The Only Thing That’s Toxic Is Calling Things “Toxic”

Especially when they’re not things but people

Niklas Göke
5 min readJul 14, 2021


Photo by Mark Sivewright on Unsplash

If you haven’t heard, femininity is toxic. Masculinity is too. So are feminism, individualism, and positivity. Spirituality is toxic, as is your family, and many other things that end on y. Diet culture, the friend zone, even digital design — life is one giant nest of snakes.

Your boyfriend is probably toxic. Or girlfriend. Your friends surely are. And your boss? Definitely. Even your UX manager might be toxic. Didn’t see that coming, did ya? Your coworkers, on the other hand…that’s obvious.

Your habits are toxic, and so is your ego. Throw in your personality for good measure. Don’t get me started on your parenting. That is the worst. How you review code is toxic. So is your interrupting, and literally everything you do in relationships. You’re basically oozing venom! Maybe you should start a chemical business.

In truth, the only thing that’s toxic is calling things toxic left, right, and center — especially when the “things” you talk about are actually human beings. “Toxic” is a terrible word, and, plainly, not an adjective you should ever use to describe anyone.

While I am proud to only have used the word “toxic” twice in headlines in seven years of writing (and thank god they both flopped), I too had to learn this lesson the hard way. Just in April, I tweeted this: “The only thing that’s worse than cutting out a toxic person too late is giving up on a good one too soon.” Thankfully, David Majister pointed out I was wrong: “There’s no such thing as a toxic person,” he said. “That idea demeans alls our humanity.”

Initially, I thought his comment was the result of Twitter’s low-context environment. “I didn’t mean toxic in general, of course. Just that certain people are bad for you at certain times.” Or so I thought. After two months of gestation and a line from a friend, however, I realize David was right: “Some people hurt us, don’t jive well with us, whatever. That doesn’t mean they’re toxic, poisonous, or anything like that. They’re a person, just like you.”

The word “toxic” goes back to ancient Greek: “Toxon” means “bow” — and archers often used poisoned arrows. Why such a roundabout definition…



Niklas Göke

I write for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists. Read my daily blog here: