my coworkers are in a self-help cult, I pretended I’m allergic to bees, and more

I’m off today. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. I got in trouble for saying “bite me” in a meeting

I recently attended an intense work group meeting with my boss and a coworker. The coworker responded to one of my questions with a joke, to which I responded jokingly back with “bite me.” Everyone laughed it off at the time, but in a recent routine meeting with the boss I was reprimanded. The boss said she looked up the term and it means “F off.” I am mortified because I do not think of that term in such a vulgar way. It was simply an quick response said in a joking manner, in private, in what I thought was a safe space. Am I wrong to feel a bit singled out?

I don’t think it means “F off” exactly, although it means something in the same neighborhood — and either way, it’s a fairly vulgar and aggressive term to use at work. There are some offices where it would be completely fine, and others where it would be jarringly out of place. Your boss has just let you know this one is the latter, at least in her view. That’s a reasonable call for her to make.

I doubt she’s going to hold a grudge over this, but if your sense is that it’s colored the way she sees you, you could always say, “I wanted to apologize again for my language the other day. I hear that term so often that I wasn’t thinking of it as vulgar, but I appreciate you flagging it for me and I won’t use it again.”

And keep in mind that work meetings aren’t a safe space — you very much will be judged on what you say in them, and even when you’re quite comfortable with a particular set of colleagues, you can still be expected to speak reasonably professionally.


2. My coworkers are in a self-help cult

A few months back, my coworker Jason, then new to the team, was hawking a program which from Googling appears to be a for-profit self-help cult. Jason has done the full program and volunteers with them in his free time. Bernadette decided to try it and signed up for the the $800 intro course a couple of months ago. Over a recent weekend, she took the “advanced” course as well. In a team meeting this week, Bernadette spent about five minutes rambling an apology about how she has been dissatisfied at work because she wasn’t giving it her all and how she thinks she’s a bad team member and wants to do better, while Jason encouraged her with smiles and nods.

Bernadette has been a stellar team member for the past year other than this self-denunciation. I have no idea where her perception that she’s no good comes from, but my guess would be a combination of Impostor Syndrome and the cult. The unaccountable apology was uncomfortable and awkward for the rest of the team, and none of us knew what to say in that moment, so we all just sort of stared at our laptops. I don’t want anyone else here to be harmed by this expensive systematic bullying, nor do I want our team meetings to be disrupted by this kind of bizarre and unprofessional outburst in the future. What in the world do I do?

For now, I don’t think there’s much you need to do about the meeting disruption. If you start seeing more of this at meetings, you should flag it for your manager — but if it stays a one-time weird moment, I’d just leave it for now. You could, however, counter to Bernadette the critical things she said about herself.

You could also make sure that other people on your team know the facts about the organization, so that they might be more likely to decline if Jason or Bernadette try to recruit them (especially because trying to recruit is part of the model). You could try giving Bernadette and Jason that same information too, of course — but people caught up in things like this typically will have already been trained to resist outside critiques of the group, and it may cause some tension in your work relationships with them. (Which you might be fine with! Just factor that in.)


Read an update to this letter here.

3. I pretended I’m allergic to bees when I’m not, and it made things weird

I’m fresh out of college and starting my first job, so I’m already self-conscious about how young and inexperienced I am. I was walking to my car with a few coworkers when I saw a bee on my car door handle. I have always had a fear of bees, so I panicked a little. One of my coworkers gave me a weird look, so I said, “Oh I’m allergic to bee stings and I don’t want to get sick.” Well, the nurse (I work at a school) overheard and now they’re asking for an allergy plan and Epi-pen. I’m not even really allergic! How do I get out of this without it seeming weird?

We’ve all said something weird in the spur of the moment and then later thought, “Why on earth did that come out of my mouth?”

Talk to the nurse privately and say, “I overstated the situation. I’ve been stung before so I’m afraid of it happening again, but I’m not actually allergic. I should have been clearer — I’m sorry for raising any alarm!”


4. Did this candidate really work on the project she claims?

Someone has applied for a position in my department, who I will interview today. In looking at their LinkedIn profile, they claim to have worked on a project with which I am intimately familiar (at a previous company), and I don’t recall their involvement. Should I interview this person, or should I point out the inconsistency to the hiring manager, or contact HR, or …? There is a possibility that I simply do not remember the person, so should I reach out to people at the previous company and ask whether they remember this person?

Start by asking the person about it when you interview her. Ask about her role and the work she did and see what she says. If it sounds off to you, then yeah, at that point I’d reach out your former colleagues to see if you can verify what the candidate is telling you — but it’ll be more effective to do that once you know exactly what she’s saying she did.

It’s also okay to be up-front with the candidate that you’re familiar with the project and explain whatever your own involvement was. Not in a “gotcha” way, but in the normal way you’d do it if it you didn’t have any suspicions. That may or may not lead to any further light being shed on the situation, but it can make it more likely.


{ 253 comments… read them below }

      1. MsM*

        Eh, I’m not opposed to him leaving after learning that bee stings’ reaction to “the power of positive thought” is “bite me.”

          1. darsynia*

            It’s nice when everyone works together with honesty and proper credit! (yours is my favorite)

      2. jasmine*

        Yeah, I feel like people aren’t very sympathetic to cult members who do unkind things. But I’ve only ever heard of ex-members talk of such people as victims.

        1. Rainy*

          Speaking as someone who was brought up in a cult and left as soon as humanly possible…yes, people who are committed to a cult act in antisocial ways. Some of those actions are merely unkind. Many are horrible. Those people are victims of the cult, and if they manage to leave there will be a mental reckoning that will not be enjoyable. The moral injury of being coerced or convinced to do horrible things to others is not minor.

          But these people are still responsible for the horrible things they did to other people. They are victims, but they are also perpetrators. You can have sympathy for them as people who have been misled, but you absolutely should not excuse their actions. Jason chose to recruit a coworker into a cult and encourage her to demean herself. Jason chose to say a horrible thing to another coworker whose loved one had cancer (in the update). He had to suspect it was an awful thing to say because he checked first. He was told not to, and still did it.

          You can hope that cult members who are being exploited wake up and leave. You can have a certain amount of sympathy for them as people who are being taken advantage of. Don’t ask–and especially don’t tell!–the people they’ve abused to have sympathy for them.

          1. La Triviata*

            A co-worker at a previous job got pulled into a cult-like organization. He decided it was the cure for everything and tried to get other people to get involved. One woman, who couldn’t afford all the seminars, workshops, etc., he offered to pay for it if she’d just attend things and get involved. It reached the point of him trying to coerce people to join that a couple levels of management had to tell him to back off. He assumed I had complained to management (I hadn’t – just told him no forcefully enough) and he became even more unpleasant to work with.

            1. Rainy*

              Oof. That sounds so unpleasant to be around, I’m so sorry you had to deal with that.

          2. Rain*

            This is it amazingly well balanced and thoughtful response.

            And I’m not just saying that because we’re basically named twins.

            1. Rainy*

              I’ve had a few decades to think about this issue :) I left home at 17 because that was my only option to get away from the cult. My parents stayed in for another 8-10 years after I left home.

              And hello name-sibling! ;)

          3. ReallyBadPerson*

            I do think whether one is victim/perpetrator or merely a victim depends upon the cult. My daughter just left a patriarchal religious cult (she was in it for 6 years) and she did not do any recruiting, but the emotional damage to her was awful. She is in treatment for PTSD while trying to navigate a divorce from her husband, who is still very much involved and fighting for custody of their two young children. The guilt my daughter feels for putting up with the homeschooling, no contraceptive crazy for as long as she did is dreadful.

            1. Rainy*

              I was specifically responding to jasmine’s comment and, as I said, I was talking specifically about people who engage in harmful actions toward others because of their participation in a high-control group. If your daughter didn’t recruit people to the cult or engage in harmful speech or acts toward others as a result of her participation in that group, she’s not who I’m talking about.

              The cult I grew up in was a toxic system that encouraged individuals to replicate that toxicity in their dealings with their co-religionists in order to enforce those toxic norms, and I expect it was the same for your daughter. I have a couple of guesses as to the group your daughter was involved with, and if it was part of the umbrella organization I suspect, I had a friend who left and it was very damaging to her as well. I’m not saying your daughter is a bad person or a perpetrator of harm to others, I’m saying that people are responsible for the harm they do even if they did it because they were coerced or brainwashed. Jason doesn’t get a free pass for his bad actions simply because those actions took place under the aegis of a high-control group.

      3. Princess Sparklepony*

        People who join one cult will pretty much join other cults. You just hope it’s not a destructive one. Sometimes they just take on a self help group very aggressively – 12 step programs or religion. But not like in a casual way but in a way of life way.

        1. My Cult Didn't Even Have Good Cookies!*

          Lots of us were kids who didn’t have a choice.

          But you’re right that it takes a lot of therapy and healing not to subconsciously seek out spiritual abuse. And even then us ex-cult kids still have to watch ourselves carefully.

          I highly recommend EMDR therapy and KAP (ketamine assisted therapy).

          1. Rainy*

            Yup. I didn’t join, I was born into it. I left home at 17 to get away. I haven’t joined any high-control groups of my own volition in the 30+ years since.

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      But the poor bees die after stinging. I’d rather have them buzzing around, pollinating flowers and making delicious honey than wasting their one shot on him.

      1. I can read anything except the room*

        That’s actually a fairly unique trait of honeybees! They account for just 8 of about 21,000 recorded species of bee. There are also several hundred species of bee that don’t sting at all, but all the rest can sting, keep their stingers, and live to sting another day.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          This explains the time I had a bee fly over, sting me on the bottom of the foot, fly over to my other foot, and sting that one also. D:

        2. EchoGirl*

          This is also assuming we’re talking about actual bees and not one of the other stinging insect types that tend to get colloquially referred to as “bees” even though they’re technically a distinct species.

  1. Aggretsuko*

    #3 could just say they got big ol’ welts from bee stings (which I sure did when stung) and it seemed like an allergic reaction. After the second one blew up so much, I started wondering if I was going to develop an allergy.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Yeah. I’m about 95% sure I’m allergic to bee stings (no formal diagnosis) but there is no risk of anaphylaxis. I’ve stopped mentioning it in most instances because no amount of “mild, not life threatening” completely avoids people freaking out.

      (When stung I swell up like a balloon and if I get stung near a joint it’s likely I’ll loose joint mobility for a good while so it’s sometimes relevant for outdoor activities in a “you might have to haul my ass out” sort of way).

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        me too! last time I was stung by my thumb and the whole area between finger and thumb blew up. it sucked because I’m right handed

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Last time I got stung on the heal of thumb I couldn’t bend either my thumb or my index and middle fingers.

  2. Tiger Snake*

    #3 – if I recall, I once clarified something similar as being “fatal bee sting allergies run in my family; both my parents and my sibling have it. However, I’ve not been stung myself – I try to take the precautious of assuming I’m allergic because the risk is so high”. People got it

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I think it would have been fine to save face by saying something like ‘Oh, it’s not severe enough to need an epi-pen, but I really try to avoid bees just in case’. It’s perfectly reasonable to have an allergy that isn’t severe enough for an epi-pen but could still cause problems. My mum doesn’t have an anaphylactic reaction to stings but wherever she’s stung will immediately swell up and she’s had to have rings cut off her fingers before – still a very legitimate reason for trying to avoid bees and wasps even if she isn’t going to go into anaphylaxis!

      1. Ariaflame*

        And I believe it’s one of the ones that the more exposure you have, the more likelihood for it to start becoming that reaction.

        1. Smithy*

          This is me with bee stings.

          I’ve had three in my life, and each have had a progressively worse reaction, but nothing to the point of anaphylaxis. The last one was more like a sudden onset of the flu, but after taking a Benadryl and napping for a few hours – it largely passed.

          I think most nurses would understand the reaction of saying you were allergic as opposed to “increased sensitivities, so I am cautious to avoid increasingly harmful reactions”.

        2. Yvette*

          It’s the same for my husband. His doctor told him that he has a tendency toward severe allergic reactions, and that the next bee or wasp sting could be the one that puts him over the top.

        3. Autumn*

          I used to get my now grown children Benadryl orders at school in the event of a bee/hornet sting. I termed it “Not allergic yet, I’d like to keep it that way!”

          I say, with no shame, that I’m afraid of hornets. But do NOT call yelllow jackets bees! (Common mistake where I live)

        4. But what to call me?*

          I’ve had that problems with wasp stings. The last one made my whole foot swell up and deeply itch for weeks, so while I’ve never had anything like a life-threatening reaction I am still highly motivated not to get stung again.

      2. just some guy*

        Would that explanation change the situation, though?

        Allergies can become more severe. If I had OHAS responsibilities for an employee, I would feel very uneasy with assuming that “has a bee-sting allergy, but hasn’t needed an epi-pen so far” guarantees “won’t need an epi-pen next time”. I’d probably need to consult with my work’s OHAS team, but my first reaction is that I’d probably need to do the same sort of contingency planning as if they *did* get anaphylactic reactions, which I think is what OP is trying to avoid.

        1. Katie*

          My son is allergic to nuts. However his reaction is only splotchiness. If he has a reaction, it’s known to just give him Benadryl. Schools 100% accept our plan because we know our child way more than they do.

        2. londonedit*

          I’d assume that the employee saying ‘I don’t have an allergy that requires an epi-pen’ would be enough. People are responsible for their own medical conditions, and an employer can’t force someone to get an epi-pen (which they wouldn’t even be able to do without a prescription where I live, anyway) just in case things change. If the employee says it’s not an epi-pen situation then surely that’s that?

            1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

              Allergy plan – benadryl and leave me alone. It’s not that complicated. I have an insect allergy and that’s all that needed. I’m not spending $600 on an epi-pen that expires just to go along with someone else’s idea of what I need.

              1. ecnaseener*

                Sure, and we don’t know that the nurse wouldn’t have accepted that! But LW didn’t want to keep up this random lie and talk about Benadryl!

                1. I can read anything except the room*

                  Yeah, exactly this. If OP had a real allergy that didn’t need an epi-pen, OP would respond to the nurse’s request by explaining how she manages her condition.

                  But OP doesn’t have an allergy, and responding to the nurse’s request with, “oh, my plan doesn’t require an epi-pen,” is just digging deeper into the lie at a point where it would still be much easier and cleaner to just come clean. Blurting something weird out when you’re feeling panicky is one thing and people can shrug it off as a weird thing you said once in a high stress moment and eventually it’ll be long forgotten. Going back and elaborating with more false information to a coworker whose job it is to maintain accurate records of this kind of thing, after you’ve had time to calm down and give it some thought, is quite another. And worst of all, it ropes OP into having to keep up the charade over time.

                  The truth is really the best way to go here. Just rip the bandaid off and it will blow over.

          1. Elitist Semicolon*

            And even with a prescription, an Epi-pen can be an expensive thing for the nurse to demand of a colleague who surely knows their own reactions and situations better than the nurse does. Not all insurance companies cover them and ~$700 because the nurse thinks “it could happen” is not an expense a lot of people could afford. (Frankly, even the $10 or whatever co-pay for a generic epinephrine kit would be more than I’d want to pay just because a colleague insisted when I told them I didn’t need one.)

        3. Dahlia*

          You can have a lot of allergic reactions that don’t require an epi-pen and many people aren’t going to be prescribed one “just in case”. Plus they’re very expensive and they expire. Who has thousands of dollars to spend because they get a rash?

      3. ChurchOfDietCoke*

        Yes – I have had a similar reaction to a wasp sting that led to me having to have my wedding ring cut off (just six months after I got married…) and although I didn’t have an anaphylactic reaction, I now assume that any wasp sting could be very harmful to me – especially for example if I was stung on the face.

      4. EC*

        Yes, my SO is allergic to peanuts/tree nuts. In his case that means his gums swell and its a bit uncomfortable, not deadly serious.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Also, some people have bad reactions to bee stings that are not an allergic reaction. For example, swelling can be super severe even if there aren’t hives or anaphylaxis.

      I know it’s not a great idea to fix one lie with another, but if I were the LW I’d be tempted to say, “I have bad reactions to bee stings, though I don’t have an allergy with anaphylaxis. It was easy to just say “allergy” in the panic of the moment, but I don’t actually need an epipen or allergy plan.”

  3. Throwaway name*

    LW1, I’ve heard the expression for years, but realized I’m not 100% sure of its meaning, so I looked it up. Here’s what I found:

    “You can use the phrase “bite me” when you want to give someone a nasty retort to an insult or an irritating question. It’s a way of telling them that you don’t want anything to do with them or what they have to say or think about you.”

    Thus, not appropriate for work.

    1. Deanna Troi*

      I didn’t realize it originated on college campuses in the 1980s, but I was in college then and people routinely said “bite my ass” or “bite my dick” (even women). So, whenever anyone says “bite me,” my mind automatically fills in the rest and I assume that’s what they mean.

      1. La Triviata*

        One I ran into in college in the ’70s was “eat my shorts.” Possibly less offensive, but ….

    2. Kevin Sours*

      Like a lot of slang it has a lot of different connotations in different cultures. In my experience it’s much more likely to be used to express faux outrage as part of friendly banter than to be used in earnest.

      1. I can read anything except the room*

        Yeah, most slang ages rapidly and I think that one was last used earnestly by erstwhile teens now approaching retirement. In my circles I don’t hear it much but when I do it’s usually being used semi-ironically because it’s such an antiquated saying – similar to how they might in a positive context use “groovy” semi-ironically.

        The phrase kind of brings to mind the scripted dialogue given in 80s and 90s movie with a rebellious female lead, like Busy Phillips in The Smokers.

        I do still agree that it’s not the right chord to strike at work (that goes for pretty much anything that would be shocking or aggressive if it weren’t being watered down through the use of irony), but at least outside of work I usually wouldn’t be inclined to take it as a serious insult.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          The context I’m thing of is along the lines of:

          Worker: “Guess who gets to take {thing} to {other location right on the beach} and wait around a couple of hours while they figure out how to fix it?”
          Coworker: “Bite me”.

          That’s not appropriate for a lot of work places but I’ve definitely worked places that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow (assuming it was all meant in good humor).

    1. Mt*

      i would really love to hear. I actively support 3 to 4 major projects each year, but never on the official project team and most people on the project wouldn’t know my name.

      it got so bad, that last year one of the projects won a year end company award. I had done soo much work on that project that that the VP of that group went out of his way to make sure I got added to the award. I never actually attended a meeting for that project.

  4. BellaStella*

    For the people in the office of OP2 glad to see Jason left and Bernadette got over it, per the update. I wonder how Jason and the other self help people fared during covid times with all the positive thinking they espoused?

    1. MsM*

      Either by thinking anyone who got sick wasn’t thinking positive enough thoughts or falling all the way down the conspiracy rabbit hole, I’m guessing.

    2. Boof*

      I was enjoying speculating that it is one of the self help cults that eventually got busted/convicted for racketeering (NXIVM), but sadly I’m sure there’s many more out there than just that one. It’s scary how they got great employee do some kind of weird public apology for “not giving it their all” – clearly not helping anyone but whoever’s trying to bilk money out of folks.

  5. ThatOtherClare*

    Oh dear, poor #1. I still remember the kerfuffle at my school when the boys learned that ‘douche’ has a definition other than ‘loser’. One boy in particular, I remember, was very contrite. Poor lad. I myself had a similar experience with the word ‘screwed’ (I thought it meant ‘scrunched up’, like a ball of paper).

    A reprimand is a bit much for a one-off, but I think we can all be grateful to the kind souls who’ve tactfully taken us aside at some point in our lives and said “Were you aware that some people use that phrase when they’re being *ahem*, rude? Best not to use it in polite company.”

    1. Ariaflame*

      Yes, it means ‘shower’. In french anyway. In some ways I find douchebag to be a very appropriate insult, I use it to refer to people who pretend that they’re doing things that are good for women that are in fact extremely bad for them.

      1. Brain the Brian*

        In English, it has… other meanings, let’s leave it there. They are unsavory.

        1. Minimal Pear*

          I think Ariaflame is specifically acknowledging that meaning given their last sentence.

              1. bamcheeks*

                This thread is getting kind of abstract and I’m not sure what ANYONE means any more, but I think the difference is whether you think “vaginal douche” (to make ladies scented and fancy) or “anal douche” (prep for anal sex)!

                1. Brain the Brian*

                  Neither one of which, frankly, would appropriate to reference even obliquely in the workplace. In its insult form, “douche” and its derivatives are so severe precisely because the original meanings referred to genitalia and sex.

      2. Miette*

        I am reminded of the time I informed two French colleagues (both men) of what a douchebag literally was (tactfully), then explaining that it was an insult in American English. It was like a lightbulb had gone on for them LOL–they finally understood the phrase and appreciated its rudeness. I think they thought Americans kept bags in the shower for some reason.

        1. Jackalope*

          This is (sort of!) my issue too! I lived in a French-speaking country for awhile and got used to using the word as the normal word for “shower”. I was different in that I knew what the word was originally used for in English (the spray, not the insult), but hearing people called a “shower” and a “shower bag” as an insult always makes me want to giggle a bit.

          (Tangent but I had a similar experience when I learned that the French word for one of those rubber stoppers that you stop water in the sink with is called “un tampon”. It didn’t help that I was in high school when I learned this and the whole having a functioning adult female reproductive system still made me slightly embarrassed and giggly.)

    2. Still*

      Well, you weren’t wrong about “screwed”, but I see how it could be misinterpreted in some contexts.

      I don’t really see the problem with “douche”? If they were already using it in the name-calling way, the name-calling is the problem . How does the other definition, referring to a hygienic/medical practice, make it worse? Or is there a third definition that I’m not aware of?

      1. Clorinda*

        it is using women’s bodies as a source of shame and contamination, so it is intrinsically misogynistic, just like calling someone a b—h or a c–t.

        1. Good Lord Ratty*

          I think of it more as referring to a useless product intended only to shame women for a normal body part, so it’s quite a useful insult: by calling someone that, you are saying that they are useless at best and dangerous at worst. (Dangerous because actual douches can upset the ph balance of the body part in question, increasing the risk of problems.) So while I see your point, I personally don’t consider the word itself to be misogynistic.

          1. darsynia*

            Yeah, I’d say in the last 10-15 years the use of the term has ‘resurged’ in some ways, because of the ‘useless and used to shame others’ thing. Before it was more universally derided as a needed practice, it definitely gave off misogynistic vibes. It still can, depending on the circles folks run in, too, I want to acknowledge that.

            1. ThatOtherClare*

              You’re correct that this was most definitely not in the last 10-15 years. My gratitude to those kindly retaining the polite fiction that it may have been, but you’re welcome to drop it if you wish.

    3. Chas*

      Sometimes it’s the case that words are considered to be worse in some cultures than others. I’ve met people online (mostly Americans) who don’t realise that ‘bugger’ has a sex-related meaning, or that ‘prick’ is slang for a part of the male anatomy (something I learnt as a child after mispronouncing the glue brand ‘pritt-stick’) and use them like they’re just words on a par with something like ‘butthead’, whereas in the UK they’re considered to be swearwords (albeit milder ones).

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah, I’ve known a couple of Americans who thought ‘bugger’ and ‘wanker’ were just funny words. Bugger I’d say is a mild swear word these days, but things like ‘wanker’ (and ‘twat’, which Americans also seem to view as very mild and just an amusing word to say) are definitely not suitable for professional environments (I mean, my boss and I swear in general conversation, but we wouldn’t do it in meetings with other people and certainly not with anyone external).

        1. Jack Russell Terrier*

          It think Americans think twat is thought of more like twit, not um a rude way to refer to a part of female anatomy. I’ve explained how it’s perceived in the UK to s0me of my friends here in the US.

        2. RVA Cat*

          It will never not be funny that Robert Browning misused “twat” in the poem “Pippa Passes.”
          I’m convinced Elizabeth Barrett Browning knew and was just as amused as we are.

        3. Chuffing along like Mr. Pancks*

          Yes, they just sound silly, like when one of the Prime Minister’s lackeys in “Yes, Minister” berates the main character for a misstep: “Politics requires diplomacy and tact, you berk!” I almost regret looking up such words, but, definitely worth knowing never to use them at work!

      2. just some guy*

        Even words that are considered very mild today often have sexual origins if one goes back far enough. “Dork” is another one that comes from male anatomy, as a bowdlerisation of another “d__k” word, and “suck” (in the sense of “this job sucks” etc.) comes from a homophobic expression.

        1. Autumn*

          Odd, I was told that “dork” refereed to door key, or the kids that had nobody at home when they returned from school. The follow-on presumed that they were from “a broken family” because their mother had a job. I’ve mostly heard of it as an insult for someone who was goofy, awkward and apt to miss social cues or be naive.

        1. Smithy*

          Yes – I do think the level of rudeness of slang terms both changes over times and can register differently in different cultures. I know that growing up my mom had an extremely corrective approach to “sucks” and “blows” as negative exclamations. So there can also be that intergenerational dynamic, where someone older might hear something as far ruder than someone younger (or vise versa).

          Based on the OP’s letter, it more sounded like the boss was sharing the information about it being rude vs a more formal write up. And while I think it’s a very common reaction to be defensive, I think in the larger sense the boss was really just being helpful. If their sector can run on the slightly more formal side, letting someone know to avoid more blunt or potentially aggressive slang phrases in their workplace is helpful.

          1. I can read anything except the room*

            This just reminded me of when I was around 10 years old and went along with my aunt, uncle, and cousin on a trip to Cooperstown to see the Baseball Hall of Fame. They lived in another state and I normally only saw them for about a week a year around Thanksgiving, and I was only vaguely aware they were a bit stricter with my cousin than my parents were with me.

            My cousin and I were each playing handheld games in the car on the long drive, and when I got a pop fly in the baseball game I was playing, I exclaimed, “oh man, not a freaking pop fly!!” My aunt sharply responded, “EXCUSE YOU? language!” and my 10 year old self legit thought she must have misheard me because I knew the F word and thought “freaking” was a sanitized version okay for polite company the way “gosh” and “dang” were for “God” and “damn.” (In fact, my cousin did use the word ‘dang’ a lot and my aunt never objected to it!)

            So naturally, my eyes go wide and I assure my aunt, “I said FREAKING, not… the other one!” Unfortunately, this only made her more annoyed with me for saying it again!

            1. Indoor_Kitty*

              I had a friend whose mom strongly disapproved of even “sanitized” versions of the F word because “Everyone knows what you mean!” And, I guess, fair enough.

          2. But what to call me?*

            It seems to me like the boss was unfamiliar with a term that is considered pretty mild/jokey in all the contexts OP has seen it used in, looked it up and saw the worst variation of what it could mean, and assumed that was the way OP was using it. I’ve never heard ‘bite me’ in any context where it would be taken seriously.

            1. Nah*

              This was definitely my read on the situation, I’ve only ever heard it used in very mild language for a small annoyance and/or light-hearted sarcastic jokes. It being considered “strong” language is definitely a first for me!

      3. KayDeeAye*

        Actually “prick” is used in the U.S. to refer to that particular part of the male anatomy, too. But I think it’s kind of like the OP and “bite me” – it’s used to mean something non-anatomical so often (e.g., “jerk”) that people have forgotten that it actually has a fairly rude meaning.

      4. Miette*

        American here – we absolutely know “prick” is slang for “d*ick.” As is “putz,” “tool,” “schlong,” “schmuck,” “dingus,” “pisser,” and “unit.” All have slightly different applications and meanings, given the context in which they’re used.

        Which is where the LW’s boss is being unfair, IMO. Sure, she has the right to lay down rules about language in the workplace, but LW was clearly joking when they said what was said, whether they knew the origin of the phrase used or not. And while the boss is within her rights to let LW know she wasn’t a person that tolerated swearing (and I recognize they might be a person who doesn’t pick up well on social cues, but it’s not stated in the letter), they might have taken that into account. The fact the boss had to look up the meaning of “bite me,” is interesting, because we all know how accurate definitions for slang are online (/s). Context and nuance in slang (and all speech for that matter) are important. Even the F-word has about 100 meanings, and new ones are added all the time.

        1. Smithy*

          Putz has that connection in 20th century English, but its etymology is Yiddish for a fool/idiot.

          If this were a formal writeup, I’d agree with you. But in terms of a boss saying “hey, this actually has a ruder connotation than I want in this workplace” – that’s a kindness. Going back to Yiddish, a lot of rude Yiddish words have made their way into American English as either being more colorful expressions or replacement words for other rude terms. That being said, I could still see a boss not necessarily knowing what a word like shmuck meant, looking it up or talking to others with more of a connection to Yiddish and then deciding that’s not the kind of language they’d want to be used on their team.

            1. Smithy*

              Thank you! I think I’ve only ever heard the second one in relation to other contexts. But completely makes sense as that’s the same in other languages (i.e. dick).

    4. mlem*

      Just yesterday, a friend of mine shared a slang term he’d learned for boarding a flight with no sources of self-entertainment and no plans to use the flight entertainment system for anything beyond its tracking map. His wife, their adult child, and I all had a very “oh dear” reaction to his somewhat casual mention of a term we’d previously only heard as a sexual one. (And then the adult child took on the task of explaining the sexual meaning to their father.)

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        Oh, that reminds me of when I was a college student and was working with kids in an afterschool programme. One of the teenage girls – she was about 16 or 17 – joked that she had to dash out to give her boyfriend a quick kiss and a member of staff replied, “oh, you’re just having a quickie”.

        The four teenage girls and I were all stunned into silence until she clarified that she’d thought “a quickie” meant “a quick kiss” whereas to us, it clearly meant sex. I had honestly thought she was accusing the girl of sneaking off to have (possibly underage; can’t remember if this was before or after her 17th birthday) sex.

    5. Loredena*

      I recall my father pulling my brother and I aside when we went from calling each other jerks to calling each other jerk offs instead when we were maybe 10ish We were young enough to be very embarrassed!

    6. New Jack Karyn*

      I was leading a class discussion on making good choices, and asked, “So, what ARE appropriate classroom behaviors?” and got the usual answers of Put your phone away, and Don’t talk out of turn. (High school freshmen, mostly ages 14-15).

      One kid meant to get across No horseplay–no play-fighting, pushing each other playfully, etc. But what she said was, “No slap & tickle!” Out loud. In a big voice. I paused, and said to her directly, “You need to look up what that actually means, RIGHT NOW,” and moved on with the discussion.

      Forty seconds later, I heard awkward choking sounds from her corner of the classroom.

  6. Treena*

    Am I to understand this correctly–in a school with a health officer, instead of having 1-2 standard epi-pens on hand for anyone who might need them…you have to pre-emptively provide your own?? What happens if you have an unplanned allergic reaction? Do you have to ask someone permission to use theirs?

    1. Brain the Brian*

      They probably did already have a few standard Epi-pens around, but they would still want documentation of a student’s allergy plan and an Epi-pen customized to that student (dosage, etc.) on hand. Very standard.

    2. Rebecca*

      Epi-pens require a prescription, and the potential patient almost always has to supply their own, and also be responsible for having it with them. All allergic reactions are ‘unplanned’ – so the epi pens have to be on their person – I have worked with students who have to carry them in their back pack or in a fanny pack at all times, and it has to be their epi pen. It can’t be in a nurse’s office or first aid kid because the time it would take to get there and get it is too long, and because you can’t rely on the presumption that it will still be where it was the last time you checked.

      I had to prove that to a principal once who wanted to keep the epi pen in the nurse’s office. We had to time the run from the classroom to the office, including opening two security doors but not including the time it would take to find the pen in the cupboards – it was 4 minutes. A person in anaphylaxis might have only a minute or two before they die on your floor.

      It is true that all epi-pens have a specific dosage, etc, though in the case of an emergency, I’d rather use a non-personalized epi pen than none at all. It’s more about the fact that, practically, the institution can’t be responsible for making sure that every allergic person has access to an epi pen at all times, with it always being in the same place and not moved. It’s much much safer if the person who needs it has it on them all the time.

      1. Rebecca*

        If you mean the first time they have an allergic reaction and they don’t know they need an epi pen yet – yeah, that’s terrifying, and you have to hope someone nearby has one. That usually happens very early in a person’s life, though, before school. It’s why we are careful around introducing common allergens like peanuts to babies and pay closer attention to babies who have allergies in their families.

        But even in that case, a nurse wouldn’t have a standard epi pen in their office any more than you’d have a standard asthma inhaler or a standard insulin injection for someone having an attack for the first time.

        1. Lexi Vipond*

          Apparently UK schools are encouraged to have spare epi pens, but can only use them for pupils with both medical and parental permission to use to a spare if necessary.

          I don’t know how it would work for staff (or the odd pupils who turn 18 in the spring before leaving?) who might be able to give permission in the moment.

          1. Rebecca*

            In Canada, we can’t. I worked in only one school who took advantage of a pharmacist parent or somebody who supplied them with a few extra, but they weren’t particularly useful because of how far I’d have to run to get to one in the minute. Unless you have the funds to have one in every room in the building, including somehow stored in outdoor spaces, it still makes much much more sense for the person who needs it to have it on them and be responsible for carrying it. We even had to insit on a fanny pack once for a 5 year old who had two teachers and rotating lunch time supervisors, because the margin for error in all of us trying to pass it off to each other was too high.

            I will say, though, that if I had a choice between watching a person die or taking a chance on using the ‘wrong’ epi pen, I’d probably use the wrong epi pen and deal with the legal consequences later.

            1. Meow*

              I’m not a Canadian legal expert by any means but Google tells me that Canada (and the US, and the UK) have Good Simaritan laws (eg can’t sue someone for breaking your ribs while doing CPR on you) that I imagine would cover that situation. Still might make your life a little miserable if someone tried to get you with a civil suit though, even if it failed.

        2. Slothallama*

          A first allergic reaction can happen at any time in a person’s life. You can develop an allergy to anything at any time. And go from non-anaphylactic reaction to anaphylactic reaction at any time. Which is why epi pens should be available OTC and required like AEDs in public places.

      2. Cat Tree*

        Due to a variety of factors, many public schools have become very weird about minors having access to their own prescription medications. I was diagnosed with asthma in high school and was only allowed to keep my rescue inhaler locked in the nurse’s office. That would be extremely useless so I just “illegally” carried it in my purse instead. Fortunately I was otherwise a rule-follower and good student so no teachers ever cared or noticed. This was a while ago, so maybe things have changed for the better. Or for the worse. Also this was just one high school. But still, a really bizarre policy even if we were the only school with it.

        1. Clorinda*

          I think the policy these days is that predictable emergency medications should be carried by the student (epi pen, asthma inhaler, insulin, etc). all other prescriptions are held by the nurse.

          1. Nightengale*

            The school medication forms I typically see (in the US) have a checkbox about whether a student can carry their own inhaler or epi pen. I believe that was the result of law suits.

        2. Elsewise*

          I remember when I was in middle school learning that medications could only be dispensed by the school nurse and students weren’t allowed to carry their own- even rescue medication like inhalers, or OTC painkillers like advil. So if you had an asthma attack, you’d have to go to the nurse’s office so they could give you your inhaler. The biggest issue with this was that due to budget cuts, we only had a nurse on-site on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings.

          I was such a rule-follower as a kid I was convinced I was going to get arrested for carrying ibuprofin in my backpack, but I had chronic migraines and couldn’t exactly wait a day or two to take my meds. My parents convinced me to just do it anyway, and I know my diabetic friend carried her insulin with her. I hope the district got their act together and changed that policy before someone was seriously hurt trying to follow their rules.

          1. Nah*

            My best friend in highschool had severe asthma, which they had a rescue inhaler for, helps by the nurse. Fine and dandy I suppose, except the gym teacher didn’t believe in asthma and forced them to run The Beep Test *while having an attack* and kept screaming at them when they collapsed. He also locked the doors during class so no one could ~sneak out for a drink~ at the water fountain. To this day I can’t remember what happened after because I was so terrified I was watching my best friend die on the floor while getting screamed at, looking back I think it was probably a panic attack on my end. Fun times!

            This gym teacher was also the health teacher, by the way! Because of course he was. :))))

      3. darsynia*

        I’m glad you were able to persuade the school! Ours hasn’t learned, yet. I fear it’ll take some kid’s life being in danger for that to happen.

      4. Autumn*

        In NYS many schools now have a few epi pens and epi pen Jrs ordered by the school physicians in case of anaphylaxis in students or staff displaying such symptoms. Any use of an epi pen demands a 911 call and Head Start programs are especially At issue because a child died because they didn’t recognize oncoming anaphylaxis in time.

        Problem is, if you don’t have Medicaid or decent insurance the topical dermatitis from your four year old rubbing tomato sauce all over their face might cost you a couple grand. It’s scary whichever way you go!

    3. Clisby*

      This wasn’t in a school – it was at the OP’s first job out of college. If it’s a workplace large enough to have a nurse on site, I do think having a couple of epi-pens available would be a wise precaution. I wouldn’t expect a small office to have them, though.

      1. Clisby*

        Sorry, I just re-read the letter and saw the workplace is a school, even though the OP is not a student.

      2. doreen*

        I guess that depends on whether the nurse is authorized to prescribe medication – where I live a nurse can’t prescribe medication unless they are an nurse-practitioner so they really couldn’t use an extra epi-pen on someone who they didn’t know to have a prescription.

      3. Samwise*

        In which case, isn’t the nurse overstepping? It’s up to the employee to to ask for an emergency plan, carry their own epipen , etc.

        If it’s a minor student, the nurse is on solid ground, I think.

    4. We’re Six*

      …yeah? Epi-pens are prescriptions. Do you just randomly grab whatever blood pressure pill is lying around when your doctor says you have hypertension?

      1. Artemesia*

        So not the same. Anaphylaxis is an emergency; any epi pen (they are fairly standard) is better than waiting for the ‘right one’ — you don’t have time to wait.

    5. darsynia*

      Most schools don’t have the budget to buy products outside of a prescription for ‘just in case,’ unfortunately (and I dearly wish that weren’t the case, it’d be great if they had them on hand to save lives); without insurance (which has to be tied to a particular patient), they can be $600-$750. Speaking of saving lives, they’ve got expiration dates, so I imagine it’s doubly hard to get the budget to replace them every two years–and the liability there is enormous.

      Schools are pretty shitty about letting students who have epipens get access to them in the first place. Our school (we don’t have a child with epipen level allergies but I know this is the policy) will not allow children to carry their own (elementary), they have to get to the nurse’s office for the nurse to give it. Except that we only have a nurse every few days, and the key is very limited. I’ve seen the consensus online to be basically, let your kid carry it and teach them to keep their damned mouth shut about it if they want to live (*mostly* hyperbole).

      TL;DR: oh, you’re an American child with epipen level allergies? GL

      1. LynnP*

        Michigan law requires schools to have two epi pens
        and at least two staff members trained on their use.

      2. --*

        It’s a lot of the times also about reasonable resource alocation. The school should have an epi-pen or rescue asthma inhaler but it’s much more reasonable, both from a cost perspective and a medical prescription perspective, for it to be used in cases like a first time reaction or an inhaler that ran out than to have enough or buy it frequently enough to use for every time someone with known asthma or allergies has a reaction.

  7. PrincessCharming*

    It’s sort of wild that OP1 thought that work was a safe space where one could say “bite me” to a coworker. However everyone mixes up word strengths sometimes.

    1. londonedit*

      I must admit, I’ve only ever encountered ‘bite me’ as a sort of juvenile, Bart Simpson sort of insult. I don’t know how it’s used in the US, but maybe the OP had only ever encountered it in that way. Or maybe they just misread the tone of the situation and thought it was a more bantery sort of environment than it was.

      I think I remember saying at the time that it seems to me to have the same sort of connotation as the British ‘piss off’ – a more jocular and less sweary way of saying ‘eff off’. ‘Piss off’ is the sort of thing you’d jokingly say to a friend if they were taking the mickey out of you. It’s not the sort of thing I’d say in a work meeting, mind you, but in a jokey back-and-forth with a close colleague, I might well say ‘Oh, piss off you’.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I’m British and this definitely seems like a cultural thing because to me, bite me is a jokey way of saying shut up. Analogous to piss off, but more work appropriate language. I’m kind of astounded to see so many people saying it’s egregiously inappropriate!

        1. Brain the Brian*

          In most dialects of American English, it’s more biting (hah) than a simple “shut up” — although I can’t quite articulate how. And actually, “shut up” itself would be considered quite rude in many American offices.

          1. Jack Russell Terrier*

            Yes, in the US it’s not a tone of laughing oh piss off, it’s more of an aggressive ‘get out of my face’ in tone.

            1. But what to call me?*

              Maybe in your part of the US, but I’ve only ever heard it with the laughing connotation. Anyone trying to use it aggressively around here would sound like a pre-teen trying to figure out how swearing works and doing a bad job of it.

              1. Brain the Brian*

                Pre-teen language still has no place in a workplace meeting. I’m not surprised that a manager would find it inappropriate.

            2. Nah*

              Not sure where in the US you’ve encountered that sentiment, in the Midwest at least I’ve only ever encountered (or used) it in a minor-annoyance or joking context.

        2. bamcheeks*

          Same— I wouldn’t see it as worse than “shut up”. As in, if someone said it in anger or to someone more senior or junior, it could be WAY out of line, but as a joke between people who know and trust each other it wouldn’t register at all.

          1. londonedit*

            Yeah, definitely. As I said, I wouldn’t say it in a work meeting because generally I try to behave professionally, but in a general workplace scenario as long as it’s not said in anger or aggressively then it’s no worse than ‘shut up’.

        3. Smithy*

          I think for the points about it being inappropriate – I think it’s more about the rudeness of the phrase vs the vulgarness. In this context, I read it more like someone saying “shut up”, and while that’s hardly a vulgar phrase, it’s more in the rude or unkind space. Perhaps thinking of it like saying “Whatever” in response to something your supervisor said.

          I think perhaps the boss would have been better served focusing on how it’s a phrase that can be seen as rude or abrupt more so than vulgar. And if the boss is trying to improve either the overall professionalism of the team or even just increase a kindness, giving the benefit of the doubt in communication, moving away from that kind of language makes sense.

      2. Managing While Female*

        From a US perspective, “bite me” is a bit more aggressive. I’ve never heard it used in a context where the person saying it wasn’t legitimately pissed off with someone.

        1. doreen*

          I have – but it still isn’t work appropriate. There are lots of expressions that can be used either jokingly or when someone is actually angry and whether it’s joking or aggressive isn’t nearly the only thing that matters. I used to know someone who used a different expression in the same situations as others use “bite me” or ” eff off ” or “screw you” – sometimes jokey, sometimes serious. But it wouldn’t have been appropriate at a professional job even though none of the individual words were vulgar – it was the phrase and it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of people didn’t get what it meant ( It was ” Lick my left l** “)

          1. KayDeeAye*

            I have, too. It’s used in a jokey, “We’re friends so I know you won’t take this seriously” kind of way fairly often…among friends.
            But not in a work setting. I mean, this was actually during an actual meeting, and it’s inappropriate in that context. I personally wouldn’t take offense (so long as it was clear the speaker wasn’t being serious), but I can easily see why some people might.

          2. ecnaseener*

            I for one can’t figure out what “l**” is supposed to stand for other than “leg.” Can I buy a vowel?

            1. Nightengale*

              The “Ask a Manager”/”Wheel of Fortune” crossover I didn’t know I needed.

      3. Miette*

        I’m American, and you are correct in the typical application of “bite me.” It is almost never said these days to literally say “F-off.” If you really meant that, you’d just say it.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          “Bite me” means “f-off” in the same way “crap” means “sh!t” in my experience. It’s a difference of degree rather than definition.

      4. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I’ve also only really heard it in the juvenile way, but that’s also why I’m surprised the LW said it at work because while I feel like it isn’t particularly offensive, it does make me think the LW is immature, which I don’t think is how people necessarily want to come off professionally. I honestly don’t think I’ve heard anyone say “bite me” in thirty years, and that’s because that’s when I was last in elementary school.

        1. Loredena*

          Sometimes you just slip, or don’t realize something has entered your vernacular till you use it! I’m online a bit too much and I happened to change consulting jobs shortly after working for a year with a bunch of first job 20 somethings At my first project I referenced the if you do X a kitten dies I was about 50 and until I heard myself say it I would not have thought it in my vernacular At all

    2. Brain the Brian*

      Same here. My workplace is notoriously strict about these things, but I can honestly see someone being fired over this where I work. It’s pretty wildly out the norm for a meeting.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Wild? Especially considering that it was in response to a joke?
      I’ve been in workplaces where it would be fine, and others where it wouldn’t. I’d expect the worst reaction to be “could you tone it down a bit?”

    4. Irish Teacher.*

      I can kind of understand it. It sounds like this was a small meeting with only their boss and one coworker, so if they got on well with both of those people, I could see them thinking, “it wasn’t a formal meeting with external people, just really a chat between friendly coworkers. They both know me and should have given me the benefit of the doubt/should have treated it as friendly banter rather than a discipline matter.”

      Which of course is misjudging the way the workplace works, but the boundaries do get somewhat blurred sometimes, especially in smaller workplaces. I’m guessing by “safe space,” the LW meant something like “I thought I was among friends/not being judged” and they feel their boss sort of switched abruptly from friendly colleague role to big boss role.

      I wonder if they are rather young/new to the workplace and took “friendly boss” to mean “friend you can treat like your classmates in college.”

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes, the deeper issue here may be viewing work as a safe space where you can say any thought that crosses your mind.

      OP1, that particular riposte suggests the target is performing a sex act on you. Even if you never thought about the etymology of the phrase, those around you may immediately go there.

        1. ecnaseener*

          It comes from “bite my ass.” Admittedly I don’t think that’s a very popular sex act.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I’m not sure I can do this while staying within the commenting guidelines: For the other person to bite OP, they would need to have one of OP’s body parts in their mouth, at least metaphorically. There’s a default assumed body part. And it’s not the elbow.

          Profanity pretty much comes down to “sex act,” “excrement,” or “religious thing.” In the past we’ve had threads which list some exceptions in other languages, but most profanity fits in those three categories for origin.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            My interpretation matches ecnaseer’s “bite my ass” which (usually) isn’t intended in a sexual context.

            1. RVA Cat*

              This. It’s the same as “kiss my ass” about showing contempt for someone instead of anything sexual.

  8. DannyG*

    Had a colleague at the university hospital who used “bite me” as her standard exclamation. Given the high stress environment nobody thought anything of it. It all depends on context.

  9. Mostly Managing*

    I am Canadian.
    My wonderful husband is British.
    Early in our marriage, we had several arguments that boiled down to:
    “What you just said was deeply offensive to me”
    “Really? All I said was mildly swearish slang”
    “Not where I come from – that’s super rude!!”

    Now, 27 years later, we are both “bilingual” (Canadian and British!)

    And I do not use anything in the workplace that could be taken as offensive in either country.

    1. Frieda*

      A friend of my partner had this happen at work – she’s Spanish-speaking from one part of Latin America, and a co-worker from another part of Latin America said something to her that was (to her) so wildly inappropriate that she wouldn’t even repeat the phrase when telling my partner the story. In her co-worker’s linguistic context it had an entirely different connotation.

      She went to her supervisor, she was so distressed and it got sorted out eventually but it was illuminating to me, a mono-lingual person.

      1. Anonymous Demi ISFJ*

        That’s Spanish for you – there’s a verb that, depending on where you are, can either mean “take the bus” or “f**k the bus”…

        1. Loredena*

          While taking Spanish in high school I tried to jokingly tell someone to be quiet in Spanish. I mispronounced it, loudly, and got a shocked reaction I was mortified!

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        Ah yes, like with “macha” — which means “blond girl” in some countries and “lesbian” (in a very derogatory way) in others.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Good to know! I always thought “macha” was the feminine of macho, To refer to a woman who was being female macho, if you see what I mean.
          I think I’ll just keep using it in English and not try to use it in Spanish, lol

          1. Peanut Hamper*

            It is the feminine form of “macho”. It’s just that the connotation is not a great one. It comes across as “butch” but not in a good way.

            1. DJ Abbott*

              I’ve always used it to mean a woman who takes feminine ideals to harmful levels. Like for example, wearing 6-inch heels all the time even though they’re causing health problems.
              I wonder if there is a word for that.

    2. Rebecca*

      I am a Canadian who married a French person who learned most of his English from Australians.

      There have been some MOMENTS.

      1. Gamer Girl*

        Good grief, the amount of times I’ve had to explain to well-meaning middle aged male colleagues (European) that “I’ll knock you up” is an Oz-only phrase and that they had better send an email to their young, US-based majority-women colleagues…!

          1. londonedit*

            If it’s the same as UK English, in this day and age it most often means ‘get you pregnant’, but historically meant knocking on someone’s door.

            1. Liz*

              I would say that in UK English it often *still* means knocking on someone’s door, e.g. “I’ll knock you up around 10” meaning “I’ll come get you at 10”.

              1. Bob*

                In ye olden days before alarm clocks – there was a job for Door Knockers. Literally a person knocking on your door/window to wake you up on the morning. Things I learned from Bored Panda

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            To go to someone’s place, as in, to knock on their door. Like “Ring you up” means to phone someone.

        1. Glen*

          using “knock up” to mean “knock on your door” isn’t something I (Aussie) think of as Australian at all, I very much associate it with the UK. I am pretty confident that Europeans would be getting it from there!

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          I had a math textbook in high school that referred to “Anwar’s leather thongs” as part of a word problem and we were all very confused how this made it into a textbook.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            This shoes that are called flip-flops now were called thongs when I was a child. I never heard of the thong underwear until I was well into adulthood.

            1. KayDeeAye*

              Me too! We had various names for various flip-floppy things (the cheap rubber kind were called “zoris,” I remember), but the general word was “thongs.” And it was quite useful, so it’s a shame that it’s no longer possible to use it without confusing/amusing people.

          2. RVA Cat*

            Oh that’s a good one!
            I learned the Aussie flip-flops meaning when one of gorgeous actors tweeted something about sitting around in them and broke the internet.

      2. Part time lab tech*

        I get caught out on “bollocks”. I consider it vulgar but not really swearing but a couple of times people have reacted more than if I’d said shit.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, as a Brit I’d use ‘bollocks’ in pretty much exactly the same way as people use ‘bullshit’ in the US (though it can also be an expression of disappointment, when something goes wrong – ‘Oh, bollocks’. And of course something particularly excellent can be ‘the dog’s bollocks’ (or its cousin, ‘the mutt’s nuts’).

      3. Rain*

        I’m British and my husband is American and the number of confusing conversations we’ve had around the word “quite” could fill a book

        )In Britain, “quite good” means “kind of good”.
        In the states, “quite good” means “really good”.)

      4. RVA Cat*

        Now I’m wondering if those moment involve the term “con artist” or “con man”….

    3. bamcheeks*

      English partnered with Irish and our biggest back and forth is whether the children are allowed to say feck.

    4. Rara Avis*

      Our foreign language department had an advertising banner used at Open House for prospective parents which showed a lovely photo of students on a Japanese exchange trip learning calligraphy. Unfortunately, the word visible in the photo evidently meant “entertainer” in Japanese but “prostitute” in Mandarin. A huge percentage of our prospective families are native Mandarin speakers.

    5. SnackAttack*

      Lol, I remember when I lived in Russia, we had a Russian student who spoke English fluently but still didn’t quite have all the nuances down. We were talking about this one kind of annoying but otherwise fine girl, and he said “Yeah, she’s a c***.” We had to explain to him that, at least with Americans, that word was very vulgar and not really used around acquaintances, especially in reference to someone who was just sort of annoying. I know Brits and Australians use the word more liberally, but even there I’m not sure if you can just drop it in a semi-professional setting in front of people you don’t know too well.

      1. Glen*

        absolutely not in Australia. Plenty of people consider it to be extremely offensive and a misogynist slur. To be fair, there are also plenty of perfectly decent people who don’t see it that way at all – but that’s why you need to know your audience. I don’t have strong personal opinions but would rather not offend the former than fit in a hair better with the latter – so, as a rule, I don’t use it.

  10. English Teacher*

    “Bite me,” to me, does not mean the same as “f*** off” either in connotation or intensity. The meaning of it is kind of right there. Which makes it doubly interesting why the boss thought it was a good use of her time to go back after the meeting and “look it up” (meaning what exactly? Urban dictionary?) Almost seems like she was looking for a reason to reprimand OP1.

    1. Yellow rainbow*

      To me bite me is a really low level normal response to a joke. I can’t think of an angry context where I’ve heard it.

      If you have to research to find the offence you probably weren’t offended. The response in a meeting several days later, rather than a comment in the moment or privately just after, makes it feel a lot more like a serious reprimand than just a heads up that term is also used in offensive ways.

      I get you probably shouldn’t ever trust that your workplace is safe. But if the colleague can joke around I’d expect that sort of response to be fine. If I was LW I’d be very wary of any sort of jokey response to anyone after that. Cause the interpretation is so far from the meaning I know I’d be worried anything had a different meaning.

      1. ecnaseener*

        The response in a meeting several days later, rather than a comment in the moment or privately just after, makes it feel a lot more like a serious reprimand than just a heads up that term is also used in offensive ways.

        I actually disagree — I think usually if something’s a serious issue, it gets addressed as soon as possible if not right there in the moment. Saving it for their next routinely scheduled meeting makes it feel less serious to me.

        1. Martin Blackwood*

          Theres a middle ground, though. If boss looked up later that day, and said in passing “hey bite me isnt appropriate at work” when they had five minutes passing in the hall the day after, thats a less formal follow up.

      2. Fíriel*

        Agreed – the context with the set up being a joke is key, and ‘bite me’ is such childish language I honestly can’t imagine an adult using it seriously rather than as a joke. The lesson I would take away as the LW is to watch yourself because people are not going to take your words in good faith, even though others may be afforded it.

    2. The OG Sleepless*

      I’ve always understood “bite me” to mean “perform oral s*x on me.” It’s fairly rude but not the worst thing you could say. We have a pretty candid, jokey vibe in my workplace but I think “bite me” would be at or slightly above the upper limit of what somebody could say.

      1. Bella Ridley*

        I…have never heard that. It sounds like you’re lumping it in with phrases like “suck my dick” when I’ve really only ever heard it much more along the lines of “piss off.” I really don’t even think of it as particularly rude or vulgar.

        1. Ginger Baker*

          ^Same. I uhhh. Do not associate this with oral sex since I very much do not associate biting with that (and do not know anyone who would…welcome biting in that act…)

        2. Miette*

          Nope, that’s literally the origin: “bite my (body part),” which is undeniably rude at its core, and it used to be quite the insult back in the day HOWEVER, it’s not how it is used anymore. I think Bart Simpson’s widespread use of it on TV in the 80s/90s softened its meaning and over the years it’s become a lot less rude here (in America). It really is along the lines of “piss off” these days, and by that I mean like the last 15-20 years.

          1. ecnaseener*

            I mentioned this above, but the origin is “bite my ass” not “bite my dick” or anything. Idk if that clears it up fully lol but hopefully somewhat!

            1. Zelda*

              My impression was the opposite, not least because I’ve heard quite a few people go ahead and specify the body part. These things do tend to be murky, so it’s possible for a phrase to have different assumed origins and associations in different regions. But if you’re going to say that it’s definitively one and not the other, I think we would need a source to back that up.

              1. Kelly L.*

                I probably would have guessed dick, thinking of the exchange in Grease that goes:

                “Bite the wiener, Riz.”
                “With relish.”

                Which is of course also a hot dog joke!

          2. PhyllisB*

            That reminds me of another phrase I’m not exactly sure of. I read a lot of British literature and I’ve seen the phrase “taking the piss” used a good bit. What precisely does that mean?

            1. londonedit*

              It means taking the mickey, or making fun of someone. Or it can also mean acting in a disrespectful way. You might say ‘Dave’s always taking the piss out of me, don’t listen to him’ if you want to say ‘Dave’s always making fun of me’. Or you might say ‘£4.80 for a cup of coffee? They’re taking the piss!’ if you mean ‘£4.80 for a cup of coffee! They’re joking, that’s extortionate!’

              ‘Piss’ is one of those words that at its simplest literally means urine, but it’s a word that in British English can be used in all sorts of different contexts. As well as the above you can ‘piss about’ (mess around), ‘get pissed’ or ‘be pissed’ (get/be drunk), and ‘be pissed off’ (be angry – note that we never use ‘pissed’ to mean angry as the US would, ‘pissed’ is always ‘drunk’ and ‘pissed off’ is angry).

              1. Miette*

                I love this – thank you! In America, we also say “pissed off” to mean angry–“pissed” in that context is because we’re lazy :)

                1. bamcheeks*

                  It is the MOST confusing when a character is suddenly pissed in a novel of something a d you’re like, wait, what, did I miss a part about drinking?

                  Also “pissed at me” evokes the image of someone going, “you see this, Jane? I’m going to drink it! Watch me! Think you’re going to stop me? There! Swallowed it! Having another one now!”

            2. Arthenonyma*

              Depends on context. If you’re “taking the piss out of” something, you’re making fun of it, mocking it. If a person is just described as “taking the piss” it usually means they’re being openly disrespectful (either of a superior or the social contract).

        3. Gyne*

          That’s all I’ve ever understood it to mean! A “getting around the censors” version of “suck my dick” or “lick my pussy.”

      2. londonedit*

        I’m not American (and to me, ‘bite me’ is a very American turn of phrase) but I always assumed it was a shortened version of ‘bite my ass’.

        1. Happy*

          It’s not short for “bite my ass” in America – we generally don’t use “me” as a possessive so that wouldn’t really make sense here.

          1. londonedit*

            What I meant is that as I understood it, the full phrase ‘bite my ass’ has been shortened so that if someone says ‘bite me’, everyone knows that the body part they’re inviting someone to bite is actually their ass. ‘Bite me [on the ass]’, as in ‘bite my ass’. I didn’t mean it’s literally been contracted from ‘bite me ass’, because that doesn’t make sense anywhere.

            And that is not a paragraph I expected to write this afternoon.

            1. Glen*

              actually using “me” for “my” is super common in British and Australian english.

    3. Allonge*

      Well, if boss was not sure what it meant or how offensive it was, it’s best to look it up before any further actions, no?

      A manager can warn people off using specific bits of language even if the manager herself was not offended.

      1. English Teacher*

        Fair enough in general, but in this specific example everyone else in the meeting laughed. So if the boss didn’t initially take offense (since she didn’t know what it meant), and context clues showed her that it was a light-hearted joke, it’s hard to take her “looking it up” later in good faith. Does she look up every little turn of phrase she isn’t familiar with to see if it’s offensive, even if it’s clear from the reactions of others that it’s a joke? Hopefully not on company time!

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Laughter is a very common reaction when people are uncomfortable.

          It’s possible that the person told to bite OP laughed in the moment to cover their discomfort, felt worse as they stewed on it, and asked the manager to say something.

        2. Allonge*

          Oh no, certainly no manager should spend two whole minutes to look up something and make sure the language used in their team is civil enough! What a waste of time indeed. / s

          Seriously though: people laugh in discomfort all the time. ‘Everybody laughed’ is a bad measure for ‘all is ok’.

        3. Irish Teacher.*

          I’m guessing she more or less knew what it meant but wasn’t sure how offensive it was, went to check, found it was more so than she’d thought and figured she ought to warn her employee not to use it at work again in case they used it in front of a client.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      It felt off to the boss, but she wondered if she was right to feel that way. So she went and looked up more information, and that convinced her that she should, in fact, say something about work-appropriate choices in ripostes.

      I think many of us have had a first take of “Whoa. Did they just say…?” followed by “Well maybe I’m misreading it; it seems out of character. Perhaps the meaning has changed from the context where I learned it?”

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        This is my take on it, too. I’d usually wonder/ask if the boss is usually a decent boos, or if she has a bunch of weird takes on things. But because OP wrote that they think a work meeting is a ‘safe space’, I’m not sure I can trust that they’re a reliable narrator.

  11. Our Business Is Rejoicing*

    I’m almost sure I recognize the group from #2. Had an acquaintance get deeply involved in it and try to recruit all his friends after all kinds of public confessions about how awful he was until he took this life-changing course, and also had another acquaintance who, after being elected as a district-level officer in Toastmasters, tried to rope in officers at all levels underneath him to do this “training” under false pretenses that it was something the club endorsed. (He was canned as an officer for that stunt.)

  12. Casual Fribsday*

    I feel like “bite me” is less “eff-off” and more “kiss my a**”. So still not work appropriate, but slightly less egregious. (And slightly more…personal? I would tell a parking lot bee to eff-off, but the other is really reserved for a level of genuine animosity.)

    1. mreasy*

      Yeah I have always assumed the place of biting is implied to me the same as the place of kissing? Which, in some workplaces I have never been to could be totally shocking? But in every workplace I’ve had it would be fine as a rare response to a joke or a behind the scenes comment about a bad customer!

  13. Bananapants*

    Based on the original letter + update, sounds like Jason was in Landmark! I had a friend join and she was spending thousands on the classes every year, plus she was volunteering for them (which I understand was expected if not mandatory). IMO their emphasis on personal responsibility for EVERYTHING that happens to you is pretty icky (not to mention the questionable tactics used at their famous weekend seminar). I really hope Jason stopped being a jerk and left his poor coworkers alone!!

    1. Vimto*

      I had friends get heavily into Landmark in the early 2000s. I’m surprised it’s still around

    2. Nodramalama*

      Oh my goddddd I had a friend in landmark and eventually I had to make a rule that she couldn’t talk about it to me anymore because she would drive me crazy. She made me come to an intro class and I have never felt more uncomfortable and pressured

    3. Two-Faced Big-Haired Food Critic*

      “Take responsibility and admit it” and “You can’t leave even for a bathroom break” also sounds like EST.

      1. Indolent Libertine*

        Landmark is the next generation of EST. Same folks in charge, same ideas, just dressed up to sound somewhat less 1970s.

    4. Autumn*

      Oh, another version of “manifesting” So sorry you didn’t manifest hard enough or with precisely the right words, now you won’t get that promotion.

      Fork off with that nonsense Jason!

  14. TPS reporter*

    working with friends/family: just watch The Bear and you will be cured of this temptation.

    1. DJ Abbott*

      I tried to watch The Bear. I had just come from working seven months in the deli and a grocery store. I really couldn’t watch it because the people on the show are so much meaner and ruder and more aggressive than the ones I worked with. I can’t imagine being in an environment like that.
      My colleagues at the deli were some of the most supportive and best teamwork I’ve ever seen. You wouldn’t think so with some of them being very young, and some others having serious life issues, but that’s how it was.

  15. Cabbagepants*

    Regarding “bite me” — a dictionary may not be a good way to judge swear words and slang. Linguistic drift seems to hit swears and vulgarities faster than daily speech. “Scumbag” is a common, no-longer-vulgar epithet with a filthy origin. (drop the “s”)

    Sure, OP should be more polite in the workplace, but jumping straight to the worst interpretation of what they said is just weird and silly.

    1. Dahlia*

      Urban Dictionary is specifically made for swear words and slang, but the users of Urban Dictionary are also very troll-y.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      I disagree–I think ‘scumbag’ is still vulgar, and definitely has a filthy origin.

      I cuss like nobody’s business (not at work), but I try to know where the lines are. And the boss may have used Urban Dictionary.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        Just about every derogatory word in the English language has a problematic derivation that refers to one of vulgar anatomy, some sort of blasphemy, or a reference to a marginalized group. The only real question is how many people remember that for that particular word.

  16. Peanut Hamper*

    I’m just going to have some business cards printed with “Bite Me” in Copperplate font. I can then just hand them out as appropriate.

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