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Scanning some of the headlines that came up offers a strikingly wide range of uses for the word: “Survey finds pharmacies giving customers inappropriate advice” (The Herald, Glasgow).
“Niece as flower girl would be inappropriate in gay wedding” (Houston Post). Coach admits cursing at fan was inappropriate” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).
Feinstein’s prose would have been so much stronger (and maybe her resolution would have passed) if she had scuttled the old and tired “inappropriate relationship” and let them shine.
The problem with the overuse of “inappropriate,” finally, is that it is fuzzy language and inevitably results in missed signals and squawky communication.
The perpetrator of “inappropriate” actions is pretty much off the hook, and so is not likely to take any actions — verbal, legal, or physical — against his or her accuser.
Another friend, who used to work in college residence halls, told me that “inappropriate” was a “standard word in disciplinary letters I wrote or when talking with a student when you wanted to say ‘You screwed up’ in a nice way.
So the words were there for the taking, and they got taken — especially, as I started out by saying, “inappropriate.” While it is currently deployed to characterize virtually anything a writer or speaker finds unsatisfactory, its most common use is clearly as a euphemism for sexually explicit material, especially when this gets onto children’s radar screens, or (as with the President) forms of sexual behavior that for various reasons are not universally accepted.
(“It is recommended that the nurse should first redirect the man’s energies by asking him how he’s coping with his wife’s illness.”) A number of reasons plausibly suggest themselves for this word’s ever-increasing popularity. To call an action “inappropriate” is not to call it wrong, bad, shameful, reprehensible, or evil.The : “[He] invaded the grave silence with the singularly inappropriate air of ‘A cobbler there was.'” Its antonym and root, appropriate (“specially fitted or suitable, proper”), has an even longer pedigree, dating at least to 1546, when an edition of The Regiment of Lyfe referred to “remedies …appropriate to every membre throughout the body.” Both words proceeded quietly along until the middle of this century, when they began to receive wide use in specific fields.“Enemas are inappropriate, dangerous as a weight-loss tool” (Chicago Sun-Times).“Blindfold use in school ruled inappropriate” (South China Morning Post).
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And so such phrases as “inappropriate affect” began to be heard in consulting rooms throughout the land.