I don’t remember exactly how old I was the first time I heard one of my classmates hurl “You’re adopted” at another as an insult. But I was old enough to know two things: First, that my parents’ process of adopting me was long, complicated, and emotionally exhausting—not to mention expensive; and second, that some kids’ parents euphemistically called them “surprises.” To my young mind, being adopted meant being desperately wanted and prayed for; some of my friends had little siblings who joined their families purely by accident, but I was a long-awaited miracle. So when I heard a kid my own age sneer at a classmate, “You’re adopted,” I was bewildered.
It was the first of many times I would hear it. “You’re adopted” has long been a popular insult or pejorative, used by schoolkids on playgrounds and by older siblings to taunt younger ones. It’s even been the basis for movie punch lines: In 2004’s Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, Vince Vaughn’s character taunts an opposing dodgeball team composed of young girls with “You’re adopted! Your parents don’t even love you,” and a controversial laugh line in 2012’s The Avengers has Chris Hemsworth’s Thor distancing himself from his brother Loki’s murderous tendencies by quipping, “He’s adopted.” (Loki was, in fact, adopted, a story that plays out in another film in the franchise.) “You’re adopted” has also enjoyed continued popularity online as a retort or rejection.