10 Words and Phrases With Offensive Histories

1Basket Case

Today, when you call someone a basket case, it means you think they're crazy. Did you know it once meant a person had physical challenges? The term originally started in World War I and was used to describe soldiers that had to be carried home in baskets because they lost their limbs. It fell out of favor after the war but regained popularity in WWII, and since that time, it has developed its current meaning.

2Grandfather Clause

These days when someone uses the phrase "grandfather clause" or the term "grandfathered in" they mean that a new rule is being enacted, but that are exemptions to the rule for certain situations that existed before it takes effect. The terminology came into being when Southern states enacted laws to disenfranchise black voters by passing many restrictive voting laws that didn't apply to anyone whose relatives had voted before 1867 (when slavery was outlawed in the US).


It seems hard to believe that villain ever meant anything but "bad guy," but the word was first used to describe a farmer or lower class person. Many of the elite looked down on the poor as thieves and beggars, and the term eventually evolved over time to mean criminal.

4Paddy Wagons

People use paddy wagon all the time to refer to police vans, but it's hardly a harmless expression. "Paddy" was used refer to the Irish, from the late 1700s to the early 1900s, when the vehicles took on the term in reference to the high number of Irish in the police force. Some argue that it refers to a stereotype about the high amount of crime committed by the Irish, but either way, it's pretty offensive.

5Drink the Kool Aid

Some younger folks don't realize the phrase is a reference to a tragic incident that took place in 1978. It involved 900 men, women, and children dying in one day, all after willingly drinking poisoned grape punch as instructed by Rev. Jim Jones in in the Jonestown Massacre. While both Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were used in the suicides, Kool-Aid became associated with the expression.


Have you ever heard someone claim that something is lame? The original definition of lame refers to physical disabilities, so when people use it as an insult, they may as well be saying "that's so handicapped."


Some people call a person that annoys them a "bugger," but they might not realize the phrase goes back to the ancient French term for a sect of Bulgarians known as the Bogomils, who were accused of sodomy. In other words, when you call someone a bugger, you're saying they're a Bulgarian sodomite.

8Selling Someone Down the River

This phrase is a literal reference to selling misbehaving slaves to other plantations further down the Mississippi. The first known use of the phrase is from 1837 and states, "One man, in Franklin County has lately realized thirty thousand dollars, in a speculation on slaves, which ho bought in Virginia, and sold down the river."


While "cretin" usually is used to mean someone is stupid, the term is adapted from cretinism, a congenital thyroid disease that causes stunted physical and mental growth.


When most people say they were "gypped," they never think of either traveling gypsies or the Romani people, but it's easy to see that it was inspired by the word "gypsy." It means "cheated," and gypsies have been stereotyped as thieves and criminals over the centuries.