Patronizing spell check

Don’t you think we need a little something for those patronizing a-holes?

Front Row Central editor Martin Schneider recently made viral news when he Tweeted about his experience working under a female coworker’s name for a stint. He was shocked by how differently he was treated when people thought he was a woman. He was questioned more and clients were incredibly difficult.

Communication over email or text can be tricky. There are subtle ways we say things in writing that we really don’t put much thought into; these things are masked as everyday language, yet they stealthily put certain people (namely, women) in their place.

I’ll give you an example. Here’s a harmless-looking email:


Sure, that will be fine. Thanks.


Can you tell if this is my intern or my boss who is emailing? You know the answer, don’t you? It’s my boss.

Just starting an email with someone’s first name (and nothing else) comes across as an order, or at least very curt. If you don’t believe me, imagine doing it to your boss. Would you do it? I certainly wouldn’t. I would use a greeting. Even a casual greeting is fine.

Hey Pete,

I was wondering if you had a chance to look over the TPS reports. Let me know! Thanks!


This second email keeps me in my place. Here, I’m even ordering my boss Pete to do something, which is look over my TPS reports. But I’ve used a greeting, and I softened it a bit by making it more about my wondering than his doing. I also ended with a cheerful “Let me know!”, which puts it on the table that this is optional. I personally would argue the last “Thanks!” was a bit pushy, but I’m kind of sensitive. It’s just presumptuous to thank someone before they’ve even agreed to do something, and oftentimes people tack on an abrupt “THANKS!” when they’re actually annoyed.

I digress.

When you don’t know someone – like they’re your waiter, for example – it can be a connecting gesture to use their name when speaking to them. But it’s kind of weird to say – using someone’s name, which you would think should be a good thing, kind of comes across as distancing in some contexts. You’re welcome, Erin. Tacking the name on the end like that feels off to me.

As someone who is clearly sensitive to these communication gaffs, I would love to write an app for email and text that run a spell check for patronizing language, or even the opposite – language that aggrandizes the other person. Five errors found: you are unknowingly contributing to sexism!


One thought on “Patronizing spell check

  1. This makes a lot of sense. One of the things you mentioned had to do with calling a waitress by her name when you don’t know her. That resonated with me like you can’t imagine!! As a retired waitress, I’d like to tell you how much I despised wearing a name tag. In fact, I almost got fired over that hatred, but the boss and I compromised: I would wear the tag as long as it said, “MS. Anderson.”

    If I want you to know my name, I will tell you. Once I do, then, and only then, may you call me by my name. After I’ve waited on you a few times, and we know that we get along, then fine, call me Joyce, I don’t mind at all. But a total stranger? “Hey, Joyce, can I have some extra…?” Didn’t like it at all!!

    I appreciate you for mentioning that, even tho in the total scheme of your article, most people probably won’t think it’s important. I sure do, tho!!

    Have a great week-end, hear?


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