When I checked out answers for this question, one of the answers starts by saying :

While those might mean the same for the laymen, from a medical point of view, there is a difference between illness and sickness.

I don't mean, is this sentence offensive; people don't have to know the difference from the medical point of view. But can this word be used in a offensive way to refer to a theory which says most of the people in a country are uneducated and don't care about much what going on around the world is?

How about my sentences– are they correct (no offense intended)

The laymen in Europe can't say the difference between the Council of Europe and the European Council.

This new tax policy mostly effects a layman's life in bad way, not nobles.

Can layman be replaced with "ordinary people on the street"?

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    I don't find the word offensive in your examples. It could be mildly offensive in a sentence like "Bob is relatively well informed, for a layman." Particularly if it is a group of experts discussing, and the speaker wants to emphasize that Bob doesn't deserve expert status. Even that might not be offensive, if the speaker is commending Bob for having a rare skill usually found only among well trained people. Depending on the context. And how long a pause you make before "for a layman". Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 9:06
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    Unless you have a very unusual tax policy in mind or are talking about something from history, nobles is probably not the word you want to use; it means literal, knights-and-earls titled aristocrats. Consider using the wealthy, or elites, instead.
    – user8399
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 11:40
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    As a software developer, I often experience the reverse: people refer to "programmers" and "normal people", implying that I, as a programmer, am not normal. That is kind of offensive. Being called a layman is not; it merely means that I'm not an expert - as long as that's true, I see no reason to be offended. Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 13:27
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    Possible duplicate of english.stackexchange.com/questions/224241/… Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 20:41
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    How can it be a duplicate of a question on a different site?
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 3:19

3 Answers 3


I don't think 'layman' is an offensive term by any account. If you go by OALD, it says...

a person who does not have expert knowledge of a particular subject

So, the term 'layperson' separates a common person from an expert. And, being a 'common man' here does not offend you or me at all.

The example down there puts light on it

a book written for professionals and laymen alike

But I do think that replacing it with 'ordinary' may get a few (including me) some note of offensiveness. I'd use common over ordinary.

However it may be worth noting that (at least in British English) 'layperson' seems to be the more accepted term, likely due to maintaining gender neutrality.

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    mildly offensive in my opinion.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 9:14
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    @Kyle it depends on the context. If people are talking about how knowledgeable a person is, and you comment that they're ordinary and nothing special, that's rude. However, I don't see any other possible contexts wherein it would be considered impolite, let alone offensive.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 11:31
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    Watch out - for some people "common" can be offensive, as it can be used to mean typical of a low social class.
    – psmears
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 12:53
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    In this case (layman vs nobles), commoner indeed means of a low social class. While nobles may be laymen (and even ordinary), they can never be commoners. I think commoner may be the best word for that situation.
    – SBoss
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 13:19
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    I think a valid takeaway from this is that the word itself is not inherently offensive, but it is easy to use it to pigeonhole someone, declaring that their opinion is "worthless" because it's not an expert opinion. All words have this capacity to offend, of course, but it would be easier to accomplish with some words like "layman." I'd put it in the same category as using "grownups" to offend with the phrase "Shh. Go over there and play. The grownups are doing grownup things." (especially when spoken to a legal adult)
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 15:04

Layman is not an insult or slur, but, like others have pointed out, it can sometimes be insulting to say that someone isn't a subject-matter expert.

Meanwhile, I'm more concerned that you're using layman in cases where it isn't appropriate, lexically. It doesn't just mean an ordinary person. A layman is the opposite of an expert (or, originally, a priest), not a nobleman or other elite. A person is a layman only in relation to a certain kind of ordination or expertise.

  • 1
    Opposite is too strong, I would say it contrasts. A layperson is not idiotic or impaired, but is merely not an expert of said subject / profession. Commonly its usage is in reference to the knowledge or experience typical of the average person.
    – mctylr
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 19:16
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    I'm not sure I agree with your criterion for opposite. The opposite of a soldier is a civilian, not a deserter.
    – user8399
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 22:11

I don't find your sentences offensive but I don't find them correct either.

First sentence:

The laymen in Europe can't say the difference The Council of Europe and The European Council.

First of all, this is missing the word 'between', and we normally refer to 'telling the difference', not 'saying the difference'. Also, convention is to use the singular when referring to a generic person like this, as in 'The common man' or 'The man on the street'. So I would rewrite this as:

The layman in Europe can't tell the difference between The Council of Europe and The European Council.

As Maulik says, the word 'layman' means someone who lacks expert knowledge in a particular subject. However, if there's no obvious area of expertise being referred to (such as medicine in your first example) I would assume that 'layman' is being used in its original sense of a non-ordained member of the Catholic church. So this sentence needs some context to explain what kind of expert you mean (unless you really are talking about Catholics).

Students of European politics know the function of all the different councils, but the layman can't tell the difference between The Council of Europe and The European Council.

Second sentence:

This new tax policy mostly effects a layman's life in bad way, not nobles.

I believe you want 'affects' here (a very common mistake from native speakers as well). I would say 'negatively affects' rather than 'affects in a bad way', to make it easier to tidy up the final clause and use the singular rather than plural for both people.

This new tax policy mostly negatively affects a layman's life, not a noble's.

I wouldn't use the word 'layman' here though, because it doesn't just mean an ordinary person. Being a noble doesn't mean having an area of expertise that others don't. The appropriate word here is 'commoner'

This new tax policy mostly negatively affects a commoner's life, not a noble's.

  • Do you think a student is more liteary than a layman? I assume a layman is already working in an area of expertise.
    – kyle
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 11:55
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    English-speaking Catholics would say "lay person".
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 12:22
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    Frankly, I'd be surprised if most people thought of the Catholic specific meaning when encountering a bare reference to "layman". If a field is not specified, most would assume "a person without expert knowledge in a field relevant to the subject".
    – Kaithar
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 13:36
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    @TRomano are you saying there would be a space in there? Is that only because "lay person" is a reference to laity as opposed to just "lay"?
    – Brad
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 18:38
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    @Brad: I wasn't commenting on the spelling (compound or two words) but on the choice of noun. Catholics tend to use "lay person" (or layperson) rather than "layman" as the noun that means "not a member of the clergy".
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 18:45

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