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I replaced "Thanks for setting me straight" with "Thanks for correcting me" when editing an email to a recipient who is queer. Is the term "setting [someone] straight" inappropriate if the writer/speaker or reader/listener does not view straightness as better than non-straightness?

Note that I am not interested in opinions as to whether people who are offended by such a remark are too sensitive. I am only interested in whether using it would be likely to offend or make me appear to be prejudiced.

UPDATE: Yes, the question is serious (although I'm happy that it's also amusing some people). My understanding is that most blind people are not offended by the metaphorical use of "see" (as in "see what I'm saying") and that many African-Americans don't like "black" used as a negative (as in "black mark"). I'm just trying to figure out which category "straight" as correct goes in.

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I would have thought the expression queer is more likely to offend homosexuals than the innocuous idiom, set someone/the record straight. –  Mari-Lou A Jun 11 at 21:44

3 Answers 3

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Pretty much no, you're unlikely to offend anyone.

I suppose you could end up with an unfortunate faux pas if you used the expression specifically in relation to LGBTQ matters, and if you were saying that it was them who had been "set straight", though it would have to be a really unfortunate phrasing.

If anything, it's just as likely to be used humorously as part of a pro-LGBTQ statement as anything else. In fact it very often is. Too often, just on the "it was funnier the first time" count. I'm pretty sure Navratilova used it jokingly when she came out in 1981. That was over 30 years ago, and it's not like she was the first.

So yeah, if you're actually writing a speech for Pride or something, please try to think of a more original joke.

But "setting straight" when it's you who was "set straight" by them is going to be pretty safe, unless it's said with some sort of sneer.

For all that, if you don't know them well, and it's a short communiqué like an e-mail (notorious for losing nuance), then your edit was perhaps a good idea, just to be completely on the safe side. Still, I wouldn't bother. It's just that in any case where you think something could be misconstrued, then it's always safer to rewrite than not rewrite, especially in short messages, whether you're wondering "is there a chance of this being misconstrued in a way that gives offence" or "is there a chance of this being misconstrued as tomorrow rather than the next Wednesday", or whatever.

Really, the word straight has so many well-known useful senses that those of us who are queer can't really get by with only using it to mean heterosexual, so we generally don't expect straight people to either.

For that matter, if there was one sense in which I would like it to be magically removed from the language, it's that meaning of heterosexual, given that so many of the other senses are positive in relation to an alternative. But since there really isn't any alternative non-pejorative informal term for heterosexuals of similar currency, that's not going to happen any time soon.

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Agree with everything there except I don't like the idea of avoiding using "straight" in this way just to be on the safe side. I don't have a problem with the evolution of word meanings per se, but it should at least be driven by people's actual feelings about them rather than by other people's fears about what their feelings might be. Against that, there's the fact that "gay" and "queer" have both virtually lost their original meanings, so in the name of equality maybe it's about time that a "hetero" word did too. –  Rupe Jun 10 at 23:03
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But then again, being unable to use the word "straight" to mean other things is going to be disruptive in the fields of maths and sat-navs. –  Rupe Jun 10 at 23:05
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Once we go down that path of no return, just think of all the potheads, slackers, and career criminals (that’s three different things, not one) whom one might similarly risk offending if one were so imprudent as to mention “setting them straight”. Far too many eggshells to tippy-toe around if you ask me; I can never keep track of who is going to be offended by what. –  tchrist Jun 10 at 23:18
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So your advice would be that people muzzle themselves rather than risk offending someone by using a word that historically far predates someone's flavor-of-the-month usage and has, in fact, multiple innocuous meanings? I can draw a "straight" line from that to language totalitarianism. –  Robusto Jun 10 at 23:31
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This whole discussion rather reminds me of the periodic furore over the use of the word "niggardly" (summary on WP). Basically, while I of course agree that one should avoid unnecessarily offending people, I think that to try to predict and avoid every unreasonable interpretation of a term is not necessary and amounts to overpoliticizing one's ordinary speech. –  Oleksandr R. Jun 11 at 1:55

To set someone straight, has a clear and unambiguous meaning:

To correct (someone) by providing full and accurate information.

It carries no connotation to sexual attitude. But if used as a pun it might result offensive and to avoid misunderstanding I think it is advisable to use the expression carefully.

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I'm a poof - and yes I'm happy to call myself that (as an Australian I'm pretty relaxed about that stuff) – and I wouldn't even think twice about someone "setting me straight" if I knew they obviously weren't referring to my sexuality. Otherwise, what do we call a useable beam of wood? Non-bent? Lacking in curves? Come onnnnn ...

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Be careful when using "lacking in curves" writing to a female carpenter, though. –  Raphael Jun 11 at 7:49
    
Are you happy about the modern usage of 'gay' in the sense [UD] gay 3. often used to describe something stupid or unfortunate? I myself wasn't too happy when the original sense was swamped by the more usual modern sense. These things may be offensive to some people and not to others. As we don't even have a grammar pope to tell us if we should use 'It is I' rather than 'It's me' (though some people pretend to the job), who is able too make a true decision on 'what is offensive'? –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 11 at 9:03
    
The adoption of "gay" in slang is not modern. As well as tipsy, it was used thus: (Of women) leading an immoral, or a harlot’s, life: 1825 Westmacott –  Phil M Jones Jun 11 at 13:18

protected by tchrist Jul 2 at 2:34

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