“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Though I wouldn’t normally recommend taking advice from a talking rabbit, Thumper from Disney’s Bambi knew what he was talking about when he said this quote back in 1942. (That was 70 years ago, in case you needed another reminder that you’re getting old.) While it’s true that people can be childish and obnoxious sometimes, that doesn’t make it okay to put them down with derogatory phrases or words. There are some basic phrases in particular which I find “off limits” in regular conversation, either because they’re demeaning, intentionally (or unintentionally) hurtful, or just plain ridiculous.
1. Shame on you!
Though these three little words may not seem very toxic, especially when you say it jokingly to your friend after she fondles someone she’s not supposed to or to your cat when she leaves you a half-dead “present” on your doorstep, in reality, they can cause a severe amount of damage to a person’s self-esteem. According to Thomas Scheff, professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara, shame is linked so closely with self-worth that repressing it can lead to acts of aggression and, on a larger scale, war or familicide. That’s right, familicide. Next time you’re caught stealing a cookie from the cookie jar against your parent’s orders, try to laugh off the shame before you end up murdering everyone you’ve ever loved. No pressure, though.
2. Grow up.
This one’s my own personal pet peeve for a number of reasons but first and foremost, because the negative connotations attached to “grow up” suggest that maintaining one’s youth is more than just silly; it’s shameful. While I understand the phrase is used to condemn immaturity, which can be different from “youthfulness,” that doesn’t change the fact that the person using this phrase does so to gain the upper hand in the conversation. By saying “grow up,” you are suggesting that you are grown up yourself and thus more qualified to judge the situation at hand. You’re essentially demoting the other person to an inferior “younger” position, despite the fact that kids are cooler than adults around 70 percent of the time (which is still passing).
3. If you really loved me, you would…
Stop right there. While it’s true that love is one of life’s greatest gifts, there are always limits to what people will do for it. Even Meatloaf knows that. When you challenge someone with this phrase, you’re asking them to demonstrate their love according to your terms. Jesus didn’t have to “prove” himself to anyone to gain respect, so neither should you. (Well, I mean, he eventually did with his whole “turning water into wine” stunt, but he didn’t have to.)
4. Because I said so!
If I woke up with 100 fingers on each hand with 100 fingers on each of those fingers, I would still not be able to count the amount of times I heard this when I was growing up. In fact, it’s most parents go-to reprimand when a child starts questioning their orders but according to some, it’s also the least effective. Following a command with “Because I said so!” instead of an actual reason can tip the scales of a parent-child relationship, turning the parent into a ruler demanding unquestionable power instead of an ally trying to impart a valuable lesson and establish respect. Unless your child has disregarded all 20 reasons you gave to not stick his action figure in the blender, try to avoid this exclamatory statement.
5. Why can’t you be more like…
“Why don’t you go to college like your older sister? Why don’t you get a job like your brother? Why don’t you try raising a flock of wild bald eagles like your cousin Jimmy did?” It’s natural to want to draw comparisons between your children and other people,but doing so can also establish unfair precedents for the child in question. If children are always being compared to an older sibling or relative, they never have the chance to explore their own strengths and can end up making rash decisions to differentiate themselves later on, like joining the circus or pursuing a career as a professional Marilyn Manson impersonator.
6. You were too good for *so-and-so.*
This phrase is almost always said in an attempt to be comforting but down the line, it can end up having embarrassing consequences. For example, if you say this to your best friend after she gets dumped by her boyfriend and a few days later, they get back together, she’ll forever know that you disapprove of her significant other, and your future obligatory Maid of Honor speech will suddenly become a whole lot trickier.
7. Just calm down.
“Just calm down” is another well-meaning phrase that can produce a negative reaction when used the wrong way (aka, any way that makes it come off as condescending). If possible, avoid saying this phrase to angry parents, people with anxiety, The Hulk, people binge watching dramatic TV shows, and women going into labor. In fact, that covers most human beings on the planet, so it might be easier to just not say it at all.
While some of these phrases can certainly be acceptable in certain situations, most of the time, they should be kept to yourself to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. What phrases would you add to the list? Do you disagree with any of my picks?
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