Mind your language

by Jul 5, 2022

Do you mind your language?

We sometimes use phrases without thinking which today may not resonate in the same way as they used to.

 Mainly we never know the original meaning of a certain phrase or word or times have changed and people react differently.

We used the phrase “what did your last slave die of? on our infographic “Practise Saying No.”

This was a line that we heard frequently growing up, usually from parents to mean “An expression of irritation, exasperation, or discontent to someone who is being imperious or makes excessive or unreasonable demands on one.” 

The term slave has its origins in the word “slav”. The slavs, who inhabited a large part of Eastern Europe, were taken as slaves by the Muslims of Spain during the ninth century AD. Slavery can broadly be described as the ownership, buying, and selling of human beings for the purpose of forced and unpaid labour.

Slavery is a practice that has spanned all cultures and geographies and has been common since people began to organise themselves into settlements roughly 11000 years ago. It is cruel and inhumane.

Check your privilege

The whole discusson around slavery and its history is a hot and sensitive topic and is being reframed. Someone suggested that because of this, we should consider changing our infographic and check our privilege. We discussed this nudge internally and did just that. We are privileged. One person offended, even if unintentionally, is one person too many. We changed it.

Privilege is about what you haven’t been through.

But it did open up a whole range of interesting items.

5 old phrases that are no longer acceptable

The list of phrases we use today oftentimes without thinking which are not appropriate is longer than you think. Frequently they are rooted in racism and violence.

1. “Don’t drink the Kool Aid “

This is an expression we use frequently to describe an irrational cult-like activity, or thinking without knowing the origins. In the 1970s,  900 members of the Peoples Temple led by Jim Jones committed mass suicide by drinking a soft drink laced with cyanide and other drugs. Thus, today people use the phrase “to drink the Kool-Aid” to refer to someone with unwavering and unconditional loyalty.

2. “Cat got your tongue”

The English Navy used to use a whip called the “Cat-o’-nine-tails” to flog victims, and the pain was so intense that those on the receiving end of the blows couldn’t speak. Hence, the meaning of the phrase today. Nothing to do with cats biting people’s tongues.

mind your language

3. “Hysterical”

Hippocrates diagnosed hysteria as being caused by a “wandering uterus” which deprived women of sexual pleasure. Doctors frequently used medicine such as illicit drugs and leeches for most female ailments and coined the term “hysteria” regularly to explain women’s medical issues.  .

4. “Basket case”

This saying for a person who has difficulty coping was first used during World War I to describe a person who had lost all four limbs and had to be carried in a basket.

5. “Rule of thumb”

Experts suggest that this phrase has something to do with an English law from the 1600s that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick – just so long as it was no wider than his thumb in thickness.


If you or your organisation needs support with unconscious bias training get in touch with us today



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