20 Words Men Use That Always Make Women Cringe

These are ones that will definitely get her panties in a twist.

Given the political climate we live in today, it behooves (very underrated verb) any modern gentleman extra thought and care into the language that he uses when addressing a lady. The curse words, of course, go without saying. But we've taken the liberty to create a list of some terms that, while not overtly offensive, are certain to make any woman cringe, and are therefore best avoided. And for more advice on how to speak to the opposite sex in today's world, check out 17 Things No Man Should Say to a Woman.


woman cringing

When your sweet old granny asks if you remembered to "pack your panties," it's OK, but coming out of the mouth of a man, it is incomparably creepy. That's probably because the word has acquired a sort of infantilizing one (in fact, the first known use of the word, according to the Oxford English dictionary, was in a 1908 instruction manual for making the underwear on doll's clothes). Avoid this word at all costs. And for more things you shouldn't say, here are the 40 Words That Will Instantly Reveal Your True Age. 


babe the pig

When used by your significant other in an almost ironic context, it's OK, but in any other context it comes across and infantilizing and therefore demeaning. It's also somehow worse than "baby," probably because the last thing you want is to feel like you're being compared to a pig unnaturally good at herding sheep. And for more fascinating facts about language, here are the 25 Most Commonly Misspelled Words in America. 


skeleton key

Even though it's common to be addressed this way from, say, servers down in the South, without any particularly demeaning connotation, it feels a bit outdated in 2018. Plus, it has the odd quality of making the woman it's addressed to feel insanely old. And for the lighter side of language, don't miss the 30 Hilarious Words for Everyday Problems.



Anyone who was around for the #banbossy movement, has read Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, or seen any episode of Netflix's "Girl Boss" should know by now that women are really not cool with the way men are labeled "powerful" and "competent" when they take charge at work, whereas women are accused of being "bossy."



Like "babe," this one is OK if it's got the stamp of approval between both parties in a relationship, but it comes across as demeaning when used solely by a man addressing a woman, particularly one he doesn't know very well. And for more words you're probably not using, here are the 100 Slang Terms From the 20th Century No One Uses Anymore.


woman disapproves

Yes, you should cut all of the refined sugar out of both your diet and your language ASAP. And for more smart ways to communicate with the opposite sex, don't miss the 50 Things Single People Wish You'd Stop Saying.


tootsie owl

Nowadays, Hooters is obviously associated with a fast food chain that not only wantonly objectifies women but also serves audaciously overpriced fast food. It is also associated, as a result, with owls. Neither of these are very appearling.

Interestingly enough, "hooters" first appeared as a slang term for breasts in the 1960s, back when it when it was used to refer to car horns, which were similar in their bulbous shape. The kind of guy who uses the word "hooters" is not the kind of fella women exactly flock to. And for more things not to say, guys, here are the 40 Things No Man Over 40 Should Ever Say.


40s film noir

If you're familiar with '40s film noir, you'll recognize this as a popular slang term for shapely female legs. It seems like compliment, because it was only ever used when the "gams" in question were beautiful, and Clark Gable famously used the term to describe Rita Hayworth's long, lean legs.

The etymology of the term, though debated, seems to come from the Middle English word "gamb" to denote the "leg of an animal on a coat of arms." Again, any word that compares a woman to a heifer is not going to get you far. And, anyway, you can't really pull this word off unless you're wearing a trench coat and a fedora in a black and white film.


mrs. doubtfire

Unless you are an 80-year-old grandmother, this is never a good way to address a woman. And Robin Williams extra-ruined it by using the word gratuitously in the hilarious but somewhat creepy film Mrs. Doubtfire.


my fair lady

Once a great term of endearment, this now carries the faint whiff of Victorian England chauvinism and has therefore been ruined forever. And for more culture mainstays that have run their course, check out these 15 Best Picture Oscar Winners Nobody Likes Anymore.

Ada Lovelace in ITV drama


When a man says this, it's usually at least partially in jest, and then it's OK. But there are guys out there who think they'll come off as princes if they use Cinderella slang and/or introduce themselves to a woman by kissing your hand while maintaining eye contact, and it's definitely cringeworthy.


britney spears cringe

Experts at Oberlin College once asked 500 women what their most hated words were, and this one was very close to the top. It forces you to constrict your mouth in a kind of weird way and has a hard "T" at the end that makes the whole word sound like ketchup coming out of a bottle and hitting a wall. Yes, ultra cringeworthy. And for what you should say, check out the 20 Things She Always Wants You to Say. 


woman cringing

In the same Oberlin survey, "flap" came up over and over again, probably because it so often refers to extraneous female body parts. Guys, when you say it, it's as if you're triggering the "cringe" part of the brain directly.


Madison Avenue - Don't Call Me Baby

Chunky was another "no-no" in the Oberlin survey, and it's easy to see why. In addition to being insulting as it's usually a euphemism for "fat," it makes women sound like food, a la "I'll have a bowl of that nice, chunky clam chowder."



Women typically first hear that word when they get their first period kit, instructing them to be aware of an "odorless, whiteish, watery substance" that will precede the onset of menstruation. It sounded gross the first time, not least of all because it sounds like something in your body is getting laid off from work, or oil coming out of a broken machine, and it's even worse as an adult. Like the 40 Things No One Should Ever Say at Work, it's best to avoid this word at all costs.


Howe Caverns

Maybe it's because it sounds so much like "cervix," a body party you only ever hear about when going in for a pap smear, something about this word that makes it sound like you're scraping the inside of a cave, which then evokes some weird imagery. It's another fan non-favorite in the Oberlin study, and best to avoid.


chrissy teigen grimace at the golden globes

This word is infamously hated all around, so much so that when The New Yorker asked readers to nominate a word to scrub from the English language in 2012, the overwhelming majority voted for moist.

Researchers from Oberlin College in Ohio and Trinity University in San Antonio even ran a few experiments to figure out why people hated the word so much, and it turns out that it's mostly because of the association the word has with sexual juices. When the word was paired with "cake," for example, people didn't mind it, but when paired with genitals, it just grosses people out. Put it together with "panties" and you've got a grimace double whammy there.


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Women are not pastries, and any term that makes them sound like a dessert also tends to be infantilizing and reminiscent of that terrible nursery rhyme that says girls are made of "sugar and spice and everything nice," because women reserve the right to be plenty spicy and salty when they want to.

Little Lady

surrey with a fringe on top

Are you a cowboy taking a 19-year-old in a bonnet out for a ride in your surrey with a fringe on top? No? Then pass.


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A lot of the women that I spoke to indicated that "boobs" is the only real acceptable term if you're feeling at all slangy here. While this isn't the case with "thighs," there's something about "breasts" that makes you think of the frozen chicken that you peruse at the supermarket, and that's just weird.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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