As humans, we speak approximately 16,000 words every day. That’s a lot to talk about. Unless we learn a new language, by the time we are adults, we do it a lot without thinking. There are so many factors that explain why we use the words, phrases, and phrases that come out of our mouths on a daily basis, including differences in generation, location, culture, and education. Sometimes you may find yourself using a certain word or phrase that now, in 2020, may seem archaic or callous. And while there probably isn’t any malicious intent behind your word choice, it may have questionable origins or applications that you completely ignore, like these 12 common phrases that are actually racist.
Considering that much of Western culture and civilization was built on the assumption (by men) of male superiority, it makes sense that our language reflects this. For centuries, words and phrases have been used to control women and dictate their behavior. And given that one woman, Kamala Harris, is the running mate of a major party, expect to hear a lot of that language over the next few months. Here are 12 everyday expressions you didn’t realize were sexist.
Hysterical / in hysterics
Have you ever described someone as being “hysterical” or crying “hysterically”? Now it’s just part of our everyday vocabulary, but her origin story is probably the best example of the myriad ways women have been silenced and rejected throughout history. It starts with the ancient Greeks, who believed that a woman’s uterus could wander throughout the rest of her body, causing a number of medical and psychological issues including, but not limited to, weakness, shortness of breath, brittleness, loss of consciousness and general “dementia.”
Centuries later, Victorian physicians (who were, of course, almost exclusively male) really clung to the idea that the uterus was the source of virtually any health or psychological problem a woman could face. . The diagnosis ? Hysteria, based on “hystera”, the Greek word for uterus. Female hysteria, as it was called, was a catch-all term for anything men didn’t understand or couldn’t handle about women, and was a valid excuse to institutionalize them. There is so much more to this story, but even though “female hysteria” was discredited as a condition — which, by the way, only happened when 1980– the word and its variations continue to be used to refer to someone who displays extreme and exaggerated excitement or behavior. “Hysteria” can also mean a time when people are extremely stuck about something, much like the coronavirus-related panic buying earlier this year.