Old timey alternatives to "that's gay"?
July 19, 2011 7:16 AM   Subscribe

What are some old timey words I can give my students as an alternative to "that's gay"?

Every year on the first day of school, I spend a good 10-15 minutes rationally breaking down for my high schoolers why they will not be using "that's gay" in my classroom (in addition to "that's retarded"). We talk about othering, about not knowing who's listening, and about creating a classroom where everyone is safe to learn. That part I have down. It's pretty effective.

But sometimes the students have been using "that's gay" for so long that they lack alternative language to substitute. I tell them if they mean something's stupid, say "that's stupid." Or if it's bad, "that's bad," etc. But "that's stupid" is a little insulting, and "that's bad" is awkward and clunky to a hip young teen.

So help me come up with fun alternatives I can provide them. Personally, I like old-timey stuff like "that's bunk" and "what a load of hooey!"but if you've got other fun alternatives, I'm open to it!

However, I'd like to avoid any that are terribly fraught with on-their-face obvious offensive contexts. For example, I don't give my students "that's lame" as an alternative because of the obvious reference to handicapped people.

If I get a nice creative list going, I might be able to assemble them into a professional development training for my staff about creating safe environments. Thanks!
posted by mdaugherty82 to Education (95 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
That's whack?
posted by saradarlin at 7:21 AM on July 19, 2011

"That's wack" isn't old-timey, but it is vintage, if you consider a 2002 Whitney Houston interview with Diane Sawyer vintage. As one is wont to do.
posted by mauvest at 7:21 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by mauvest at 7:22 AM on July 19, 2011

Any word after "that's ......" is comparing the act/behavior/item/whatever to something else in a negative way, I suspect that you're going to hit the same objection as you do with gay/lame/retarded.

Could I suggest that you encourage them to just not use one word to describe something that they find negative for some reason, encourage them, instead to use more language to describe what they don't like about something. The one word "that's....." phrase will always be dismissive and problematic.
posted by tomswift at 7:22 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "That's fuckin' clown-shoes"

I'll take "Things That Will Get Me Angry Parent Phone Calls If I Tell Their Students To Say Them" for $200, Alex.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 7:23 AM on July 19, 2011 [10 favorites]

As long as we're going to go down the rabbit hole on this, 'wack' means 'crazy'. So if 'lame' isn't cool, 'crazy' probably isn't either.
posted by Jairus at 7:24 AM on July 19, 2011

"That stinks" because nobody likes things that stink?
posted by ghharr at 7:24 AM on July 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

I like to say "That's an abomination unto the Lord!"
posted by goethean at 7:26 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

That sucks balls! Double entendre bad?
posted by MrMulan at 7:29 AM on July 19, 2011

If you can get them to think of specific examples in which "that's so gay" might be used, I bet they can easily brainstorm themselves some more specific negative retorts for those situations.

Maybe you can teach them that if they can't think of a specific reason why something is bad, it can't be so bad after all.
posted by emilyw at 7:31 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I always thought "wack" came from "wacky," which came from "out of whack," which is like "out of kilter"... not "crazy" in a mental health sense. But I'll happily retract the suggestion if that's so.
posted by mauvest at 7:32 AM on July 19, 2011

'Wack' did come from 'wacky', which means crazy. 'Whack' (as in 'out of whack') is a different word entirely, which means 'hit'.
posted by Jairus at 7:34 AM on July 19, 2011

Response by poster: I don't think "wack" is as on it's face as "lame." Don't get to hung up on looking for obscure reasons to be offended.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 7:35 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm not offended, mdaugherty82. I love the word 'lame' and you can pry it from my cold dead lips. But the people I know who work in anti-oppression that get offended at 'lame' also get offended at crazy, wacko, and other psychonormative language.
posted by Jairus at 7:36 AM on July 19, 2011

posted by restless_nomad at 7:36 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

That's jive.
posted by holterbarbour at 7:37 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

"That's so 'Smurf'"
posted by doorsfan at 7:38 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

"How droll."
posted by griphus at 7:39 AM on July 19, 2011 [8 favorites]

OED has "wack" adj. attested to in 1939 and 1951:
An eccentric or crazy person; a madman, a crackpot.
1938 ‘E. Queen’ Four of Hearts (1939) i. 9 All you wacks act this way at first. Them that can take it snaps out of it.
1951 E. Paul Springtime in Paris xi. 198 The show place, the rendezvous of eccentrics, Bohemians, playboys, sightseers and international whacks is the St. Germain des Prés quarter.
posted by Jahaza at 7:39 AM on July 19, 2011

"This engenders disappointment."

Or, perhaps more memetastic: Do Not Like

or "I Am Disappoint"

I like to say "That's a Whack Jam", because I grew up in the 80's and it's funny.
posted by TomMelee at 7:40 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

"Poor show!"

"Very poor!"

"Poppycock!" (perhaps not quite right, but deserves to be used more.)
posted by dirm at 7:40 AM on July 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm partial to saying "that's for babies." It gets the message across, and it's pretty obvious that it's not meant to actually be babyist. The babies aren't bothered to hear it, anyway.

Your students may, however, dismiss this and any other phrases as too for-babies.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:41 AM on July 19, 2011 [15 favorites]

posted by Sys Rq at 7:41 AM on July 19, 2011

Okay, the "wack" question got me curious, and I found this, which argues for more of an "odd or peculiar" definition.

But hopefully someone will come up with something even better for mdaugherty82 anyway.
posted by mauvest at 7:42 AM on July 19, 2011

posted by Sys Rq at 7:44 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

"That's so Raven" - offensive only to Raven Symoné, and I reckon it won't scar her for life. Not old timey, but perhaps more relatable for kids of that age.
posted by guessthis at 7:45 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think having the class come up with and discuss their own list of alternatives (with you and urbandictionary.com on hand to make sure things were kept appropriate) would be constructive and educational for all involved.
posted by hermitosis at 7:45 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

posted by Sys Rq at 7:46 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

"That's terrible" fits in a lot of situations. Also Charles Barkley says it and Charles Barkley is awesome.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:47 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

"My, that doesn't fit the dominant paradigm!"
posted by advicepig at 7:48 AM on July 19, 2011 [9 favorites]

I am astonished that nobody has weighed in with "shocking bad hat."
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 7:49 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Old hat!
posted by Sys Rq at 7:50 AM on July 19, 2011

I say old man, that's just not cricket.
posted by wwax at 7:50 AM on July 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:58 AM on July 19, 2011 [10 favorites]

That's a helluva note.
posted by timsteil at 7:58 AM on July 19, 2011

Harrumph and alack!
That squares the circle!
Rubbish and horsefeathers!
That blows chunks!
That's beneath words!

(From Bill S.):
- Most pathetical nit!
- Ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave!
- Detestable bones!
- That's misshapen Dick!
- http://www.william-shakespeare.org.uk/shakespeare-insults-t.htm

That sucks balls! Double entendre bad?

You may have miscounted your entendres there.

posted by foursentences at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go Bill & Ted with, "Bogus!"
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

The kids of 50 years ago said, "that's hokey!"

Don't ask me how I know.
posted by Superfrankenstein at 7:59 AM on July 19, 2011

Or to raid some Aussie slang

Wally, Drongo, twit or Berk - Idiot or foolish person

"Galah" - A type of parrot that acts a little crazy at times swooping and squarking and carrying on so people that act silly are called Galahs or a "Right Galah" if they are really bad.

Ratbag - a dishonest person

Silly Bugger - People that waste time - mess around - generally fools. Bugger might be a hard one use in the US where it still has its more traditional meaning its become more of a general swear word in Australia a bit like saying "Damn"

Troppo - Crazy or Insane from Tropical heat is to "Go Troppo"

If you are looking for some interesting slang words a search of Australian slang online is always interesting, I'm an Aussie and a lot of them aren't used any more. I'd also suggest looking into Cockney Rhymning slang, just trying to figure out where some of their expressions come from is a lot of fun. And both have a nice long history.
posted by wwax at 8:03 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

"That's queer!"

posted by Thorzdad at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2011

"That's highly illogical"
posted by schmod at 8:07 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Tell them not to use pejoratives?
posted by schmod at 8:08 AM on July 19, 2011

"That's just not cool."

"That ain't right."

"Say what!?" all "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" style

"Curious and curioser."


You could also turn it around and say, "That's so straight!" or "That's so hetero!" and use the dominant group in the offensive manner to demonstrate the point. Though you probably would only want to use that to demonstrate the point.
posted by zizzle at 8:11 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have no suggestions except to say that I love the idea of a bunch of 6th graders saying, totally sarcastically "how droll..." (as per griphus) or a slow head shake with "poor show" (as per dirm). Come on, make it happen!
posted by AmandaA at 8:17 AM on July 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

I love "silly" - Maybe "That's silly" or "You're being silly"

"Pish posh!"
posted by jabes at 8:23 AM on July 19, 2011

what a lousy idea!

this may backfire if you have kids with lice.
posted by orme at 8:24 AM on July 19, 2011

Say what?!

That's cockamammie shit, yo.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:34 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I, too, like "wack," especially when preceded by a vaguely inappropriate adverb. "Overtly wack"* is a personal favorite, though "exceedingly wack" "extraordinarily wack" and "excruciatingly wack" (in ascending order of wackness, obviously) are also good.

* I totally stole the phrase from a quote I read in either Spin or Rolling Stone many years ago: "I just don't understand white people. White people like stuff that is so overtly wack: Soul Asylum, Rush, Sports Illustrated." And who said it? Why, Beastie Boy (and card-carrying white person) Mike D.
posted by dersins at 8:34 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I too like "That's babies" having picked it up from Shortpacked. I know it isn't old-timey, but it is satisfying.
posted by maryr at 8:35 AM on July 19, 2011

As seen on an actual high school classroom window (though I have no idea if the kids used these phrases):

That's so: Boorish / Daft / Batty / Pointless
posted by filthy light thief at 8:43 AM on July 19, 2011

I like to use "crypto-fascist" as a generic pejorative, along with an intense stare.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:44 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

That's bunk!

Unless you're from Buncombe, NC.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:44 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:45 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

That is completely pants.
posted by redfoxtail at 8:46 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding 'Bogus!'
posted by mazola at 8:48 AM on July 19, 2011

Some highlights from thesaurus.com for 'bad'

The pits!
posted by ian1977 at 8:52 AM on July 19, 2011

posted by Sys Rq at 9:12 AM on July 19, 2011

Seconding "That's jive."

Alternatively, at our house, one might hear "Ridiculous!", "Redonkulous!", or "Re-donkey-kong!"; depending upon the perceived severity.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:13 AM on July 19, 2011


Make them defend their calling of shenanigans on the spot if they call it.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:15 AM on July 19, 2011

I seemed to recall that SMYRC's Bridge 13 training had a sheet of suggested alternatives, but I don't see it on their resource page. None-the-less, there's some stuff here you might find useful: http://www.smyrc.org/node/59, specifically the Interrupting Problematic Language handout. http://www.smyrc.org/images/pdf/Interrupting%20Problematic%20Language.pdf
posted by Skwirl at 9:17 AM on July 19, 2011

posted by blargerz at 9:32 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: That's so Takei!
I can't believe I'm the first one to suggest this.
posted by anotherkate at 9:46 AM on July 19, 2011 [8 favorites]

Aw, codpiece.

See also (especially column #3): Shakespeare Insult Kit.
posted by YamwotIam at 9:49 AM on July 19, 2011

Poorly played.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:54 AM on July 19, 2011

Naughty Billionaire!!
posted by motsque at 10:10 AM on July 19, 2011

Best answer: Yup, "That's bogus" should work as a drop-in replacement for "that's gay". (I think the 80's qualifies as 'old timey' now.)

It also intensifies nicely, all the way up to "That's bo-ho-o-o-oooooooooo-gusssss!"
posted by benito.strauss at 10:10 AM on July 19, 2011

"That's applesauce!" Teach your kids to sound like flappers. Bonus points if you can get them to say "Now you're on the trolley!" and/or dance the Charleston.
posted by mskyle at 10:18 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Totally Moses (Old)
That's So Gray (Bland)
Daft and Dumb (crazy and stupid)
Yup. Diddlypickins (poor value and idiotic)
posted by rileyray3000 at 10:18 AM on July 19, 2011

That's friggin' ridiculous. (They can say friggin', right?)
posted by deludingmyself at 10:19 AM on July 19, 2011

Whiskey tango foxtrot?
posted by ostranenie at 10:27 AM on July 19, 2011

I have six kids... the phrase I gave them as an alternative -

That's redonkulous
posted by strongdad at 10:35 AM on July 19, 2011

Best answer: I think this is an interesting idea, but I wonder if it would be more useful to them in the long run (as future college students and professionals) to replace the inappropriate use of the word with a more accurate contemporary term. When they're in a collab of colleagues would you rather they suggest that something is "jive-turkey" or, less ambiguously, "inconvenient"?

When people call something "gay" they often actually mean:
not to my tastes
novel, but not actually useful
a little silly

Here are things that really are gay (in some one or more senses of the word):
sunny days

Also, you are a better communicator and critical thinker when you are able to articulate how you feel and why you feel it. "That sucks" does not easily communicate nor is it as useful as "You know, I expected 'X,' and instead I am facing "Y' and I find that frustrating. What can we do to make this better?"
posted by jander03 at 10:54 AM on July 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

"That's idiotic."

I also really like this one, which I've borrowed from Liz Lemon:

"What the what?"

Finally you could convince them that cool, suave personalities like James Bond rarely exclaim outright, and go with a more subdued:

posted by Terheyden at 10:56 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by beau jackson at 10:57 AM on July 19, 2011

I think the assumptions made in this thread are naïve. I've heard the frat-boy explanation that when one says "That's so gay" what's really meant is merely "that's so lame" (in fact, we've had discussions here about this) but I don't buy it -- if it's lame, or dumb, whatever, those are the words the kids would use. However, if the speaker senses something effeminate, limp-wristed, or unmanly, then "That's gay!" The old-timey word to replace gay in these occasions would be 'sissified' but for some reason the term "sissy" has fallen out of favor -- note how Governor Arnold invented the term 'girly-man' to replace it.
posted by Rash at 11:03 AM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Problem with many of the above is that they don't mean the same as "That's gay', where the inference is that it is something so weak or effeminate that only a gay person would be associated with it. The closest one is lame, but you say that's off limits. I wouldn't. When was the last time anyone referred to a disabled person as lame? Doesn't the word usually refer to animals, such as a lame horse...and the 3rd definition is weak and ineffectual; unsatisfactory: a lame attempt to apologize; lame excuses for not arriving on time.

Also on the use of retarded. If they are referring to an act or action, not a person, it is perfectly OK to use.
posted by Gungho at 11:05 AM on July 19, 2011

I agree with Rash that many of the assumptions in this thread are naïve.

In my Toastmaster's group, we worked hard on removing words from our speech that don't mean anything in particular. For example, "thing" or "stuff". The English language is huge, and part of the joy of that is finding words that say what you mean with exactly what you intend in both connotation and denotation. That's a huge part of what is known as "wit", in my experience.

One of the absolute best discussions I ever had in High School was in a class where the teacher talked with us about connotation and denotation. It made me think, and to pick my words more carefully from there out.

For example, if you really mean "sissified" when you would normally say "gay", a reasonable substitute would be "unmanly." Yes, that's still not PC, but it is far better, and also more accurate. Another would be "effeminate". Both still imply judgement of genders, but that's not going to be erased from our society any time soon. (Trying to stay strictly neutral in an ask.mefi response is quite difficult!)

Many times, "that's gay" is a stand-in for "how boring", and I might suggest that as a reasonable substitute in that case.

A discussion with your students will almost certainly yield more fruit than simply telling them to use a set of phrases you've cobbled together.
posted by Invoke at 11:42 AM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I suggest bringing back the eternally quotable chunklet of rural patois nicknamed the "Dan Ratherism". Fill in the blanks: "That's as '__________' as a/an '______' in '________'."


That's as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
It's as hot as a Times Square Rolex out there.
You're as wrong as a stopped clock on daylight savings time.

So instead of something being boringly and non-descriptively 'gay' it's now a free-for-all of images and wonderfully specific and humorous wordplay.

Not hurtful - check (within reason, anyway)
Encouraging of creativity - check
Encouraging of 'using your words' - check
Discouraging of stereotypes... well, we can't all be as useful as a pocket on a shirt, now can we?
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:15 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would agree that helping them to actually express what they are feeling or their opinion would be most beneficial, I am going to suggest "beige" as is used here in Sweden. It's kinda all-purpose for non-satisfactory, sub-optimal, etc. Events, items, people, whatevah.
posted by Iteki at 1:11 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stuff and nonsense, old chap. Tommyrot and balderdash.
posted by Decani at 1:21 PM on July 19, 2011

I've made a habit of saying, "That's unfortunate." Said with the right amount of disdain (i.e., dripping from every letter), it trumps anything else.
posted by Fuego at 1:23 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm sure that this would also bring the parents running - but I'm fond of using "that's gay" when I mean "as awesome as two people having sex who are experts on each other's genetalia and who have no fear of pregnancy." (slightly paraphrased).

I think that your high school age kids are old enough to just stop using that kind of expression, and work towards expressing themselves constructively in the classroom.

As for whether it's offensive or not - I seriously had some cousins who argued that it wasn't offensive because they weren't thinking of gay people - you can always have them substitute in the name of the local city/province) and see how they feel. "That's so Torontonian" as a response to anything bad could perhaps demonstrate how offensive it is, in Toronto at least.
posted by jb at 2:05 PM on July 19, 2011

That's bunk
That's mug
That's wack ( this is old school hip-hop by the way )
That's ridickerous
That's played out
That's so not legit
posted by jasondigitized at 3:45 PM on July 19, 2011

Aw, phooey!
posted by holterbarbour at 4:17 PM on July 19, 2011

That's so wrong!
That ain't right!
posted by stray thoughts at 4:18 PM on July 19, 2011

note how Governor Arnold invented the term 'girly-man' to replace it.

He stole that from Kevin Nealon and Dana Carvey (Hans & Franz), FWIW.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:20 PM on July 19, 2011

Weak sauce. (this is probably the best replacement for "gay" or "lame." Plus you can intensify it: "Dude, that is some weeeeeeeeeak sauce. They serve better sauce than that in the cafeteria on Spaghetti Day.")
Awful. (Or "just awful.")
posted by KathrynT at 6:23 PM on July 19, 2011

Oh man, "Slipshod!" is a good one. I may have to start using that one.
posted by maryr at 6:44 PM on July 19, 2011

No kid is going to use 80% of the suggestions here. You need something both short and contemptuous and, while it might not be welcomed by parents, there's nothing quite as straightforward as saying "That's crap!"
posted by zadcat at 8:25 PM on July 19, 2011

posted by Kloryne at 9:13 PM on July 19, 2011

posted by Abiezer at 9:35 PM on July 19, 2011

That is so not awesome!

That is double-plus ungood!
posted by goethean at 9:06 AM on July 20, 2011

HORSE puckey!
posted by Turkey Glue at 10:22 AM on July 20, 2011

posted by duomo at 1:14 PM on July 22, 2011

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