree that it would make sense to explain the reasons!

      1. higheredrefugee*

        Eh, sorta. The company is spending money by outsourcing this because they don’t want to be accused of misclassifying folks, and in their risk analysis and possiblely for corporate insurance and reinsurance purposes, this is how they’re trying to insulate themselves from the fines that come from incorrectly doing this. At best, I think good companies did the best they could for a long time, but now see this as sufficiently complicated and evolving that having it outsourced also protects them. I don’t think the law is necessarily evolving, though enforcement is more frequent, but I have seen work duty drift occur to contractors that makes it clear that they should be reclassified as employees, and a third party org with expertise can help nip that in the bud sometimes more easily than internal HR and risk managers can.

    4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Here in France I have to supply proof to my clients that I declare my income to the tax office and do not employ people illegally. The tax office provides me with a certificate for this. This is so that my clients can then prove that they do not employ people illegally, even indirectly. I don’t have to name my clients, just show that the tax office is satisfied that I am operating legally and paying my taxes.

  16. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    I wish LW #2 had said WHY they don’t have another option for cleaning services. I mean, that right there–switching to another cieaning service–would solve the problem, especially since it sounds like he’s not doing that great of a job anyway.

    If you absolutely can’t do that, LW, maybe you could talk to the exterminator abut this. Ask him if he thinks there’s any possibility of fleas in the building. If he says no (which he probably will), you can include that in the information you relay to the custodian. Maybe hearing that the professional exterminator PLUS all the other staff are not seeing any sign of fleas will make a little light bulb appear above his head. Or not–but it can’t hurt to try!

    1. GythaOgden*

      Contracts are a big thing in Facilities. They lock people in to even substandard situations — our franking machine couldn’t keep up with Royal Mail’s changes last November but we couldn’t just ditch it for a better model because we lease it from a specific company with which we have a contract that lasts until the end of this calendar year. I’m not high up enough to be able to know what’s going on with it but certainly responsible enough to take flak from others about our inability to provide certain services :-/. It’s not necessarily analogous to the flea situation but it’s trying to make it clear to other people why we can’t just swap it for a new one.

      For me, in the UK, my employment contract is a burden — I’m very underemployed at work but have no opportunity to do any other kind of study or whatever, and looking for a way out of this tedium. I could resign today but have to work out a month’s notice, and the only reason I think I’m not actually being made redundant at times is because it would be more expensive to pay me off than it is to keep me on payroll (because my contract gives me a statutory minimum guarantee of a week’s pay for every year worked in severance, the need to try and find me a different job within the organisation and legally they have to allow me time off to go to interviews).

      Likewise, cleaning companies don’t just come in on an ad hoc basis. To ensure it’s worth their time, they make sure they have contracts in place to ensure stable work for the next X years. If the library wanted to get out of the contract it may well be more expensive to do that than just keep paying them and talk to the custodian to convince him that the fleas are not coming from their building. Breaking the contract at the drop of a hat isn’t something that can be done in these situations.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        It seems to me like a poorly negotiated contract if the machine can no longer perform its function, but you can’t replace it. Presumably it would be replaced if it physically malfunctioned. This should no different. Not that this helps you, but it provides a clue on the proper place to direct blame.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yeah, it’s a crappy situation all round but that was the excuse reason we were given. It just underscores the problem with changing services (and yeah, it could definitely involve a change in custodian, but the way things work here good luck with that unless you could prove gross misconduct). There are too many layers of bureaucracy between me and anyone with meaningful insight into the way this works. The words p*ss up and brewery spring to mind.

          Regarding physical breakdown of the franking machine — believe me, I’ve been tempted. You’re into baseball, right? Pass me a good strong bat and we can make it a reality, because then something might actually get done. The reality, though, is that it may just mean people have to go to the post office for their stamps and we lose another major part of our job. (No joke, but what I said about redundancy is pretty much true and I’m struggling to get anything else because my experience is rather stale and business admin reception is a dying position.)

          However, the comment wasn’t to suggest that there couldn’t be a renegotiation of the particular issue or person sent to do the job. It’s just an explanation as to why this service might not be able to be changed as easily as all that. Even if there was a renegotiation to be made, it would take a bit of time and it may be that the phantom fleas are long gone. If I’m being truly uncharitable (and it’s a big and rather sad personal anniversary today so that’s colouring my mood) I’d say there was a medical issue with the custodian. Feeling insects on your body is a sign that something is drastically wrong with your neurochemistry. Trying to wrangle a contract would probably take longer than it would to convince the custodian to seek medical treatment.

      2. Don't Be Longsuffering*

        But they don’t need to drop the service. They need the service to send a different custodian.

        1. Interplanet Janet*

          You’d be surprised how many of these small services can be just a husband and wife doing it in retirement.

          1. higheredrefugee*

            I was thinking this or some kind of small town issue with lack of viable options given the budget.

          2. Don't Be Longsuffering*

            No, I wouldn’t, but the OP didn’t say that. It being a small business doesn’t make it two people. Shrug emoji.

    2. What's in the Booooox*

      Copying my own comment from slightly up thread:

      If it’s a library, it might have to handle things like custodial contracts through whatever local government it is funded through. In that sense, it can be incredibly difficult to “just change custodians” and there is no simple “what would you do if they went out of business?”

      At my government building, we just straight up didn’t have custodial services for weeks. People were bringing their own toilet paper in and hauling their own trash out. And we aren’t open to the public, I can’t imagine how that would work with a high traffic open door setting.

    3. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Also copying my own comment from upthread to explain why purchasing is different for public institutions:

      I’ve had to contract custodial service for municipal buildings and it’s extremely complex to contract a new service. You are likely with the service you have because it’s the only one you could afford. There are emergency allowances your municipal leaders & finance officers would make if the business terminated your contract or went under that they simply would not do if you caused the emergency yourself by terminating the contract.

      In this case, you would likely be told to make a budget request in the next budget cycle and figure it out yourself for now. (Your budget request will be denied, just as it has been for the last 10 years you’ve made it.) So your only option is to try to find the money somewhere else in your budget, but usually that can only be achieved by cutting services, which your elected officials will throw a fit about because it makes them look bad.

      And even if your leadership was willing to do the emergency funding because your vendor sucks, that would take a long time and there’s a chance the only account you can pull the funding from would require a vote from your elected officials which is a whole other layer of hassle and may not succeed.

      Governing is fun!

      I will add to this, OP if you are reading: I hope you are documenting your service troubles in writing. (I assume you are but pro tip if you aren’t.) The next time you send this service out to bid, you may be able to eliminate this vendor as a responsive, responsible option if you have a documented history of the vendor not fulfilling their contractual obligations. I’ve been able to convince my finance office to let me go with the next lowest bid this way before. Of course, if there are no other bids then you’re up the creek without a paddle. We’ve looked at creating our own custodial division within public works but that’s a huge amount of additional work for the risk manager and HR and hard to do if a bunch of other departments aren’t have the same issue.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      I’m not sure this custodian will ever agree unless they witness the exterminator check for fleas in the entire building, if even then. Some people just make up their minds about something and won’t agree. I once was a manager at a healthcare facility with a pool where the water would get green very quickly. We contracted with a service to clean our pool 2x/week and the person who came to clean the pool was constantly telling me that we needed a bigger pool pump otherwise it will keep turning green. My boss decided to research pool cleaning, bought the supplies, and then worked with our on-site maintenance team to start cleaning the pool. It was never green again. The pool cleaner never came back, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they continued to complain about us to co-workers as the customer who wouldn’t listen and made their job so much harder.

    5. Jigglypuff*

      LW #2 here.

      We don’t have other options because there simply aren’t that many cleaning services in our area that will clean commercial offices. There are plenty of home cleaning services, but our town is equidistant between two larger towns and many cleaning services are based out of those towns. We have had other cleaners before and they often quit because the 20-25 min commute is “too long.”

      1. LJ*

        It’s not your fault but multiple companies complaining that a 20-25 min commute is “too long” just sounds like the amount they’re being paid isn’t making it worth their while. (As opposed to say, a 3 hour commute that’d be a legitimate strain for people to physically drive so much)

        1. virago*

          It’s a public library, so I imagine that they have a very small budget for paying a cleaning service.

  17. NforKnowledge*

    LW1 I would pull back from Michael right quick, he’s got something weird going on that you probably want no part in.

    As others have said, the vomit stuff is most likely a kink or maybe he just thinks it’s hilarious to gross people out. The best case scenario for why it’s on his PUBLIC facebook is that he somehow doesn’t know that more anonymous social media sites exist, but that seems very unlikely…

    1. the cat's pajamas*

      There’s always the “I keep my fb personal and separate from work” option. If you have friended other coworkers, this might not work though.

    2. Generic Name*

      I agree. And for all the people who are all, “What if this is just a small portion of his Very Normal posts??”, just no. I had a lot of morning sickness while pregnant, have a child, and have 3 pets. Sometimes humans or animals barf. Do you know how many images I have of vomit in my camera roll? ZERO. Not once have I ever been dealing with vomit and thought it would be a good time to take a picture. I have zero drawings of vomit anywhere. His interest in barf isn’t a hobby or a pastime like birdwatching or golf. Just avoid this guy.

      1. Generic Name*

        Ok, I misread, Michael doesn’t have photographs (thank goodness) of puke. Just drawings. Still weird.

  18. SAS*

    Omg as someone with a vomiting phobia I would actually block him for fear of any of his posts being “recommended” to me. I would not bring up the friend request. If he bought it up, and if I thought it would go down well (and that he wouldn’t then torture me with any further vomiting images or references “as a joke”), I would probably be upfront with him about it; “oh yes I got it but when I saw your vomit page I blocked you due to my phobia”.

    1. Liisa*

      I don’t know that I’d necessarily say that… worst case, he uses that to try and bother you at work (since it’s probably not an unreasonable assumption that he likes the reactions he gets from people, else he wouldn’t post that stuff publicly) – something like overusing vomit emojis or vomit reaction gifs in Slack that he could pass off as innocuous “oh, I just thought that news article/code bug/etc was gross lol” while knowing it bothers you. Sure, you could go to your manager/HR at that point, but honestly, I wouldn’t want to go down that road at all. Whatever this guy’s deal is, he almost certainly knows what he’s doing, and I wouldn’t want to give someone like that anything that they could even potentially use as ammo against me.

      I think everyone suggesting just ignore/delete the request and say something like “oh I’m never on facebook” have the right idea. This guy almost certainly wants a reaction. Don’t give him one.

    2. Panicked*

      Fellow emetophobe here! I’ve always had a “no work people on social media” policy, and this completely affirms my decision.

  19. Analyst*

    i want to push back on the idea that the slur is less serious than if it was a racial slur- it is just as bad and should be treated the same. it’s a slur and it’s serious. it’s not less serious because it’s about disability. Ableism is as bad/serious as racism or sexism etc.

    1. Madame X*

      Unlike racial slurs , the r word did not become recognized as a slur until relatively recently. Just read some of the responses on this post from readers who were in their teens before they learned that this word is slur. In contrast, racial slurs have always been used as slurs.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Yes, ableist terms are more separated in people’s minds from actual people; when some one says “that process is r*******” they aren’t thinking “that process was designed by a person with a disability.” So the difference is whether the person using it KNOWS it’s a slur. A few people above have brought up “gypped” as a good example of a comparable racially based insult and I think that’s a great analogy because so few people realize that’s the origin of the word.

        1. birch*

          “they aren’t thinking “that process was designed by a person with a disability.””

          ….that’s not what people are thinking that means. It’s “this process is dysfunctional like a person with a disability is dysfunctional.” That’s why it’s offensive.

          Someone not knowing something is a slur doesn’t change anything–it’s still not okay and they should still be reminded not to use it.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            That’s my point – they’re not connecting it with a person at all. Ableism is so ingrained in a lot of society that slurs against disabilities are completely depersonalized. That doesn’t make them less hurtful! But a slur used in ignorance is different than a slur used deliberately.

        2. Analyst*

          there are plenty of racial slurs less obvious than the N word (which no can’t know is a slur). The person saying it out of ignorance is a relevant piece of how you handle it, but the relative newness of slurs against the disabled being recognized as such compared to racial slurs is irrelevant. It’ s just as bad.

          1. ferrina*

            I think there’s a few examples in the AAM archives of this happening. There’s still several slurs that not everyone knows are slurs- I think one letter/commenter was about a coworker using “ghetto” to mean “less affluent neighborhood”, and another referred to “jap” which to them mean “Jewish American Princess (JAP)”. (I can’t remember if these were in letters or comments). In both cases someone gently and clearly told the person the term was a slur, and the person was genuinely mortified. They apologized and never did it again.

            1. JustaTech*

              Yes. “Jewish American Princess” is usually not used in a nice context (strong flavors of “rich and entitled”), but it’s not in the same level as the slur against people of Japanese descent.

              Interestingly, the Princess term seems to have been an East Coast thing and I think has gone out of style (or I don’t hang out with folks who have context to use it anymore).

              1. New Jack Karyn*

                Yeah, I grew up on the West Coast, and read some YA novels set in NYC that used that term. I had ZERO idea what it meant and was deeply confused.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          They are saying the process is stupid, and the reason the r-word is used to mean “stupid” is that it carries the implication that disabled people are “stupid”.

          Look, I know it wasn’t unacceptable until relatively recently–although I remember feeling uncomfortable about it and deciding to stop using it when I was a child in the 1980s, so it’s not that recent–but it is now and there is no reason to coddle people when they use it. Their temporary discomfort and the mild inconvenience of having to learn a new expletive does not outweigh others’ right not to be othered and have traits they can’t help used as an insult.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Definitely not arguing for “coddling” anyone! It is hurtful whether or not that was the intent. But it’s the difference between “I go to HR immediately” and “I say firmly that word is a slur and it should never be used in the workplace – and then observe if they chance their ways.”

          2. Ellis Bell*

            I don’t think the suggestion is to coddle, or avoid correction or discomfort. That would not be the stronger option, which would be to disbelieve that they need correction and looking to remove someone being deliberately hateful.

          3. wording is hard*

            Learning a new word isn’t that big of a deal, except the new word eventually turns out to be problematic and so there is a new word again, then again, and again.

      2. Ann Onymous*

        Agreed. I don’t think Alison is saying it’s not as bad as a racial slur, just that there’s a higher chance that the person using it doesn’t realize it’s a slur.

      3. Llama Llama*

        It has been 20+ years since learning that it’s a slur word. I remember exactly being called out for using it and I haven’t used it since. So it is not new.

      4. Large Pink Rabbit*

        “In contrast, racial slurs have always been used as slurs.”

        That’s not true. Some racial slurs started as just the term for a group of people based on some descriptor—just like disability-based slurs. Some racial slurs started out as the more-polite replacement for an existing slur, but then took on the offensive connotation of the original.
        The impact of a slur is the same whether it’s racially-based or disability-based, whether it’s been a slur for centuries, for decades, or for years. I personally prefer to call things out in the moment rather than go to HR, but the action anyone takes for a slur should be the same regardless of which slur is used. If racial slurs are HR worthy, then ID slurs are as well.

    2. Feral Humanist*

      Yeah, I was really surprised and disappointed that Alison made this sort of distinction. There’s a lot of apologism for it happening on this forum, too, which is also disappointing. I agree that twenty years is less time than most racial slurs have been unacceptable in polite conversation, but it is still long enough to hold people accountable (while, of course, allowing for growth). But certainly the term is just as harmful. The idea that it isn’t is just wrong.

    3. Boof*

      “Should be” and “are” are not the same and I don’t think it’s a good idea to treat things as socially equivalent that currently aren’t really widely accepted as such. There are ethic slurs that are probably in the same category as well (gypped was cited earlier) and worth starting from a point of education over assuming bigotry; other words are pretty race/gender/orientation/etc unambiguous slurs. I do think this is an area worth pushing as yes, the equivalence deserves wider recognition and acceptance

    4. Peanut Hamper*

      I learned up above that it’s a matter of intent. LW’s coworker probably doesn’t realize that this is an ableist slur, whereas if they used a racial slur, they probably do realize that it is racist.

      In a case like this, intent does make the difference.

    5. fhqwhgads*

      It’s not that it’s less serious or less bad. It’s that it’s more plausible this person genuinely didn’t know the offensiveness and thus the options for an effective strategy are different. No one has plausible deniability that racial slurs are absolutely unacceptable.

    6. Melody Powers*

      I’ve just seen so many people go “I was willing to go along with you until now but now I see you’re just a bunch of SJWs” when things went from race or sex or sexuality to ableism that I’m just so tired of ableism being where things are suddenly a bridge too far and no one could take it seriously. As a disabled person, it hurts.

  20. mreasy*

    OP3: I am in my early 40s, and I have known not to use that offensive slur since my early teens. This doesn’t change the given advice, but please don’t feel you have to give this guy the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      Agreed. Also in my early 40s and can never remember hearing that word without knowing it was extremely offensive. It’s probably one of about 3 words I’d be uncomfortable even writing.

      1. Cordelia*

        Definitely in the UK, and probably also Ireland. But, I (English) worked at a summer camp in the US in the mid-90’s, it was for the group we would call adults with learning disabilities. The staff at the camp addressed their population as “retarded”, and in fact told me that “learning disabled” was considered offensive. I couldn’t and didn’t use the word “retarded”, and of course this was a long time ago, I’m glad it’s changed – but at that time, it was seen as the most appropriate word to use and not considered a slur.

    2. anarkea*

      Agreed. I’ve been working in special education for over a decade, and even when I was in school years before that, there were already well- established campaigns (posters, PSAs, slogans) to highlight the offensiveness of that word and eliminate its use. This is not new. That said, it is still very ingrained in some people and they will need a lot of reminders to break this habit. But it can be done.

    3. Boof*

      I actually think it’s a good idea to give everyone the benefit of the doubt ONCE; say something along the lines of a “by the way” / gentle reminder – of course if they aren’t accepting of that then you know

    4. Retired editor*

      I am in my early 70s, and when I was growing up — maybe in junior high or high school — I was taught that it was not polite to use “retard” or “retarded.” I am always confused when people talk about how those words are “now” considered inappropriate. To me, it just emphasizes that many, many people don’t care about respecting intellectual abilities that are not average (resulting in scorn for high intellectual abilities, various other non-standard cognitive patterns such as autism, and limited intellectual abilities).

      I was horrified when my children used the r-words, but they claimed to never have heard that the words were slurs. And I admit, I never thought to lecture them about the problem because I was not hearing those words, let alone using them.

  21. I should really pick a name*

    I’m not sure why #4 feels it’s okay to go to HR but not the CEO.

    HR would probably go to the CEO anyway.

    It’s not a conflict of interest to ask about a bonus you were offered, whether you’re in charge of finances or not.

    1. not a hippo*

      Because payroll is HR’s job, not the CEO. Unless LW is a member of the C-suite, it’s not the CEO’s problem, even if they’re the ones who made the original offer.

      (Yes it’s likely that the CEO will need to sign off on the bonus and yes HR will most likely go to them to verify, but don’t bother the CEO with an HR question.)

      1. I should really pick a name*

        But if it’s based on KPIs, it’s presumably the CEO’s (or whoever manages the LW) decision whether the LW gets the bonus or not, HR would just process it.

        But beyond that, the fact the LW is reluctant to bring it up because they have to go to the CEO in the absence of HR seems really weird to me.

        1. LW4*

          LW #4 here! My discomfort is not with going to the CEO, or even the lack of HR, it’s that I’m now wearing the HR hat. In my previous (much larger) organization, HR facilitated a review process for the couple of people eligible for bonuses, got the sign-off, and made the bonus payment. Just feels awkward to initiate and facilitate (and ultimately pay out) a bonus to myself. I don’t think there’s any way around it given the circumstances, so I was mostly looking for some help with how to broach the topic with the CEO to hopefully remove some of my awkward feelings about it (which Alison provided, thank you!).

      2. AngryOctopus*

        It’s not an HR question if the CEO is the one determining if LW met the metrics for the bonus. LW needs to go to the CEO, remind them that in their contract there is a provision for a “if this, then bonus”, and the CEO can take it from there.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I’ve seen this kind of thing in small companies. (Which is why I never want to work for a small company ever again.) With so many people wearing so many different hats, it can be weird and confusing and uncomfortable to cross the streams.

  22. Burnt Out Freelancer*

    #5 I am a freelancer outside the US and have just realised how problematic this is! My area of work is complex from the business point of view as I usually work for my competition (agencies). They often ask me for a detailed lost of my previous work/clients, but the thing is – in order to work with these agencies they ask me to sign NDAs that prevent me from even disclosing that I work for them, let alone name the final clients.

    And that’s only if we assume agencies are being truthful and really want to know my experience. Most of the time it’s dangerous because some of them just ask in order to poach clients. And then they ask you to sign the same NDA as the others!

    1. NYer who moved to FL*

      This was my first thought, they are looking to poach clients, see pricing policy.

      I would write back, I have X other clients, which I cannot disclose contracts because I have signed NDAs. And I would copy the general counsel of the client that engaged this firm, and tell them you find the practice anti-competitive.

  23. Harper the Other One*

    Ableism is so embedded in our society and it’s painful to realize just how much; I’m still working on untangling it personally.

    To use a family example (which my child is comfortable with me sharing): my youngest is autistic and ADHD and like many neurodivergent kids was slow to toilet train. My dad – in a genuine attempt to be kind and reassuring – told me “well, nobody goes to kindergarten in diapers!” Except… yes, they do. There are all sorts of physical and developmental reasons a person of any age may need assistance with toileting or diapers/absorbent underwear.

    So I would give the person in question a kind but very firm correction: “I’m confident you’re not intending to be discriminatory but that word is a slur and it’s not appropriate for our workplace; say ridiculous, badly designed, or something else that described it but don’t use that word again.”

  24. Or your typical admin*

    For number 3 – I think kindness and assuming the best is key. When I was in college (early 2000’s) several of the guys in our social circle would use that word occasionally. One of the girls was special-ed teacher. She said them down and said “I’m sure you don’t realize it, but using that word is very offensive. I know you would never want to hurt someone’s feelings, so I’m going to ask that you don’t use it anymore.” We never heard it again.

    1. Sambal*

      I was looking for a comment like this. I was surprised at the number of comments that suggested telling off this person. I remember when my sister berated me for saying that word around 10 years ago. I felt deep shame and embarrassment for not knowing it was a slur, even though I knew for a fact she had used it in the past.

      Language is fluid and ever-changing. As we get older, we don’t always get the message words are no longer used. I would have rather if my sister told me kindly that the r-word is no longer considered acceptable instead of scold me. I hope OP can approach the situation with respect and care.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Some people are using personal examples of learning it was unacceptable decades ago, but that really is meaningless because it’s not like everyone got a mass memo at the same time. I have young people who I am teaching the unacceptability of words like this and they’ve literally only just learned the word from various media, so there definitely wasn’t a long ago date when it was removed from the database!

  25. Bjoyous*

    My go-to response when someone uses the r-word is “a r-word person would never say/do that”. Which usually winds up in a pleasant conversation about folks in our respective lives with down syndrome and how they are some of the most caring people we’ve ever met.

  26. bassclefchick*

    #3 – My boss recently used the word as an insult to himself. I just looked at him and quietly said “we don’t use that word anymore”. Then I turned around and stayed quiet for a little bit. Our desks are arranged so his is right behind mine. He sincerely apologized and it hasn’t happened again. I think my tone of absolute disappointment that he would use the word got through.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      When the reply was “you know what I mean” I had success with “Yes, but I’m surprised to hear *you* say it.” This follows the usual advice to give someone the opportunity to live up to your expectations.

  27. Melissa*

    It sounds like the man in #3 just didn’t get the memo! You mention that many people said it in their past, including you. Presumably the reason you stopped is because someone explained to you that it is offensive! Do the same for him. If he continues after that or pushes back, that’s obviously a different story, but there’s no reason to suspect he will.

  28. Pink Candyfloss*

    There are already many, many reasons to not be in touch with co-workers on social media, but I never would have put “excessive vomit imagery” on my bingo card.

  29. Peanut Hamper*

    LW#1: I don’t like to kink shame (my kink is eight hours of uninterrupted sleep) but if you find something to be disturbing, you have every right to avoid it.

    I would probably just do my best to keep my distance from Michael and definitely not friend him on Facebook. Six months down the road you can probably just block him and he’ll never notice.

  30. ZSD*

    #1 I think it’s so interesting that everyone jumped to this being Michael’s kink, when I thought he just had the sense of humor of an 11-year-old boy. Like, my brother who is six years older than I am once stole my Sleeping Beauty coloring book and wrote bad words all over it. (But not when he was old enough to be in the working world!) But other people have now convinced me that this is probably a kink.

      1. ZSD*

        Oh, that’s great! I may steal that when the book inevitably turns up when we clean out my parents’ house someday.

  31. ObjectivePerspective*

    #3- I can empathize with the shock you experience when someone around you uses a slur but for this particular word has an actual meaning (slow) that sounds like it was applicable here. I am in no way defending the use but it is important to note that certain industries and certain languages still use this word for a slowed or delayed process. Personally I would want to know the industry and Sam’s cultural background before jumping to judgments of ignorance or indifference.

    And before anyone tells me I don’t understand, I have more than one immediate family member with both developmental and physical delays and disabilities, I have gone head to head with ignorance regarding those disabilities before I even knew how to read but I have also lived in worked in international communities and understand a slur in one country or industry does not mean it is a slur in every culture and industry.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      I totally see what you mean. In a similar way, I was surprised to hear my RN friend use “occult” because I didn’t know it was used in medicine to mean “hidden”. (In this case, she was talking about blood in the stool.)

      However, in this case, LW3 said this: “The tool is extremely poorly designed and Sam said it was “retarded.” ” So LW3 certainly wasn’t discussing something that was slowed or delayed.

    2. metadata minion*

      If they were working in chemistry or some other field where they were using the term retardation in its literal meaning, wouldn’t the LW know that? And yes, it’s definitely the word for slow in other languages but the person was speaking English so that doesn’t seem at all relevant.

  32. MillennialHR*

    LW#1 – it’s his thing, you’re not interested, and he made his profile public. It’s reasonable to ignore the request or decline the request. If he brings it up, the advice of “I don’t have people I work with on Facebook” should suffice – but you also need to make sure you aren’t accepting friend requests from others in the office.

    LW#3 – I worked in HR at an organization providing support to adults with ID. There’s no reason that, in 2023, people are still using the r-word. If I heard it in a group (coincidentally, I heard it last night in reference to someone else), I call it out. A simple “hey, that is an extremely hurtful term” or “hey, don’t say that again” should suffice to stop it for a rational person. If the person says it again, you can always explain how hurtful and dehumanizing it has been to the ID community. If he continues to say it, I’d go to HR because it is a disgusting slur.

  33. HailRobonia*

    For the fleas thing, I wonder if the custodian has an allergy to one of the cleaning products? Not the most likely explanation but worth considering.

    1. Not my real name*

      Honestly, my first thought is delusional parasitosis. This is not in any way a diagnosis, just something I’ve seen in my profession.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      A few commenters have offered explanations in a thread started by Analyst. I’ll link to the thread in a follow-up comment, but before the link appears you can search for “Analyst*” to find the thread.

    2. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Other commenters have explained upthread, but it’s not about how damaging the slur is so much as how widely people realize it’s a slur. There’s a good chance this person doesn’t know the language is harmful so it makes sense to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  34. Voluptuousfire*

    For OP#1, I’d be more concerned about the coworker’s sense of what’s fit to post on their Facebook profile that one would assume they had friended other colleagues. IME, some men who have a fetish or kink don’t really quite consider their audiences with social media and the like and post about their thing freely, hoping someone lined up with that. I get that they want to meet someone like them, but there are many places to meet likeminded people online that aren’t places like Facebook. They’re violating consent by posting such stuff in their feed.

    I’d be more concerned inappropriate behavior than whether he’s a serial killer.

    1. Voluptuousfire*

      If the OP friends him and he thinks they’re friendlier than they actually are? I could see him coming up to them at lunch going “Hey, OP! Let me show you some of the vomit art I’m working on!” and whips out his phone to show them pics. I don’t want to sound like I’m kinkshaming, but as someone who is open minded and appears non-judgmental, I’ve had men be fast and loose with this type of info because they think I’m cool until I point out their boundary overstep. I find such gents aren’t always the most socially calibrated.

  35. Anon for this*

    Re: #3, I’m someone with a physical disability that is regularly mistaken for an intellectual disability. I’ve been called that word. It’s deeply harmful. Even just seeing the word written out in the post like that, I almost had a situation that would have been very appealing to the coworker from #1.

    I do agree with Alison’s advice and with much of what I’m seeing here. It’s a slur, but also, not everyone knows that yet, so it’s good to try to educate if you can.

    The problem with this one is, it’s more analogous to using “crazy” as a slur than to using “gay” as a slur—which is to say, kids on the schoolyard used to use “gay” generically to mean “bad”, but when people use the r-word, they generally do mean to impugn someone’s intellectual abilities or functioning. So any euphemism that someone uses that is still rooted in “this person is cognitively impaired, and that’s a bad thing to be” is really only a band-aid. But I still do think finding alternative language is important, even if it’s imperfect alternative language.

  36. Rebecca*

    For LW5, intrusive as this may seem, it’s become very common as Alison said. I have a similar arrangement with a major professional services firm. For a long time, I was able to be a 1099 contractor because I had lots of other freelance work. But over the years I’ve decided to just keep my full-time job and the occasional freelance assignment from this large firm. Now, because I no longer have various invoices and corresponding tax filings to “prove” my freelance status, I’ve had to transition to a W2 employee.

    FWIW, the business insurance isn’t all that expensive and setting up an LLC is fairly straightforward.

    And yes, you should be able to black out/redact any sensitive financial info or PII.

  37. Alex*

    I usually read AAM over breakfast.

    Really regretting that at the moment. *pushes eggs aside*

  38. Stuart Foote*

    I had a manager once who used the word “retarded” and I told him I had a brother who is had Down’s Syndrome (which is true). He brushed it off at the time, but every time he used the word in the future (probably 3-4 times over the 18 months I stayed there) he would look me right in the eye to show he knew what he was doing.

    That was a sales job where people tried to show dominance…needless to say it was a very dysfunctional place.

  39. Tobias Funke*

    I wish I had a dime for every time some dude foisted his Sex Thing on an unsuspecting coworker. OP, stay away, this dude is testing the waters. The very creepy waters.

    1. Distracted Librarian*

      Yep. I can’t see any way in which this wasn’t intentional. The vomit isn’t the grossest thing about this story.

  40. irritable vowel*

    For LW5 – I’m also a long-term freelancer and once worked for a company that outsourced payroll, etc. to an external service provider. I wasn’t given an option, IIRC, just was considered an employee of that provider and they paid me/withheld taxes, and I got a W-2 from them at the end of the year. Honestly, it was a lot easier than having to deal with a 1099 and calculate my own taxes. I’m not sure what the downside is to choosing that option!

    1. SbuxAddict*

      I think I get this call at least once a week from either one of my business clients looking to classify the people they work with or my individual clients trying to figure out if it’s worth the expense of an LLC and their own insurance. Our unemployment department is REALLY aggressive about reclassifying workers (even subs on a construction site!) so we push employee hard to our clients. If they are reclassified by the ESC, we have to amend payroll tax returns and the employer has to pay payroll taxes, penalties, and interest. It usually takes a few years to get it straight with all the agencies and then ESC does a “review” in three years to make sure the employer is compliant.

      The downside is usually you pay an employee a little less than you would a contractor since the employer is paying half the social security plus benefits if applicable for the employee and none for the contractor. The upside is that it’s so much easier.

  41. music*

    #5 happened to me recently when being approaching by a new opportunity and between that and some other oddities, I felt like it might be a scam.

    So I guess now I know for next time that’s technically/probably legit? But let’s be real, it still seems weird.

  42. Anonychick*

    Regarding Allison’s note that her advice would have been different if LW3 had used a racial slur:

    I’m going to hope here that Allison was thinking that racial slurs are more obviously inappropriate, and thus don’t require any type of attempt to explain why they’re not okay. This idea, however—that all racial slurs are obvious to everyone—is, IMO, incorrect: even just in my lifetime (~40 years), there’s been significant pushback over words that, whether or not most people realized it, originate from racial slurs. In particular, I’m thinking of two different words, one related to the other, that have to do with Romani people, and several having to do with assorted Indigenous groups. (Did you sit “criss-cross applesauce”? We didn’t! We also had another phrase for “take-backers” and used what we now know are slurs against Inuit people to make references to cold weather.) All of these went in just a generation or two from being not only accepted but generally divorced from their origins to “hey, wow, that is not an okay thing to say!”

    So the question becomes this: if someone in LW3’s office used any of these terms, would Allison’s advice have been the same (to tell them it’s unacceptable, rather than filing a complaint)? If yes, then the issue is about whether or not the slur is racial, but how clear it is that the person using it should have known it wasn’t okay. And if not…well, then, I would like to know what the difference is, considering that disability is a protected class in the US, same as race.

    1. anonny*

      Wait- aren’t people from India referred to as “Indians”? I don’t think it’s accurate to refer to Native Americans that way, but it’s considered a slur? Even when talking about people from India?

      And I was watching “Gypsy Sisters” just last night- while they live in WVA and seem to have limited connection to their Romani heritage, they use the term very casually and as a way of life.

      I had no idea those words were racially-offensive slurs? Like, does this just apply in an American context?
      I do agree about the “r-word” for the most part, but I do also think it’s important that he referred to a tool, not a person, in that way. It does makes me think of “white savior” syndrome and just in general, people not part of a minority group getting offended on their behalf- that just feels cringy to me.

      1. Large Pink Rabbit*

        Just like some Black people use the n-word with each other but people who are not Black should not use it, people who are not Roma or Travellers should not use the g-word. I have also heard Native Alaskans refer to themselves using the e-word, but again, other people should not.

        I may be wrong, but I believe it is just outdated rather than offensive to refer to Native Americans as Indians or American Indians (in the US, that is). The offense comes when you put the word in front of something like -giver or -style. It’s similar to how some rugs are still Oriental but people are not.

      2. UKDancer*

        People from India are definitely called Indians, I mean what else would you call them? There are a lot working in my company and they all describe themselves that way.

        I think it’s that you don’t use the word to describe First Nations Americans because it’s inaccurate and they don’t like it.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        If you’re not a member of the group in question, it’s usually a slur. I don’t think it’s “white savior-y” to not want to hear that. Also, hearing it in common use runs the risk of normalizing it to people who aren’t as scrupulous or aware, so let’s just not?

        Yes, “g—” is a slur. Whether someone is enough in touch with their heritage to use it is not for anyone outside of that heritage to decide. Also, reality shows are all about titillation, so maybe they aren’t the best standard.

        “Indian” in reference to Native Americans is a problem specifically because it’s inaccurate and thoughtless. (I know that French used to use “Apache” to refer to basically street thugs, and I’ve seen it applied to street children in at least one silent film, and I’d love to know how that is viewed, or would be viewed if it were still in use, today since the implication is that they’re wild and uncivilized.)

        1. Old and Don’t Care*

          Re Indian vs Native American, it’s not that simple. From the National Museum of the American Indian:

          “American Indian, Indian, Native American, or Native are acceptable and often used interchangeably in the United States; however, Native Peoples often have individual preferences on how they would like to be addressed. To find out which term is best, ask the person or group which term they prefer. When talking about Native groups or people, use the terminology the members of the community use to describe themselves collectively.”

          And of course within those communities people are going to have varying opinions in this. Many Native people feel very strongly that “Indian” is part of their identity and they use it. Some use the terms interchangeably. A friend of mine who was a member of the Cherokee Nation tended to use Native American as a noun and Indian as an adjective. It’s kind of ignorant to say that using the word Indian is inaccurate and thoughtless.

          1. NotARealManager*

            I have also visited that museum, but thought the name choice was odd when I first visit back in the mid to late 00s. I had been taught referring to Native Americans as Indians or American Indians was somewhere from rude to racist.

            Personally I’ve landed on, while people from those populations might refer to themselves as American Indians or some individuals might not mind if someone identifies them that way, I (a person of white, European ancestry) should probably stick to Native American, Native, Indigenous, or their tribe name if I know it.

            1. Landslide*

              Many Northern Plains people prefer Indian, and it is not a slur. Crow people for example, and others. Each tribe is different and like anyone, you just have to be sensitive to that and maybe ask or take a clue from how they describe themselves.

              I think that intent is more important than word choice, what is the intent behind the words.

      4. Anonymous for This*

        There is/was a show on one of the cable channels called “Gypsy Wedding”. These are not Roma people but seem to be people who are sometimes known as Irish Travellers. Since the people were participants on the show, it seems as if they did not find the title offensive. The again, given that they aren’t Roma people, the name may have a very different meaning for them.

  43. JustMe*

    LW 1 are you sure it’s a real FB account and not a fake one either a) created by someone else, or b) hacked by someone else? If they otherwise seem normal enough, you COULD ask about it as Alison said…although the fact that you noted he has a “strange sense of humor” suggests that…maybe you really suspect it’s really him?

  44. BellyButton*

    LW1- PLEASE ask him and post what he says! When you said gross I was expecting something morally gross, not GROSS GROSS.

    We need an update!

  45. Velawciraptor*

    While I agree with Alison’s advice on #3, I’m curious about why the advice would be different for a racist slur than it is for the ableist slur the co-worker used?

    1. kage*

      I’m also curious about why she thinks the advice would be different. I would’ve thought the approach would be very similar for all of the -ists/isms (racist, sexist, ableism, etc.). I guess maybe I could see an argument for getting a slight pass a one-time no-harm/no-foul usage if they respond to corrections well/never do it again on ableism that I might not do on sexism/racism but even that feels off/wrong to me…

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      That gave me pause for a second as well, but I think the real differentiation is using it at a person vs to describe a thing. People just don’t really do that with racial slurs in the way that they do with the r word or like when people used to call everything “gay” all the time. At least I have never encountered someone using a racial slur to describe a thing or a situation in that way, only used against a person or group of people.

      To me, I would probably call it out the next time he used it but I wouldn’t think this rose to the level of something I would report to HR–but if he were calling a *person* that then it would be something different and would merit an HR report. Just like calling someone a racial slur would.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Hmm, I once had a date refer contemptuously to “n- music”, that was very obviously and shockingly an intended slur about people, even though music is a thing. So, that was my jaw on the floor.

  46. asturdysoul*

    Re: #5, I’m a freelancer and have found that sometimes having a government-issued EIN (Employer Identification Number) will satisfy clients as sufficient evidence that I’m a separate business entity/legit independent contractor. I don’t have any employees and I’m a sole proprietor. You can apply for an EIN for free online.

  47. Can't think of a funny name*

    For #5, I manage a team of people whose sole job is to get signed contracts and collect documents that demonstrate that someone is an independent contractor. We ask for more for people based in CA. We’ve been audited by the IRS and because we collect all these documents, the IRS did not find anyone that they thought was misclassified.

  48. CommentKoi*

    LW3: whenever I hear the R-word dropped in conversation anymore (thankfully not very often), I just say “hey, find a different word”. They know what I’m talking about. A reasonable person will apologize, correct themselves, and move on.

  49. RuleFollower*

    I have a rule that I never connect via personal social media with people at work. Not once have I regretted it.

  50. Spacey O*

    LW #3… Whenever my partner comes across that offensive word in public, she stands up and shouts for anyone to hear; “My sister is mentally disabled and I REALLY don’t appreciate that word!”

    Said sister is not challenged in any way, but it makes for some real fun watching the offender squirm.

  51. Dawn*

    Sounds like Michael has a vomit kink and I’d definitely avoid getting pulled into it as his coworker.

  52. MCMonkeyBean*

    Interesting timing as I have been rewatching the show The Venture Bros the last couple of weeks and while much of it holds up, it has been *so jarring* how frequently they use “the r word.” Like, it’s really a lot!! It’s a little wild thinking it probably wasn’t so out of place when it started airing 20 years ago but definitely no one I interact with regularly throws that word around like that now.

  53. Office Drone*

    Re: LW 1. Something to keep in mind is that you’re only seeing this guy’s public posts. It’s possible that he has a lot of private posts you won’t see unless you accept the friend request. I’m not defending him though. Why he’d choose to make his gross posts public is weird and definitely worth declining his request. (If he asks, just say that you use FB as a means of keeping in touch with extended family. He doesn’t need to know whom you consider “family.”)

    I learned the lesson of being careful about what appears to the public in less dramatic fashion. For many years, I worked for a religious nonprofit. I opened my personal FB page to following by the nonprofit’s constituents, and sometimes posted public posts intended for them (so, all religious-based). The rest of my posts were published for friends only.

    I realized after a while that I wasn’t able to get into FB groups devoted to personal interests. Once I realized what the admins were seeing—nothing but religious posts—I privatized all my posts, stopped posting to the public, and eventually created a separate public page for sharing religious-themed posts.

  54. New Jack Karyn*

    It’s weird to me that people are jumping to “He must have a vomit fetish!” I think it’s way more likely that he just has a juvenile sense of humor and this is how it’s shown. Not everything is a red flag, not everyone is a predator, and not every social gambit is ‘testing the waters’.

  55. Landslide*

    Regarding using the “R” word, this week I had a kismet moment where I wanted to say – you know, the real R word – but instead what came out of my mouth was this:

    “Oh, hey! I would really like to use the “R” word, so I will – you know, ‘Ridiculous!’ As in this project problem we’re having is really Ridiculous.” Somehow it expressed that the old word IS inappropriate and that we can also be honest about that and maybe even make a funny out of it as we use a more appropriate one.

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