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My colleague, a relatively young school teacher, prefers not to use e-mails. He is digitally absent.

During a recent teacher's meeting, while I appreciated his efforts towards content development, I also called him "old school". (associating a sense of pride in being Old School)

I can tell, the comment has made a difference, our relation has dived south.

  • Is calling someone "old school"- offending/derogatory?
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    It's certainly got that connotation nowadays (though how many people does it take to prove a connotation?) 'Dinosaur' has a non-pejorative meaning (its main sense!), but ... Feb 13, 2015 at 17:18
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    It depends on the context. It can be an insult, a compliment, or even neutral.
    – bib
    Feb 13, 2015 at 17:19
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    I get called old school all the time. I take it as a compliment.
    – Chenmunka
    Feb 13, 2015 at 17:25
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    What's most interesting to me here is the expression, "dived north" I assume this is the same as my more usual "gone south" but I've never heard it before.
    – Jim
    Feb 13, 2015 at 17:33
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    To call someone who avoids using email "old school" would not be particularly insulting in the US -- it's a reasonable description. If instead you used the term because the individual adhered to a moral standard and refused to participate in chicanery, that would be insulting.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 13, 2015 at 18:30

7 Answers 7

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The safest answer is: Yes. There is a very strong derogatory flavour often associated with the noun-as-adjective. According to this article from The Age:

To say something is "old school" has become a pejorative [usage]. It implies out-of-date thinking.

This association is not guaranteed to be assumed by a listener or intended by a speaker, but the term should only be used with great caution, carefully thought out contextualisation.

If one includes the views of the former Google Dictionary, the situation with connotations is seen to be bipolar:

old school: used, usually approvingly, to refer to someone or something that is old-fashioned or traditional.

But better safe than sorry (and I suspect that a younger audience might rather assume the pejorative nuance).

I once complimented a speaker on the way he communicated in such an acceptable, gentle (though not weak) manner. It's hard to give compliments without sounding mushy or patronising (I find). However, my 'You're an expert at hedging' wasn't exactly the best way I could have phrased it.

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    I think it's very much situation dependent. In situations where it's clear that doing it the "old" way is bad, then it can be construed as derogatory. But in situations where doing it the "old" way is considered better, more thorough, more careful, etc. then it should be taken as a compliment. For example, when listening to vinyl and someone says, "Now, that's old school man!" I wouldn't take that as a being derogatory at all.
    – Jim
    Feb 13, 2015 at 17:31
  • Yes; I've put in a mitigation. I assumed OP was asking 'Is there a possibility he's taken this as a put-down? A largish one?' Feb 13, 2015 at 17:37
  • @EdwinAshworth, that's it- he's taken my calling him "old school" as a put-down. Feb 13, 2015 at 18:58
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It could be taken either way, or as a neutral, matter-of-fact description, depending on context:

Urban Dictionary:

Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect. Can be used to refer to music, clothing, language, or anything really.

Client: We have three PC's running MS-Dos 6.
Consultant: Shi'...that's old school.

Oxford Dictionaries

Used, usually approvingly, to refer to someone or something that is old-fashioned or traditional:

amenities that my parents, being of the old school, still take for granted'

The Online Slang Dictionary

Old. Used when describing something you remember from a long time ago like in the 80's or early 90s.

To do something in a way that is more in line with traditional technique/style rather than modern or progressive style

Old fashioned, out of style, uncool. Opposite of "new school," which is hip, with it, in fashion.

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  • MS-Dos 6 would be something looked upon with high regard or respect.? Feb 14, 2015 at 0:29
  • @FrerichRaabe: Someone who lived through it might! Feb 14, 2015 at 3:14
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    +1 for context sensitivity. A younger person calling an older person it, is more likely to be taken well than an older person using it on a younger person: in the latter case, it suggests sarcasm and possibly insinuates that the younger is pretentiously affecting an old-school manner. If someone is sensitive of their own technical incompetence, then even speaking of it admiringly can be seen as scornful. Feb 14, 2015 at 6:22
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The old school is any group of people who are traditionalists: they do things the way they've been done in the past.

It’s a term with pride woven around it.

  • However, considering the situation- the teacher's meeting- the young guy did not buy your compliment.
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When someone calls themselves "old school", it usually means something positive. It means that they consider themselves diligent, conscientious, and honest in contrast to the perceived tendency of the younger generation to avoid hard work and to find an "easy way out." When you call somebody else "old school", the possibility of offensiveness depends on the context, specifically whether you said something positive or negative about them. Some examples - You could say: "Your handwriting is excellent-you're old school!" and that would be a compliment. Or you could say: "You don't know how to use current technology-you're old school." That would be offensive. Some relationship advice: Why don't you tell your colleague what specifically you want him to do? So instead of telling him that "there's something wrong with him" for not using digital communication technology, tell him that "the school needs this report and that response in computer form because those are the guidelines, thanks for your understanding. We'll be happy to help if you need help with this and that software."

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At least in AE, no, it is not derogatory. It is almost always used with a sense of admiration or appreciation.

That being said, for every phrase in the English language, there is at least one person who will find it offensive. This person may have his own issues about being seen as old or out of touch.

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The term "Old School" is positive. Describing someone this way implies that they haven't suffered from the same degeneration as the rest of society; that they still have the values of an earlier generation.

"Old School" implies that you have retained something good that others have lost, not the other way round. Failing to adopt modern methods of communication is just rude to your colleagues. It makes them have to go to extra effort to deal with you. The fact that you have drawn attention to this is more probably the cause of your damaged relationship than the way you said it.

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Towards the end of the animated feature "The Incredibles", after Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone have defeated the enemy's very powerful robot, two old guys (at least one was meant to represent a famous old cartoonist -- and voiced by him) have a brief conversation over what they just witnessed. One says, "Now that's old school!" The other responds "And there's no school like the old school!" And they both chuckle.

I'd say its largely up to factors outside of the pure words. How it's meant may be conveyed by tone of voice and facial and other expression. Of course it's also conveyed by the milieu: in a given societal context, "old school" might always be a pejorative. In another, it might be the opposite.

Your friend is too sensitive, which suggests a problem with self-confidence. Not to psychoanalyze.

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