In my book, I wrote an essay about “words we need to get rid of,” and I’m afraid that the 10 people who’ve read my book, didn’t get the message across. One of the big words that I championed getting rid of, was the word ‘inappropriate,’ and yet it is still extremely overused, and so I’m going to talk on here, perhaps more concisely about why this word is getting fucked up.
Here is the thing about the word, it’s subjective, and yet people use it as if it is objective. Not a day goes by that I don’t see some headline that says “hilarious but inappropriate.” What does that even mean? Today, I saw an article about people who were counter-protesting against pro-life protesters at an abortion clinic. The headline declared not only the sign’s hilarity, but again it’s inappropriateness. I clicked the link, and looked through reading the different signs, and while they were very funny, and perhaps slightly confrontational, there was absolutely nothing inappropriate about them (by my standards, but honestly I think they were pretty tame by most standards).
So, I guess I’m not sure what people think inappropriate means. Are they meaning confrontational? Controversial? Do they mean awkward? There are a dozen different words that more accurately describe whatever emotions they’re trying to conjure up. But inappropriate sells the point to other people who don’t have the best words as well.
Here’s the problem with using inappropriate when meaning something else. Inappropriate, isn’t only a subjective term, and also a contextual term, but its a judgment. Inappropriate means it shouldn’t have been said or done. Controversial doesn’t inherently mean that, neither does confrontational, or awkward, or uncomfortable. It’s ok for something to be any of those things, but ultimately, it is not ok to be inappropriate. All of those other terms can be necessary, there are controversial new medical practices, and confronting something wrong can obviously be right, and an awkward pause on a first date can lead to something awesome. The same cannot be said about inappropriate.
Lastly, the idea of context. The word is used in such a manner that implies inappropriate-ness as a blanket statement, but it is really dependent on situation, for example, it is not inappropriate for two grown adults in a committed relationship to have sex in their own bed, but it would most likely be considered inappropriate if those same adults had sex on the table during Thanksgiving dinner, with all of their relatives looking on. Very few actions, or statements are inappropriate across all situations, the only two that I can think off of the top of my head would be rape and genocide, those are both inappropriate no matter what, I would however argue, that perhaps using the word inappropriate is an understatement in this context.
So please, this is what I’m asking, let’s use other words. I would argue, that maybe, until we have managed to gain a better understanding of this word that we stop using it. Try to only use the word when it is truly appropriate.