You are in your workplace. Your father is visiting you. He sees one of your coworkers and asks you:
Who is the suit?
Is the word "suit" offensive in this context?
A usage of this : http://youtu.be/y8rzt-vj2gU?t=3m17s
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This is synecdoche, and it is curt and slangy, and probably derogatory. Keep in mind that mildly derogatory slang terms can be used affectionately as well. A similar example comes to mind: say you're the driver to a ski trip? You might be referred to as "the wheels." It's derogatory in the sense that that's now your purpose, flattering in the sense that your pals trust you with the role, or think you are good with it, etc.
When you use synecdoche like this, you are saying that being a suit or the wheels is the person's only relevant function.
Collins defines "suit" as:
- (slang) a person wearing a suit; specif., a business executive or a bureaucrat (usually a term of mild derision)
So, yes, it is somewhat offensive.
Suit is slang for an executive - one who has to come to work in a suit.
While it isn't "offensive," it is typically used by someone who does not identify himself as an executive, nor is it overly affectionate. It is by no means derogatory - the person is admitting he is not "a suit" by it isn't something I'd actually say to the executive myself.
Suit is offensive
The reason it is offensive is because it gives the impression that all they are is the suit they wear. A "suit" is an executive who, in the speaker's eyes, is nothing more than an empty suit. The person inside the suit is unimportant.
Someone who uses this term would feel comfortable treating several "suits" interchangeably, because to them, a "suit" is not a person, its merely a machine performing a role in business.
If you've ever watched the TV show, "White Collar," you know that the quirky character Mozzie (played by Willie Garson) refers to the FBI agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) as "The Suit" and his co-workers/fellow agents by variations of the phrase: Agent Jones is called "The Junior Suit," Agent Diana Berrigan is called "The Lady Suit," Agent Kimberly Rice, who is seen as hard & aggressive, is called "The Pants-Suit," a superior officer is "The Super Suit"...Agent Burke's wife Elizabeth is called "Mrs. Suit"...
The main character, con man/forger/thief-turned-criminal informant Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), who gets his sentence shortened by helping the "suits" catch other criminals, has a lot of fun playing against Peter's uptight, strait-laced, by-the-book officer-of-the-law, and as his partner-in-crime, Mozzie loves tweaking Peter's calm demeanor & pushing his buttons...Eventually through the 6 seasons, these three form an unlikely comraderie, and soon a genuine friendship as they bring down the bad guys & try to keep Neal out of jail or from being killed...
In one episode, Mozzie, who holds an online degree from some unknown "divinity school" (he also has an online law degree), officiates Peter & Elizabeth's renewal of their wedding vows, ending with, "I now pronounce you 'Suit' and 'Mrs. Suit'"...
In another episode, the three go to an old stone fort to find clues to a case, and Mozzie develops a fever from being poisoned by a female criminal they are chasing...At one moment as he begins to deteriorate, Mozzie slips and refers to Peter by his first name...Neal asks, "Did you just call him 'Peter'?" Mozzie answers, "Who? The Suit?" Mozzie is eventually taken to a hospital and his life is saved...
In this show, the term "suit" thus becomes a term of affection, friendship and respect...
Any word used with contempt can be offensive, but two things must occur for this to be the case.
1) The speaker meant offense.
2) The subject felt offended.
Both must occur. If the speaker meant offense, but the subject wasn't offended, then no offense occurred. If the subject was offended, but the speaker didn't mean offense, it is up to the subject to speak up for clarification and absolution of intent, or the offense is moot.
Again, this is true for most words. In this instance, and in the case of most English speaking countries, the term 'suit' while 'mildly derisive' generally will not cause offense in the subject. In effect, even if your Father was meaning to insult, most (nearly all to a very small percent) won't take it as such, therefore, in that context, it was not offensive.
There should also be mentioned the situations where the speaker means insult while the subject cannot participate in the conversation. The term "offense," in this context, is defined by:
annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one's standards or principles.
Therefore, again, the while 'speaking ill' of someone without their being part of the conversation is considered 'bad form,' is it not actually offensive, or offending.