Cancel culture's unfortunate victims: Seven previously innocuous terms now deemed politically incorrect

From mankind to urban and even cakewalk, you might want to avoid using the following terms as they've become quite toxic in recent times. From being sexist to racist and just insensitive, there are plenty of reasons to avoid them


                            Cancel culture's unfortunate victims: Seven previously innocuous terms now deemed politically incorrect
We aren't talking about just Pepe Le Pew or Disney's Dumbo, but something more common -- words (Getty Images)

Pick up any conservative magazine, TV show or book, and chances are you'll come across the word 'cancel culture' more than once. It's now an all-out culture war, that has some damning consequences. We aren't talking about just Pepe Le Pew or Disney's Dumbo, but something more common -- words. One victim of cancel culture is that we have to update our dictionary considering a list of words that are now too offensive to use.

A step too far? That's for you to decide. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But, in the meantime, you might want to avoid using the following terms as they've become quite toxic in recent times. From being sexist to racist and just insensitive, there are plenty of reasons to avoid them. 

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Here's a quick rundown of seven previously innocuous terms that are now considered offensive in 2021. You can call them victims of cancel culture, or you can view them as politically correct. Either way, you'd be glad to know these terms are no longer ok.

Mankind

For as long as we can remember, humanity has been referred to as ''mankind'. From Neil Armstrong's historic "one small step for man" quote to the US Declaration of independence saying "all men are created equal", history has been quite sexist. Women are almost invisible in the pages of history, despite being responsible for some of our greatest achievements. That's why many see the term as a sexist throwback to an era of inequality.

Not anymore though! If you want to help establish equality, think about substituting the word with 'humankind'. It may be politically incorrect to say mankind, but as Urban Dictionary noted "'Man' is gender-neutral, and has been in use in our language to describe people, in general." Of course, if you don't want to get into an argument over etymology, we suggest sticking to humankind. 

Apple TV+ may have to change its show name soon to keep up with the times (Apple)

Master bedroom

What do you call the biggest bedroom in your house? Well from now on, refer to it as the 'primary bedroom' or 'owner's bedroom' unless you want to run into trouble with some people. The phrase 'master' almost always denotes a man in power. The phrase also has its roots in slavery, as slaves used the term 'master' to address their owners. So you can see why some people have an issue with it - it's doubly offensive!

The phrase was first used in the 1962 Sears catalog and has become a staple part of the real estate business since. The 'master's bedroom' referred to the largest and most luxurious bedroom in the house, a result of the baby boomer generation post-war. However, the concept is slowly dying today, as homes shrink in size due to rising costs and reduced incomes. But of course, its death has more to do with its controversial roots than its relevance. 

Cakewalk

If you ever want to describe an easy task, may we suggest you stick to easy? Using the term cakewalk may not sound offensive at all, but it really is. This is another phrase that has its roots in slavery, first used to refer to a pre-Civil War dance contest performed by slaves on plantation grounds. According to NPR, "the uniquely American dance was first known as the 'prize walk'; the prize was an elaborately decorated cake. Hence, 'prize walk' is the original source for the phrases 'takes the cake' and 'cakewalk.'" 

In the 1870s, the use of the term skyrocketed after the cakewalk became a part of minstrel shows, before eventually morphing into what we know today as 'ragtime' music. That's quite a long and racist history for such a simple term, but there you go. 

Cakewalk dances were an integral part of minstrel shows for decades. (Minstrel Poster Collection - Library of Congress)

Nitty-Gritty

We are sure you would have used the term more than once to refer to the basic facts of a situation. It's a common term that we all use without thinking twice, but you might want to. It has its origins again in the slave trade, and has thus has already been banned by several institutions. It's a little less clear how the word originated, but it was used to refer to the slaves hidden away at the bottom of ships.

This origin is disputed at best, with phrases.org saying "there is no evidence to support the suggestion that 'nitty-gritty' has any connection with slave ships." The earliest recorded use of the phrase is in the 1930s, with a song titled 'That Nitty Gritty Dance'. It has since appeared and disappeared several times, making it harder to really establish a connection. But, that hasn't stopped it from being killed slowly, so we recommend you avoid using it as well.

Illegal immigrant

If you are upset about immigrants entering through the southern border, well, you might want to change how you refer to them. Of course, the term is not entirely wrong -- it is still used by the courts to refer to those migrating illegally across the border. However, some want to replace the 'illegal' with 'undocumented', since using illegal indicates something wrong and criminal. Of course, this one is still up for debate. 

Right now, there are several ways to refer to migrants. From 'undocumented' to 'illegal' to even 'unauthorized', each with its own merits and disadvantages. We will leave it to you to pick what you think is most appropriate, but it may not be as derogatory as some suggest. 

Urban

There are two things here -- city planning and the music format. 'Urban' in the context of city planning has for the longest time been used to refer to cities, but over time has taken on a meaning of referring to African-Americans. That is because, in the '60s, federal projects often referred to low-income areas (often dominated by African-American groups) as urban and Black interchangeably. Over time, this connotation also began referring to the music originating from these communities, as coined by African-American DJ Frankie Crocker.

From federal housing, the term has today become synonymous with African-American artists and radio, which naturally is problematic. The name is now being erased from the music industry, both by record labels and even the Grammys. You won't find an award for 'urban contemporary' anymore, it has since been replaced with 'progressive', 'rap', 'R&B' and other terms. It also helps African-American artists expand to new genres, rather than being swept into a single category. 

'Urban' is no longer used to refer to African-American music, but still occasionally used to refer to Latino music (Apple Music)

Manhole

Unless you're big on sewers, you probably don't use the word 'manhole' a lot. But did you know it can be politically incorrect? As with mankind, this term is often seen as too gender-specific, and is slowly being replaced with the gender-neutral term 'maintenance hole' or 'utility hole'. Of course, that's a lot more effort and syllables so we won't blame you for not wanting to switch, but it is happening whether you like it or not.

In 2019, Berkley's municipal code made that change official. Of course, that caught the nation's eye and brought about the full fury of Bill O’Reilly and other conservatives. Nonetheless, the city stuck to its guns. Why? It probably has to do something with the use of 'man', when construction crew today can be female or LGBTQ as well. It's part of a movement for a more gender-inclusive society, if you aren't too lazy to say/write a few more letters that is. 

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