Lindsay Lohan introduced the term in the movie “Mean Girls.” Word vomit – a point in a conversation when people say something they didn’t mean to.
I wear the crown as the undisputed queen of word vomit. It all started about a year ago. My best friend asked if I would please do him a favor. I replied with the seemingly witty, “God, no matter how many times you ask, no, I will not sleep with you.”
He lowered his eyes and mumbled that his uncle had just died and he was hoping I’d share my class notes with him when he returned from the funeral.
Cue the giant black hole.
Since our awkward interaction, my friend has taken to describing the moments when word vomit spews from my lips as “hopelessly inappropriate.” And, much to the chagrin of myself and the unlucky recipients of my comments, I seem to be having these awkward moments more and more frequently.
A few Saturdays ago, I attended what may be the least fun party ever. Knowing only one other person in attendance, I had planned to spend the evening making new friends and dazzling them with my wit and charm. That, clearly, was not how my night progressed.
After an hour of staring at other bored partygoers, I decided that the only way to liven things up was to share a funny story. I related a highly embarrassing moment about my friend, involving a stuck zipper and a security guard. When I didn’t receive immediate uproarious laughter from the crowd, I tried to save the story with a little shock value by making a slightly-less-than-kosher joke.
As the words rushed from my lips, I realized that a sensitive person could probably interpret my comment as anti-Semitic. This was not my intent, and as my face flushed red, I immediately started praying for the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
Though still red-cheeked from this embarrassment (I am still apologizing to the one other person I knew at the party), I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in my hopelessly inappropriate actions. In a recent live broadcast on the FOX News network, anchor Dawn Stensland mentioned after a health report that sometimes she feels “like a retard” when she doesn’t get enough sleep.
That evening, Stensland received e-mails from many outraged viewers and apologized on-air during the next broadcast.
She claims that she meant for the comment to be self-deprecating and had no intention of ever using that particular word to describe the mentally handicapped. Maybe this is true. But as someone who has said similar things with similar intentions, I completely sympathize with Stensland. The thread that ties Stensland’s experience and my own hopelessly inappropriate behavior together is simple. Despite our intentions, the words we said were interpreted to be – at the very least – impolite. Words can be harmful.
They can make the speaker seem insensitive, intolerant or even malicious.The only way to remedy these types of situations
is to stop and think before we speak. While this holds true for most people, I think it is also a doctrine from which everyone could benefit. Despite our oh-so-American right to free speech, we do not have the right to offend – even when it’s unintentional.
And so I implore everyone to pause for a moment before they begin talking. Count to 10. Say the ABCs. Recite the name of every American president. Do anything that will help. Just please stop and think before speaking.
Erica Palan can be reached at