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Basket case

Basket case
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SHUTTERSTOCK

Even the John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club uses the phrase “basket case” to describe Ally Sheedy’s social outcast character. The term actually comes from WWI slang, and refers to soldiers who were so seriously injured you could fit them in a basket.

Long time, no see

Long time, no see
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SHUTTERSTOCK

You might think this is a cute thing to say to someone you haven’t seen for a while. It actually derives from the greeting of a Native American man talking to early settlers. Non-native English speakers, or anyone new to a language, will make these kinds of errors in syntax. “No can do” is a similar phrase that’s said to derive from Chinese “broken” English. Both are unkind phrases to use.

On the other hand, these slang words from 2019 are worth knowing!

Gyp

Gyp
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SHUTTERSTOCK

You might say you got “gypped” if you get ripped off, but the term is said to refer to Gypsies. In that sense, the term derives from stereotyping this ethnic group as thieves and swindlers. Don’t use it.

Ghetto

Ghetto
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SHUTTERSTOCK

Experts find the origins of the term “ghetto” to be particularly mysterious. Ghettos were the mandated locations for the ethnic segregation of Jews under the Nazi regime during WWII. Elsewhere, the term became associated with poor areas with non-white residents. Now, it’s a bigoted term that gets tossed around to mean low-class.

Take note of these words that make you sound old.

Rule of thumb

Rule of thumb
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SHUTTERSTOCK

There’s a lot of controversy around the origins of this term. While we currently use it to describe a generally accepted principle, it’s said to derive from English law dating back to the 1600s. These laws are said to have stated that a man could beat his wife with any stick no wider than his thumb. Hence, the rule of thumb. Scholars have searched but they can’t find any precise proof for this origin—but that doesn’t mean that domestic violence isn’t a problem.

Grandfathered in

Grandfathered in
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SUTTERSTOCK

You’re probably happy if you get “grandfathered in” to a clause on your mobile phone plan that has extra value. The grandfather clause usually means you get the benefits of an earlier “generation.” However, the term originates with the practice of allowing voters in southern US states easier voting conditions if they had a grandpa who had voted before 1867. Guess who didn’t have those relatives? Black voters, because their grandpas were slaves. This term refers to an ugly and unfair history in voter disenfranchisement that continues today.

Here are more words that mean the opposite of what you think.

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Paddy wagon

Paddy wagon
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SHUTTERSTOCK

This is the slang term used for a police van that picked up folks who got arrested. Paddy was a derogatory term for anyone Irish. And drawing on the stereotype that the Irish are drunkards and hooligans, “paddy wagon” referred to Irish guys getting into trouble with the law. Ethnic stereotypes, like all Irish people are drunks, aren’t cool.

Sold down the river

Sold down the river
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SHUTTERSTOCK

If you say you were “sold down the river,” you mean that someone betrayed you. That isn’t a very enlightened way to express that sentiment because it derives from America’s history of slavery. Slaves were sold “down river” as punishment where they would experience harsher conditions—and be separated from family and loved ones. Nothing compares to such dehumanising anguish, so don’t equate your suffering to that of slaves.

Take a look at these 30 little-known words that will help you win Scrabble.

Hysterical

Hysterical
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SHUTTERSTOCK

The word hysterical derives from the Greek word for uterus. It usually gets tossed around as a description for emotional women and feeds into the sexist stereotype that women are “naturally” crazy. (Male) doctors had a bunch of weird ideas about the biology of women that they used to rationalise sexist beliefs. These ideas still have influence today, but when it comes to gender, the unscientific advice from centuries ago doesn’t apply.

Moron

Moron
PHOTO: TATIANA AYAZO/RD.COM, SHUTTERSTOCK

In the early-20th century, “moron” was the term given to folks with a learning disability. The term originates as a word meaning “stupid” in ancient Greek. Its history is cruel, so stay away from tossing this around.

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