9 Words You Say All The Time You Never Knew Were Racist

The meanings of most words change over time, which is why there are so many words out there that were once acceptable and are now problematic. Example: there are lots of words you say all the time that you probably never realized are racist or have racist origins. Some of them seem so harmless, and you probably don’t intend for them to be an issue. You may not mean for them to reference an ethnic or religious group when you say them, because in your mind, the word’s new meaning is so far removed from it’s original intended use. It’s unfortunate that it’s so easy to adopt a racial slur as a regular, mostly positive adjective, but that’s why we write things like this – to keep you informed.

Part of staying woke and being politically correct is being conscious of the words you use every day. Being tuned in to the fact that a lot of words have controversial history behind them is part of being socially aware. Everyone’s ready to rag on the politically correct movement, claiming that everyone is too sensitive and that we all need to get over it, but since when is treating someone with respect something to make fun of? These nine words you say every day may not seem like they have racist origins or connotations, but now that you know, you can choose what to keep and what to cut fro your vernacular.


No, it does not mean eclectic, bohemian, or someone who likes to travel. It's a racial slur used to malign Eastern European immigrants though t to be deceitful, cheating people. The group of people this slur is in reference to the Romani people who still face discrimination and prejudice today due to this harmful stereotype. The Romani originated in India, so the term was coined after they were mistaken for Egyptians, hence g*psy. It's so commonplace and it's a great catch-all for all things unique and lovely, but we've repurposed it in order to make the word okay and it's just not. It's a racial slur and it's time we stopped using it.

Source: iStock


Now it means a reckless young person, or a destructive, disorderly person, but it used to mean an Irish drunkard. In the late 1800's in England, there was allegedly a man named Patrick Houlihan (yes, I know, like the chain restaurant), who immigrated there from Ireland, who was known to be rowdy, drunk, and beat down on the police. The whole family got associated with this raucous behavior to the point where they had a whole word dedicated to their antics that still lasts today. The racist word was broadened to mean all Irish immigrants and later used to describe anyone enthusiastically destroying something by being disruptive.

Source: iStock


This term came from the American South during segregation used to describe black people who acted higher than their socioeconomic status. The word started within the community itself, but it wasn't long before racists adopted the term and used it to describe black people who "don't know their place." Even recently, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh have used the word to describe Michelle Obama for not liking NASCAR and eating arugula. Would they have used that word to describe any other former first lady? Probably not. It's been said that Beck and Limbaugh did not know the racial implications of the word, but you have to admit it seems suspect.

Source: iStock


Originating in Britain and Ireland, a "tinker" is a Scottish person who is good at repairing household items and repurposing broken ones. It is used to describe someone inconsequential. The stereotype behind this is that the tinkers were drunks and had a lowly profession. They have a reputation for being rowdy and would frequently get confused with the Romani people (g*psys, if we're still talking slurs). In this case, racism joins up with classism to create a stereotype and a word to go right along with it.

Source: iStock


The Greek Empire used this term to refer to any jabbering foreigner. Any language that wasn't Greek would get made fun of because they all sounded like the same "bar bar bar bar." It's like saying "ching chong" when referring to anyone speaking Chinese (or Japanese, Korean, you know). This term was used to describe the uncivilized foreigners, but was dropped from the Roman Empire when the Greeks acknowledged them as civilized, according to their standards. Everyone else? Barbarians.

Source: iStock


As seen describing rugs, salads, and the lady at the Glendale DMV who told me she "didn't know there were that many Orientals in New Jersey," it's a Western term used to describe anywhere east of them, in this case, China and other South Asian countries. The term puts Western people (European, American) at the center and other-izes Asia into one massive geographic lump in one wash instead of taking care to note that Asia itself is very, very diverse. So no, putting sesame dressing and mandarin oranges on something does not make it an Oriental salad, Applebees, it makes you racist.

Source: iStock


Bugger started as slang for Bulgarian gay men, and a slur similar to "bugger" still exists in Hungarian used to mean the same thing. In the middle ages the Bogomils were a religious sect believed to be heretical, so they must view sex in an inverse way, right? (*ahem* they meant butt sex and sodomy *ahem*). The Catholic church then used it to describe the East Orthodox church and any other alleged heretic. Now, it's used to mean rascal, or as a verb, if you're buggering someone, you're bothering them, but this word has a less than savory origin story.

Source: iStock


The word eskimo is racist because it did not come from the Inuit people themselves, it came from non-Inuits. The word itself is thought to mean "eater of raw meat" or a phrase describing their netted snow shoes, but either way, it's not how these people want to be identified. Labels and similar words should come from the community which use them to identify. Eskimo was a broad term used to describe the Northern Canadian, Alaskan, and Greelander population when in reality, theses communities have their own words they use to describe themselves because they speak different languages.

Source: iStock


Whether you're using it to describe someone rough and menacing or you're ironically hashtagging #thuglife on your tweets about knitting and laughing at Thug Kitchen (helmed by two white people, for the record), it's been said that thug is the new, acceptable version of the N-word, and I agree. So, until black victims of police brutality can stop being posthumously slandered by being called "thugs," consider refraining from using this word to describe your quiet Friday night at home on Twitter, or just using it in general. It's not a great word to be throwing around at the moment and it hurts a whole community of people.

Source: iStock

Which of these words do you use? What did we forget to include? Let us know in the comments.

You can follow the author, Aliee Chan, on Twitter


9 Annoying Ways You Dismiss Racism Without Thinking About It

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  • Aysha

    Oh good, they fixed it.

  • Alana Ellyn

    Most of these words have changed meaning, I don’t think it’s “racist” to say “My dad likes to tinker with his car.” Until the 18th century nice meant stupid. Is it rude of me in the 21st century to call someone nice? By your logic I guess it is – in which case, I think you are very nice.

  • Nicole Alexander

    As a red head I find the term “Ginger” racist. any way to describe a human being in a way that has a derogatory connotation is offensive. by the way…. great way to get people thinking 🙂

  • Aysha

    Hey! Wrong slideshow!

  • great!

  • Tori Emerick

    Okay so, the slideshow is just showing a bunch of disney themed products… I think you put the wrong slideshow in y’all.