Imagine what it's like for your grandad. One night in the 70s he went to bed as a hero who fought against the architects of the Holocaust, then he woke up and he was a racist. Why? Well taste moved on, and it turned out that pretty much every single way he had of describing Muhammad Ali was a hate crime. But don't think you're any different. I can't remember when, but at some point in the last five years the word "actress" became offensive. Earlier on in my life, "spastic" was deemed untenable. Caitlin Moran argued (£) in The Times the other day that we should stop using the word "rape". And she made a good case.
Words that start life as harmless adjectives – “coloured”, “queer”, “retarded” – have been co-opted by bastards (there's another) and are eventually deemed insulting, upsetting, unacceptable and finally politically incorrect.
It seems stupid to assume this trend will stop. Our grandchildren will no doubt think of us as unwieldy social dangerspots who could offend anyone at any minute with our outmoded language. But what are the toxic words and phrases of the future? Which expressions that we use today will find themselves shoved out of polite conversation?
These ones. All of them. Definitely.
"YOLO" – With India predicted to overtake China as the world's most populous nation by 2030, we're entering the age of religious reincarnation. In ten years' time, you won't only live once, you'll be living as many times as your horrible decisions and subsequent terrible karma force you to. So, before you nonchalantly drop-kick yourself back to the starting block of this whole hungry-ghost, asura, human debacle, have some respect and adjust your fatuous Twitter hashtags accordingly. You won't be able to tweet an apology if you come back as a fish.
"Coming Out" – Oh, you've come in as a heterosexual recently? You know, been welcomed into the fold, joined up, hopped on board? No? That's because the heteronormative discourse is so all-prevailing that it's only when you tell people you're gay that you have to define your movement. And, just in case there was any doubt, that movement is all about expelling yourself from the gang of normals and poking your new gay head out from under that weird rock you've been hiding under.
"Little Person" - Fellow little people, was this really the least condescending term we could think of?
"Man Up" – There are a few things that, arguably, are the sole property of men: testicles, sperm, redundant nipples, the ability to pee up a wall. Stoicism, courage, discipline, bravery, the ability to rise to the occasion and strength, on the other hand, are not. And, at the risk of paraphrasing an entirely misattributed Betty White quotation, when exactly did male genitals earn this reputation for tenacity and sturdiness? If “growing a pair” of bollocks makes you tough, but being “a pussy” is weak, then we're going to have to seriously rethink everything from jockstraps to heterosexual fucking. Because, from what I can see, bollocks get protective padding while vaginas take a pounding.
"Mortgage" – The word mortgage is a fairly literal translation of the Old French for “death grip”. But, as anyone who has paid out £700 a month to rent the box room in a shared house next door to a needle exchange can tell you, the near-fatal clasp of financial ruin is hardly exclusive to homeowners. The homeless armies of the future will surely push for the banning of this classist term if they aren't too busy freezing to death in shop doorways.
This is what a "coder" looks like – i.e. pretty mysterious.
"Coder" – Guys, it's really not a secret any more. To imply that the thousands of web designers, digital managers and part-time Dreamweavers are in some way using the internet to destroy us or send vital but clandestine communications is not only wrong, it is also fairly historically inaccurate. There is no html Hitler to be brought down by a sassy group of crossword fanatics, no malware Mugabe to be toppled by a group of men in Norwich with a second-hand Enigma machine. The internet isn't written in code, it is built by a community. Although if you do continue to employ this derogatory term, they probably will hack your Facebook page and get you sacked, punched and dumped. Soz.
"Sexy" – Think of all the things that are actually involved in sex. Now think of all the ways in which the adjective "sexy" is used in day-to-day conversation. You don't have to ingest, excrete, squirt, imbibe, swap or smear fluids to be attractive. You don't need to hump, sweat, tear, writhe and wrestle to be exciting. You don't need to fondle, grope, thrust or penetrate to be in demand. To describe anything vaguely tantalising, pleasurable, beautiful or aspirational as “sexy” is not only debasing, it also excludes our asexual friends. And god knows how much fun stuff they're already left out of.
"Mother tongue" – Among the many things my father taught me, including how to knit, ride a bike, not be afraid of heights, build a brick wall, use a chainsaw and cook pancakes, he also assumed a fairly major role in teaching me how to speak. Yes, my mother was there, too, but I don't see any reason why she should get all the credit. The number of men's rights activists and gender egalitarians are growing all the time, so don't do a Lakoff and use language to undermine an entire gender's role.
"Dual heritage" – You show me a young person living in Britain who can easily identify as being of just two distinct racial, religious, cultural and national heritages and I'll show you someone with no understanding of history. "Dual heritage" is more reductive than "mixed race" and about as useful.
"LGBT" – As a term, LGBT simply folds sexuality in with gender, which is pretty unhelpful if you like having sex with women but have no quandary about whether than makes you masculine or not. Also, if we're serious about actually providing an inclusive set of initials, then we're going to end up with something like LGBTQIPO – which stands, of course, for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning, intersex, pansexual or omnisexual – and is just far too long and messy to print on badges for university societies.
"Fundamentalist" – Even a sixth form English student can point out that the term “fundamental” means “relating to the anus”. Which I imagine is pretty offensive if you're a homophobic religious zealot. So watch your mouth and show a little respect for the people maintaining that sense of irrational hatred that the rest of the world seems to have been PCified into forgetting about.
"Management" – Suffer the little libertarians. As I'm certain you already know, the etymology of management whips us straight back to the 1560s and the Italian "maneggiare", meaning "to control a horse". So, while I hate to be the one to break it to you, your bank manager, line manager, football manager, project manager, farm manager – even your content management system – is treating you like a hoof-hopping idiot-beast. You're a pre-industrial plough. You're glue in animated form.
So there you have it – the pillars of future offence. Use them, bruise them and eventually refuse them. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to wank over a dictionary.
Follow Nell on Twitter: @NellFrizzell
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