06/23/2015 02:36 pm ET Updated Jun 23, 2016

The Most 'Inappropriate' Word in the English Language

What if Hitler had referred to Germany's 1939 invasion of Poland as an "inappropriate" act of aggression? Or if Bill Cosby had referred to his alleged rape of a dozen women as an "inappropriate" manifestation of his sex drive? Or if NFL player Ray Rice had referred to having cold-cocked his fiancé in an elevator as an "inappropriate" response to the woman's nagging?

Obviously, while these are fairly extreme examples of the misuse of the word, they're not that farfetched -- not really, not when you consider how pathetically that particular word is regularly used by politicians and celebrities to mitigate disgraceful behavior.

When New York Congressman Anthony Weiner was discovered to have taken photographs of his penis and emailed them to women who weren't his wife, instead of describing this bizarre and impulsive act as "stupidly adolescent" or "batshit crazy," he referred to it as "inappropriate." Not only is that a bastardization of the English language, it is pitifully self-serving

Let's take a moment to ask ourselves a simple question. How would we react if we were to turn on our smart phone and find a photograph of the business end of a penis staring at us. Would we (A) scream in horror, (B) report the incident to the authorities, or (C) say, "Wow, that is so inappropriate."

Earlier this week the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham was forced to resign his pastorship in a large Florida church when it was revealed that he had been having sexual relations with a woman who wasn't his wife. In his resignation remarks, he confessed to having been unfaithful and referred to his relationship with this woman as "inappropriate."

Of course, syntactically, use of the word "inappropriate" suggests that there must necessarily be some form of corresponding "appropriate" behavior. For example, a financial officer of a company who is caught embezzling funds might contritely describe his actions as "dishonest," implying that the corresponding "honest" behavior would have involved NOT stealing.

I was at a seminar where one of the participants refused to stop talking about a persistent workplace problem, even though the purpose of this seminar was to discuss a different topic. Unfortunately, because he ignored repeated warnings to shut up, he was reprimanded for "inappropriate" behavior. The term was accurate. Bringing up his topic in another setting would've been fine, it would have been "appropriate," but not here and not now.

But in Weiner's case, what would have been considered "appropriate"? Under what conditions would photographing your penis and sending it to people be deemed "appropriate"? If it were sent to your wife on Valentine's Day with a ribbon wrapped around it? Maybe. If it were sent to your family doctor or urologist? ("Hey, Doc, check out my foreskin. Does it look normal to you?"). Probably not.

Or in Graham's grandson's case, what would have constituted "appropriate" behavior with this woman? Shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries, perhaps even exchanging a courtesy hug? Absolutely. Two people engaging in a friendly hug will always be considered totally appropriate. But moving on to the next step, say the "missionary position," will always be considered "inappropriate"? Good tip.