The Language of Mean

When kids don’t want to be nice to each other, they have their own euphemistic way of going about it. Here’s a guide.



The ubiquitous “Whatever” – used indiscriminately whenever the mood hits. It’s delivered with many different flavors, from sarcasm, to anger, to indignant disapproval. For some teens it even has a certain delivery cadence – “WHAT…ever” emphasizing the first syllable for dramatic effect. “Whatever” has become the common response when disagreement occurs. Instead of stopping and saying, “Hold on, let’s talk about this for a minute. I’m not on board with that.” It says, “I don’t give a crap about what you just said. I’m not even paying attention to you! Go away!” In a single word, it simply denies all the comments someone has just made. It’s dismissive, final and cuts off conversation. And here’s one more piece of advice. If a child says it to a parent, someone should be going directly to their room. And as a parent, you should never use it. Never. I don’t care how cool you are.


“No offense, but…” which really means, “I’m about to offend you.” This is used all the time by kids (and probably some adults) to absolve them from any responsibility regarding what they’re about to say. Examples: “No offense, but those jeans don’t look right on you.” Or “No offense, but your boyfriend is an ass.” Or “No offense but, you’re really bad at math, or cheerleading, or singing.” There’s a lack of responsibility in verbal and written speech that’s kind of appalling. This is just another example of a young person’s word not standing for much of anything. It allows a youngster to say virtually anything they feel like, any time, any place, and not have to stand by it.


“Only joking (or kidding)” Kind of the reverse bookend of “No offense, but.” This allows the individual to say absolutely anything they want with no regard for the feelings of others or the words they’ve just delivered. “You’re a slut.” “She’s a bitch.” “He’s such a player.” “Your mother is a witch.” ONLY KIDDING! Because you used your get out of jail free statement “only kidding,” I can’t say a single thing back to you. I can’t respond, be angry, be upset, or challenge you because you were… “only kidding.”


“Chill.” Sometimes this flat delivery by one student to another when trying to calm someone who needs to ratchet it back a bit works quite well. But often it’s used to just shut someone up. It can be used with enough sarcasm to be hurtful. If used by a kid to an adult, it’s almost always disrespectful.

Kids have been sarcastic jokers with one another forever. Needling, joking and fooling around are all part of growing up. They still put each other down and make fun of one another. These statements have a little different feel to them. They’re mean at heart. Don’t ever doubt tht it can certainly be a form of bullying

And if you don’t believe me.


And, oh yeah … chill.

10,074 days down, 101 left.

—Photo Shiny Things/Flickr

About Carl Bosch

Carl Bosch has appeared in publications as varied as the New York Times and Cricket magazine. His books for children have sold over 60,000 copies. An educator for 38 years (soon coming to an end) he's now working on storytelling through MouseMuse Productions and performing marriage ceremonies as a Justice of the Peace.

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