The Language of Stereotypes

“Once you label me you negate me.”
Søren Kierkegaard

What We See

Most of us have an uncanny ability to stereotype. (Stereotype, incidentally, comes from the Greek word, “stereos,” meaning firm and “typos,” meaning impression.) We see people through a lens of personal experience, which allows us to categorize people quickly so as to make sense of our surroundings.  The problem, of course, is that stereotyping is a flawed definition system, and the belief that we hold, may or may not accurately reflect truth.  Here are some words that have been used to stereotype others.

“Drunk as a Fiddler” refers to the fiddler at wakes and weddings whose fee was paid for in liquor.  The fiddler would ensure that he was adequately compensated.“Dull as Dishwater” was originally “ditch water.”  Fishing in a ditch was anything but exciting. “Dead as a Doornail” refers to the door-knocker that is always being hit with the hammer.

“Happy as a Clam” comes from our belief that clams love to be left alone.  Clams are gathered only when the tide is out; hence, they would be exceedingly happy during high tide. “Mad as a March Hare” refers to the March mating season for hares, which apparently is when they all run around rather “mad.”

A generous man will give you “his shirt off his back.” This phrase dates back to when men wore only three pieces of clothing – coat, pants, and shirt.  A spendthrift, on the other hand, is one who “spends” the “thrift” or savings of another.

Have you ever considered how other people stereotype you?

“What we ask is to be human individuals, however peculiar and unexpected. It is no good saying: “You are a little girl and therefore you ought to like dolls”; if the answer is, “But I don’t,” there is no more to be said.” 
 Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

31 thoughts on “The Language of Stereotypes

  1. The examples you gave are so interesting. We all use them and know what they mean but often without knowing the origin of the phrase.
    English is not the first language of my wedded partner. Nor is it the second. He often says something in other languages and then tries to interpret into English. Often it sounds silly…..but I think it just shows that all languages use these figures of speech.


    1. I have heard that translation is indeed difficult, because you can translate words, but not the stories or meanings behind them! Your husband is lucky to have access to many ideas that cross cultural and language boundaries. Thank you so much for stopping by -I so enjoy our conversations!


  2. About 8 years ago I got on a hot crowded bus and was exhausted and was just about to sit down when a woman almost knocked me over to grab the seat for herself. I was so pissed, and was about to let her have a piece of my mind when something from deep inside me kicked in – empathy. Yes, I actually began to think of reasons why she would do that, was she terrified of having to stand, it was a long ride ahead of us, was she on the verge of a panic attack, claustrophobic, etc. I totally forgave her in my mind when I realized I did not know anything about why she would act so desperately and that there was a possibility that I would have gladly let her sit there had I had more information to work with…
    And then something totally strange happened – I decided to love everyone on that bus. I looked around at everyone and thought, I love you. This is extremely not easy to do because when you try it you will find that the totally random individuals on city public transportation includes all kinds of types that you may not be attracted to, or they “look” like types you generally just don’t like, or they are doing things you find annoying like blasting music or gossiping loudly, etc.. This is all stereotyping but you don’t realize how strong that is until you try to love everyone in sight. On that ride I was able to do it.

    8 years later I am still trying to work through this but strongly suggest you try it yourself and see what it tells you about you.


    1. As I read your words of wisdom – for that is what they are – the first quote (and you already know how I love quotes) that came to mind was:

      “This is my simple religion. No need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Your own mind, your own heart is the temple. Your philosophy is simple kindness.”
      ― Dalai Lama XIV

      What you experienced eight years ago was an epiphany, a peak moment of awareness that will be a guiding force throughout your life. And it shows in your blog! You are bringing our diverse community together to explore and discover the breadth and depth of our global possibilities. We live in a perilously divided world, yet there is great hope for we have the power to choose love! Think of it! We can choose “simple” kindness. Rather than judging, we can show mercy. And in so doing, we have no regrets, no “what-ifs” Our lives will unfold in ways that will generate resilience and courage.

      Thank you, my dear friend, for adding so much to the dialogue.


    1. Thank you for your kind consideration – you made my day! I am so glad that we connected – that is the very, very best award of all! Have a wonderful day!


      1. Ești un limbaj romantic! Am studiat italiană și iubit audierea frumoase voci de lilting! Ați făcut raza mea de soare zi pură! Sunt folosind Google Translator!


      2. Multumesc mult pentru cuvintele frumoase scrise in limba romana 🙂 , iti doresc un weekend minunat! Te imbratisez 🙂


  3. Okay, you’ve just become my official home schooling teacher, lol. Your word vignettes send me off on a whole chain of interesting things. This one, “drunk as a skunk” which dead ended at skunk, but… drum roll, skunk, of course, had other idiom expressions, that brought me full circle to your post, stereotypes. (ie: “You skunk”, lol). When we’re both still alive at 111 years old, we’ll have these posts to thank. ❤


    1. “If you live to be 100, I hope I live to be 100 minus 1 day. So I never have to live without you.” Winnie the Pooh

      Thank you for your life-affirming comments! 🙂


    1. Thank you for your visit and welcome back from your holidays! I find that having ideas and thoughts around me, reminds me to live in the moment – today is what counts! I like your “Little Prince!” 🙂

      L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux


  4. I battle daily with myself to be as kind and generous in spirit as toemailer on her bus, 8 years ago. Sometimes a meaness creeps in but perhaps that is good; a little reminder that we must be alert to ourselves at all times. Labels are interesting though. We think of them as negative (negating) but does this apply to all labels. For example I have ‘judged’ and ‘labeled’ toemailer as kind and generous. Toemailer, what do you think? Could this ‘judgement’ be considered limiting and negating too? Labels are a curious business. Thanks Clanmother for raising the issue of stereotypes.


    1. An excellent point!!! Our lives are filled with so much activity, movement, stories, demands, constraints, that it would be impossible to sift through it all without some mechanism for sorting and categorization. For example, hot stoves, fire and very hot drinks are both harmful and good for us – we have to distinguish the difference, sometimes within seconds. I especially like when you said – “labels are a curious business.” It goes to the heart of our thought process and decision making skill-sets. Perhaps it is the labeling with qualification. As Toemailer said so eloquently, is is about looking beyond the obvious. Seeking to understand. It is a paradigm shift.

      “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
      ― Plato


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