A New York high school teacher was fined $15,000 for using the word "cono" numerous times in class. Sounds harmless—and it can be, depending on which group of people you're using it with—but the word literally is a reference to female sexual organs, according to the Royal Spanish Academy. However, according to that same academy, it can also express "diverse states of emotion, especially surprise or anger." Depending on which ethnic group is using the word, it can range in offensiveness from "damn" to "f***," the AP reports.
Carlos Garcia is suing the city over the fine and suspension he received, and claims he never used the word (one student testified that he used it up to three times a week or more). But even if he had, Garcia is from the Dominican Republic, where the word is widely accepted as harmless slang, and can express anything from joy to sympathy. "El cono is used for everything," says one Dominican-born worker, but an Ecuadorean warns that "if you don't know the person, you can't use [the word] with him."