language question
October 26, 2018 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Is the term "bananas" to mean "super hectic" offensive? What terms are okay and not offensive?

Inspired by the recent MeTa post (I genuinely did not know "spaz" was offensive, now I do, thank you) I'm wondering what language is okay to use to describe super hectic situations. Is saying "it's totally bananas today!" or "I'm going bananas" offensive? I'm looking to replace using "it's crazy today" and similar. I know "nuts" and "crazy" can be offensive, so just wondering if "bananas" is okay. "Batshit insane" seems to have the same pejorative connotation as "crazy", yes? (also, not work/small child appropriate) I googled and didn't find anything either way although it does seem to be used in the way I mean, but hey, lots of offensive things are used.

What terms ARE okay besides "hectic" which sometimes doesn't have quite enough oomph to describe what I mean. Like, the days when you can barely take a break to pee and you're running from meeting to meeting to meeting or working on six things concurrently or whatever. I'm looking for something appropriate to use around little kids, coworkers, etc. What about wild?

To be clear, I know that calling someone a banana is offensive, this is a different use.

Please be kind if this IS an offensive term, I am asking because I genuinely do not know and I do not want to be offensive, I'm trying to improve!
posted by john_snow to Writing & Language (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If "bananas" is offensive then I am big time guilty. Bananas is my go to when I would prefer to say lots of other inappropriate things.
posted by onebyone at 10:38 AM on October 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My take on this comes from someone who will fiercely defend my own use of the word “crazy” as someone with mental health issues, but hates seeing it casually used by people without, and would never use it for someone who I know doesn’t like it, so take that for what it’s worth:

“Bananas” as a drop in replacement for “crazy” is less bothersome to me but not entirely inoffensive. It often still seems to be just using mental illness as a casual descriptor for something that is not actually mental illness. If you mean “so overwhelmingly busy that I can’t catch my breath” then I would rather you say that than anything using mental health as a cute or lazy shorthand. Say “hectic,” say “frantic,” say “I’m having a hard time keeping it together with things this busy.” Say a thing is frustrating you or driving you up a wall or wearing you out.
posted by Stacey at 10:40 AM on October 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think "bananas" is fine. Sometimes I use "non-stop" like "Today has been non-stop!" to talk about super busy days.
posted by jabes at 10:40 AM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "Relentless" is also good.

"Bonkers" is in a similar category as bananas, but I am also unaware of bananas being an uncool thing to say (in which case I will stop saying it).

I also say "wild" a lot in these cases. It was my 1:1 replacement for "crazy," which I was overusing anyway.
posted by witchen at 10:43 AM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just checked and found this, for what it is worth:

Word Origin and History for bananas
"crazy," 1968; earlier (1935) it was noted as an underworld slang term for "sexually perverted."
posted by 4ster at 10:44 AM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From my view, I think it's not about maintaining a list of banned words as much as it's a resistance to the mindset that uses identity, perceived identity, appearance, and other immutable characteristics as a perjorative, or as a way to insult, demean, or discredit.

And 'clusterfluff' might work for the description you are seeking.
posted by Little Dawn at 10:45 AM on October 26, 2018 [13 favorites]

Best answer: As a person who is crazy, I am not upset by the use of "bananas," as long as it isn't directed as a person (as in saying the person is cuckoo-bananas, which is what I think of as the origin of the expression). And I do use it a lot as I am trying to delete crazy/other pejoratives regarding mental health from my language.

The other word I use most often is "wild." It encompasses more of what I really mean: hectic, too busy, hard to control, etc.
posted by assenav at 10:45 AM on October 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I think "bananas" (and bonkers, etc) falls under the category of "synonym for crazy," meaning that if you're trying to err on the side of caution, you might want to try avoiding it.

Personally, I've hit on "buck-wild" as a substitute that conveys the hectic out-of-control-ness I'm going for, much more than just "wild" by itself.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:46 AM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: sadly both "frantic" and "frenetic" are derived from the same ableist origins that would preclude the OP (and many conscientious others) from using "crazy"

in my personal efforts to be less bad about using ableist language i frequently find myself using the word "wild" where i would previously have said crazy/nuts. im sure this could bother some folks for not critically examining the dichotomy between civilization and wild places/people, and its not particularly detailed or descriptive, which acts as another motivation to be more specific.

wildly busy?
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:47 AM on October 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: One more phrase I forgot to include - "running around like a headless chicken". Okay? Not okay?

Stacey - I think "frantic" is the closest in meaning to the way I am using the term. In the way I am looking to use whatever term, there's a connotation of racing around in a bit of a pointless way because there's so much to do, unable to focus or finish anything, which I don't think hectic quite gets at (in my mind), but frantic or overwhelmed comes closer.
posted by john_snow at 10:47 AM on October 26, 2018

Best answer: Instead of "it's crazy today", I will usually say "it's wild today." Instead of saying stuff like [Things are so busy that] "I'm going crazy today", I usually say something along the lines of "I don't know which end is up", or "I don't know whether I'm coming or going."
posted by gudrun at 10:48 AM on October 26, 2018

One more phrase I forgot to include - "running around like a headless chicken". Okay? Not okay?

It might piss off the more dogmatic vegans, but you're most likely already doing something that would piss them off anyway
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:49 AM on October 26, 2018 [17 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know the answer to your question, but some alternative words/phrases I use depending on my audience and what I'm trying to convey include: ridiculous, balls-to-the-wall, shit hit the fan, a circus, a party, like herding cats, wild, SNAFU, yak shaving, a mess.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:49 AM on October 26, 2018

Best answer: I have a co worker who says "its been a tilt-a-whirl kind of a day" which I like very much.

I actually don't see anything wrong with hectic. Frantic is a great suggestion. Bustling is a wonderful word that doesn't see enough use, but it might not have the right connotation. "In the weeds" is used a lot in food service, but I think it has broader applications.
posted by anastasiav at 10:50 AM on October 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Another vote, as someone with mental illness, that "bananas" when applied to a situation doesn't even ping my radar, and "bananapants" even less so.

I do enjoy "buck wild," but feel that its overall connotation is, like, positive? Which is usually NOT what I'm trying to get across when describing relentless overwhelm. Herding cats gets closer.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:51 AM on October 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Thinking about it for a minute, I think a good line to draw is at words that are or have been medical diagnoses. Spaz/spastic, no; bananas, yes. I'm on the fence about idiot, moron and dumb, but "crazy" does not appear to have ever been a clinical term.

Beyond that, or perhaps because of it, bananas has a lot of meanings with varying degrees of affect, which to me renders it usable.
posted by rhizome at 10:56 AM on October 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Why not use "super hectic"? That way, no need to wonder if you may or may not be offending anyone.
posted by AugustWest at 11:04 AM on October 26, 2018

Why not use "super hectic"? That way, no need to wonder if you may or may not be offending anyone.

Is hectic ok?

relating to, affected by, or denoting a regularly recurrent fever typically accompanying tuberculosis, with flushed cheeks and hot, dry skin.

posted by phunniemee at 11:07 AM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I enjoy the word 'zany' which as far as I know has no historical connotations.

On the z theme also, "it's a zoo / zooey today". I assume this just comes from zoos being noisy and boisterous?
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:12 AM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just use words that mean very out of the ordinary like

- ridiculous
- outrageous
- off the hook

I've been working hard on getting rid of "crazy" and it's challenging but I find when I go to a completely different type of word as opposed to synonym-for-crazy it tends to go better.
posted by jessamyn at 11:16 AM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Bananas is fine. Totally, completely, fine. I've learned to adapt my language in politically correct ways over time, but this seems a bridge too far.
posted by fso at 11:27 AM on October 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I thought the term had something to do with WWII-era banana shortages or something.

The euphemisms and workarounds we use now to avoid offensive terms will one day themselves be the offensive terms. Be sensitive, kind, and adaptable when it comes to adjusting your language to avoid hurting people's feelings, but don't go nuts policing yourself.
posted by prize bull octorok at 11:48 AM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Man, I am disappointed in metafilter. As a person with mental illness, who comes from a family fraught with mental illness, I am not in the slightest bit offended by the terms bananas, bonkers or any of the ilk. However, the cheap shot at vegans makes me feel like crap.
posted by whistle pig at 11:54 AM on October 26, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Zany is a character category in Commedia del'Arte, so in classic clowning. It references artful and deliberate silliness done for entertainment.
Hectic means feverish (see hectic flush in Victorian literature) it's not linked to mental health so to me, that's not referencing mental illness in a pejorative way. Frantic describes a desperate state of mind, not by analogy but descriptively, again, I'm not seeing what's pejorative there.
posted by glasseyes at 12:01 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This may be a bit British (in that it is deliberately understating the issue) but my colleagues and I often say "I'm having a bit of a day" to mean that everything is terrible. The adjective is kind of implicit, I guess.

Lots of the other suggestions, in my book, are synonyms for crazy which may or may not be problematic. As an intermittently crazy person I take no issue, but am aware that others legitimately do.
posted by bored_now_flay at 12:35 PM on October 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm just going to tag in here as another person with mental illness to say that in my book, "bananas" is completely, totally, 100% fine. And saying (paraphrasing), "Well, it's a substitute for crazy, so you shouldn't use it" basically makes no sense whatsoever. I mean, yes, I think that's the point?
posted by holborne at 12:36 PM on October 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: All, thanks for all the great answers - I will mark as best some that seem to get at the feeling I'm describing. I'm glad to hear I was not inadvertently being offensive by using bananas and I will probably try to expand my vocabulary with some off these pretty great options. Given that I had NO idea spaz was offensive, and didn't actually know the back history to the word until I saw the MeTa, and given that banana used to describe a person is racist, I wanted to make sure I was not accidentally being offensive.

Language is pretty remarkable in all the different shades of meanings each of these phrases connotes, and as my children learn to talk, I've been struck by all the allusions and references and double meanings and shades of grey there are to learn!
posted by john_snow at 12:38 PM on October 26, 2018

Best answer: I use "Alexander" day, as in "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."
posted by eleanna at 1:39 PM on October 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: "Things are out of control today" usually covers the same meanings.
posted by theory at 2:04 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Buck wild is primarily AAVE, so depending on how you feel about cultural appropriation, it might not be quite right either.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:26 PM on October 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hog-wild would be the white version.
posted by rhizome at 2:48 PM on October 26, 2018

Best answer: I always understood "hog-wild" to mean "free-for-all" maybe bordering on "rampage" -- like if you let some little kids loose in a candy store, they'd go hog-wild. I'm not sure if it has the right connotation unless it's being applied to, like, working a retail shift on Black Friday or a hospitality brunch shift on Mother's Day or similar? (I've always understood "buck-wild" to be somewhat similar, in that it's often applied to a specific person or group of people, often in a party-oriented sense, rather than a more general oh-no-type situation.)
posted by halation at 3:05 PM on October 26, 2018

Best answer: I've been thinking about this too as someone who wants to replace the word crazy in my vocabulary. My substitute of choice has been "ridiculous". "All over the place" and "frantic" might work too.
posted by starlybri at 6:01 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh goodness .. I'm all for being concientious about this sort of thing - words matter .. but bananas and headless chickens .. I think it's gonna be alright. I mean, unless you're talking to a lot of chickens who speak english? That would be a different story. Try not to worry too much, OP.
posted by elgee at 7:56 PM on October 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm partial to redonculous and rampageous.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 7:57 PM on October 26, 2018

Best answer: I think bananas is fine. Why am I qualified to make that assessment?

Because 1. I have dealt with severe mental illness my entire life (first suicide attempt at 5, multiple hospitalizations, I am currently enjoying the best mental health I have ever had and I’ve been a shut in for 6 years) and it doesn’t even ping my radar. I thought this was going to turn out be racism related when I clicked the post.

And 2. I am very careful with my speech. I speak out when, for example, people use gay to mean stupid (the most common but not even close to the only offender), I find it utterly easy and natural to use preferred pronouns and person first language. But my personal experience has been that people who claim offense at stuff like bananas are raging fucking narcissists who use “wokeness” to control people and get attention and to power their ego trips. So, a very sore subject to me. I’m sure you have the best intentions but keep a skeptical eye on the sources of “offensive words” lists. I’m very, very bitter and biased on this topic so YMMV.

That being said, if someone indicated to me distress at a certain word I would respect that as long as we were in conversation. A lot of people have abuse histories connected to very specific things. Bananas could easily fall under that category, but not the broader umbrella of slurs towards people with mental illness.
posted by monkeyscouch at 8:41 PM on October 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You could try the word "frenzied."
posted by overglow at 12:29 AM on October 27, 2018

progressive style guide.
posted by eustatic at 1:07 AM on October 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Monkeyscouch, you picked up on something I didn’t fully clarify in my ask, thank you - part of my concern was wondering if it had a racial connotation I was unaware of, given that it can be in other contexts. I want to stop using crazy but didn’t want to replace it with something inadvertently racist! Sounds like I’m all good AND I have lots of other options.
Hog wild/buck wild definitely don’t have the meaning I’m looking for (to me) - seems more like out of control kids at a party then a super busy office day with tons of interruptions.
Eleanna, I love “Alexander day”! That’s not quite right for this particular context but is for other kinds of days for which I might have previously used crazy. Will definitely work at home since my kiddo loves that book.
posted by john_snow at 10:46 AM on October 27, 2018

This stuff generally doesn't bother me, but a particularly awesome (offensive and awkward) thing I hear coworkers say sometimes is, "Try not to kill yourself", or "We don't want to kill ourselves", when trying to get something done on time at the expense of our well-being and (hah) mental health. Sometimes people just get stuck saying absurd things, because it takes a little bit of time and creativity to restructure the thought and fit it into some more appropriate language.

Anyway, yeah, bananas. I like to go for literal words when my cliches and idioms fail me. "There's way too much going on today." "Today's been a mess." "It's mayhem around here." Pretty much any synonym for disorganization and chaos. "Crazy" is a fairly inaccurate word in this sense, and "bananas" (while being totally innocuous) sort of has a wacky or playful connotation, so it's hard to imagine someone saying it with a straight face.
posted by mammal at 10:00 PM on October 27, 2018

Some options to try out if you don't mind a bit of Aussie silliness: "full on", "haven't had time to scratch my balls", "going off like a frog in a sock", "flat out (like a lizard drinking)".

Edited to add that what these have in common is referring to the speed you have to work rather than how unusual the amount of work is.
posted by harriet vane at 5:11 AM on October 28, 2018

progressive style guide.

Along those same lines, I read the Conscious Style Guide's newsletter talking about language and how it changes and how to refer to specific groups and terms and I am a smarter person for it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:59 AM on October 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

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