Ignorance Isn't Bliss with Offensive Words

Apparently, the snack machine isn't working quite right.  How do I know? Someone posted a sign on it that said "use exact change or you will be gypped." Let's forget that someone was basically accusing our company of cheating someone out of money, and look at the word the person used. Is "gypped" offensive? I always thought it was a slur against the nomadic people of Europe and Asia. Even if the question of whether it is a slur is open to debate, it's not a word we want posted on our snack machine!


  • 9 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • i couldn't agree more...there's a difference between being overly "pc" and just rude/insensitive. whoever put the sign up on your snack machine should take it down...there's other ways to warn people about a broken vending machine than using an ethnic slur
  • Hey, I really wasn't aware this word was an ethnic slur against gypsys.   Maybe the person wasn't aware either, so I wouldn't immediately tag the person as discriminatory.
  • Aside from the word in question, employees don't have the right to put up signs on the snack machine, anymore than they do elsewhere in the workplace.

    The machine should have a contact extension to contact if reimbursement is needed for lost money or if the machine is malfunctioning.

    However, I think you might be overthinking this situation.  I think the employee was just ticked off because he or she didn't get a snack.

  • I'm guessing this is simply someone who has given no thought as to the origin of the word, whether it refers to a gypsies or a people of a particular national origin, etc.  I agree that the person was probably just angry at the moment they wrote their note. It would have been better if they could have simply said that the machine "takes your change".

    People aren't always in the best frame of mind when they're writing an angry note though, and as a result, the content of such notes often don't reflect well on their authors.

     I still remember about a decade ago, someone wrote a note on an employee refrigerator after someone apparently stole the person's lunch. The note read:  “To whoever took my lunch: My sandwich was not mend for you!”  (Emphasis mine). And this was on a college campus. Sigh.


  • This was simply a case of ignorance that has led to a discriminatory event. You may want to review your policy of harassment and reinforce the fact that this may violate your harassment policy if you have it worded in that way.
  • This is pretty close to the height of overreaction, in my opinion. Relating the word gyp (defined as to cheat, swindle or defraud) to gypsies and perhaps further even, to Serbians of the18th century, is a pretty dynamic stretch, even though Webster allows it. If I were to react to the note by ginning up plans for diversity and tolerance training and visions of discrimination charges, I think that would be a signal that I don't have enough real work to do.

    The title of the thread includes 'offensive'. I would challenge you to find one individual in the building, in fact in the city, in fact in the county, who would be or might be offended by the word gyp. In fact, you'd more likely find an employee who would be offended by the mechanical operation of the vending machine, relating the product delivery method to a bodily function.

  • Right on, LivindonSouth !   First, just remove the note from the machine.  Second, call the vending company to come out and make sure the machine is in good working order.  Third, if there is no mechanical problem, tell the vending company they had better beef up their service and make sure the machine is well stocked with change or you will be looking for a new vending provider.     


  • I am not sure that Title VII has a geographical limitation (i.e., would anyone in this county be offended by this sign). The test is really whether the sign causes a hostile work environment or is discriminatory "based on" a protected classification. Although I am sure you are right that there aren't too many gypsies around, and that the terminology "gypped" is a pretty remote reference, it still makes the interesting point that seemingly benign comments can affect individuals in serious ways. I remember not too long ago when it was considered "benign" to say a lot of things that deeply wounded individuals of certain races and religions. The only thing that stopped this is a realization (through diversity and tolerance training) that it is NOT OK . . . that IS our job.
  • I would have taken the sign down. Left a note asking the person who left the note to come see me. Called vender. If the person did I would have reminded them of the policies they signed (open door, work environment, harrasment, and no unauthorised postings). Interpreted their response and reacted appropriately. Then I would have apoligised for the vending company and given them there money back, with a wooden nickel.

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