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Fake-or-Fact Friday: Forbidden Words Edition

August 15, 2014

We found some stories about people using words that sound offensive, but aren’t. While almost unbelievable, two of these stories are true. The third one, well, it is unbelievable because we made it up. Can you spot the phony news item? The answer is at the end of the post.


A teacher in Utah was fired from the language center where he worked when he wrote on the institution’s blog a piece about homophones. Why? The private school’s owner thought that by talking about homophones, he would confuse readers into thinking that the school was promoting a “gay agenda.” Ironically, homophones are words that sound similar to each other…like homophone and homosexual.


In 2013, a military academy in North Carolina began admitting female cadets for the first time. Students were told that they would be expected to adhere to the school’s strict rules, regardless of gender. That included the dress code, which meant that girls were expected to wear their choice of a long, navy blue skirt or slacks. Upon seeing some of the new, female students in the skirts walk to class one morning, a long serving teacher reportedly yelled out, “Breeches!” so surprised he was to see students not in the standard trousers. Three female students lodged a complaint with the administration, thinking the teacher had called them a nasty name, while he had just been using an old-fashioned word—breeches, rhymes with “itches”—to comment on their fashion choice.


In 1999, an aide to the mayor of Washington, D.C., at the time an African-American man, commented to the media that the negotiations over the city’s budget had turned “niggardly.” Niggardly is a—understandably—little-used word that comes from an Old Norse word nigla, which means “to make a fuss over small or unimportant details.” It sounds like, but is not, and is not related to, a very ugly racial epithet. Another aide, not familiar with the word or perhaps mishearing it, was very offended and lodged a complaint, as were many other members of the public. The offending aide was ultimately forced to resign, and take another position in the city.

Want more fake facts? Then check out Uncle John’s Fake Facts. (Really!)

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