I've already told you about how I upset someone by using words I didn't know some people found offensive.
I learned my lesson, but it made me start wondering about something. Here's my thought process.
People that look like Tim (actually, those who looked like Tim's dad) used to be called "Negroes". That was considered a non-offensive term. Then the acceptable word changed to "blacks". Now the acceptable term is "African American".
Yesterday I was watching a baby who is half .... oh gosh, I can never remember ... Japanese, I think. The acceptable term to use in describing him, assuming you didn't know the specific country his family came from, would be "Asian". It used to be "Oriental".
There's a thread on the Sonlight forums right now about the word "retard(ed)". While the point of that thread is about using that word as an insult to people without any mental/medical issues, it's another example of a word that has become offensive. Now we have to say "cognitively delayed" or some other phrase deemed non-offensive.
While I do think it's important to be sensitive to the feelings of particular groups of people and that we should strive to be non-offensive in our language, I think the heart behind the words is significantly more important than the actual words being used. That's why I (a mom who requires her kids to call adults Mr/Mrs Last Name) would much rather hang out with a pleasant kid who sweetly calls me Bethany than a punk who calls me Mrs. Weathersby.
So, when does a previously acceptable word become offensive? What happens there? Why does a word become offensive and need to be replaced? Who determines that? When will the word currently deemed appropriate to describe a set of people suddenly become offensive? How are we supposed to keep track of the changes in acceptable terms?
I'm only referring to words that have been considered polite, professional and/or appropriate at some point and then were deemed offensive.
I'd love to hear your thoughts or knowledge about that process!
Clarification: I'm not particularly interested in whether or not certain words or phrases are offensive or not. My questions are more about changes in language than they are about sensitivities.