I received a mail from a colleague saying that he had noticed that I am a delinquent for not filing something in time. I found it offensive. Is it alright to use the delinquent for someone who has missed doing a particular task? Is it polite and professional to do so in formal communication?

  • The colleague is using "delinquent" in its meaning of "negligent by omission". It is quite formal and not common in BE.
    – Greybeard
    Jul 10 '21 at 10:54
  • Did the colleague say you "are delinquent" or "are a delinquent"? These two uses have different connotations.
    – nnnnnn
    Jul 10 '21 at 22:48

You are misinterpreting the usage.

According to Dictionary.com, the definition of delinquent is:

  1. failing in or neglectful of a duty or obligation; guilty of a misdeed or offense.
  2. (of an account, tax, debt, etc.) past due; overdue.

Or from Merriam-Webster:

2: being overdue in payment

Your colleague is not calling you a troublemaker or law breaker. They are saying that the item you were supposed to file is late (definition 2). When used to mean past due or late, the word is not offensive or rude.

It is very common to say something like "Your time sheet is delinquent, please submit it immediately." Or if you don't pay a credit card or loan payment on time, then that payment is considered delinquent. It is quite common in professional settings and your colleague is not insulting you.

  • Still bit confused: Saying that "Your time sheet is delinquent, please submit it immediately." is the indication to meaning #2: "being overdue in payment" , however saying "you are delinquent.." would mean meaning number 1 ("guilty of misdeed/offense" as per Dictionary.com. In which case it is judgmental and can be unfounded opinion, instead of a fact, which is former.
    – rakesh
    Oct 12 '17 at 6:59
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    I'll simplify it: Delinquent has two different meanings. 1. A person who commits crimes or causes trouble. 2. Something or someone that is late. Your colleague is using definition 2. They are saying the paper you need to file is late. You said you found it offensive because you think this person is calling you a bad person or rule breaker (definition 1). But you should not be offended. The 2nd definition of delinquent is not an offensive word and your colleague is not being rude to you.
    – KumaAra
    Oct 12 '17 at 7:02
  • @rakesh Sorry, did they way you were a delinquent? Oct 12 '17 at 10:43
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    When a term with more than one meaning is used, one sense may be so offensive that it renders the use of the word in all senses (where the wording doesn't clearly disambiguate) inappropriate. Feb 26 '20 at 17:49
  • Just a fun fact: for Germans this is a false friend: there a delinquent is mostly someone taken into custody by the police for an offense (or tongue-in-cheek for pupils going to the head of school etc.) Feb 26 '20 at 20:01

It sounds like you're delinquent in "action" is being used as opposed to you are "a" delinquent in personal character, which changes the entire context of the sentence. The use of the word "a" alters the impact delinquent carries.


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