The Power of Words


Derogatory Slang: The Power of Words

This is a sensitive topic, but one that I think needs to be talked about. The takeaway from this is that there is power in what you say, and we all should be mindful of the language that we use and how that might offend or affect others. I would like to share with you some common terms that many of us probably use, and don’t realize the impact that it holds. I am challenging myself and would like to challenge all of you to do better and be better. As a social worker, I am held to an ethical code to be inclusive of all people, and that especially includes how I address them or speak about them. Here are some terms that I would like to share:


The term that was used by slave masters and their families to refer to slave girls and women. Some people still use it today when talking about or addressing a girl or woman.


Used to describe a person that is dumb or lacks intelligence. It is offensive to people with intellectual disabilities because this term was used to identify them by society back in the day.

Faggot or Fag

Used to refer to a gay male but in a negative sense. It is also used in conversation to refer to something in a negative or weak sense.

“You Guys”

This is often times used to address a group of people, but can be offensive towards those who do not identify as male.

Peanut Gallery

This is used to describe harsh critics, usually people who have little knowledge of the situation. This is actually the area with the worst seats in old time theaters where people of color were forced to sit.


This is also an offensive term for a person with disabilities, specifically with cerebral palsy, as the disease was called spastic paralysis. It is often used to describe someone going crazy.  


This is used to describe someone who is overcome with laughter or who thinks something is extremely funny. The term hysteria was actually used for years to shame women and make them subordinate.


This is used to describe a person who might appear stuck up, or is trying hard to fit in. The term was actually used by racist whites against blacks who “didn’t know their place”.

Basket case

This is used to describe someone who is emotionally unstable. The term was actually used during WWI to indicate a soldier missing both arms and legs who needed to be carried out in a basket.  

Photo by MARK ADRIANE on Unsplash


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