Words at Play

Campus Reform, a Conservative website, recently featured a story about a guide on the University of New Hampshire website that lists biased words and phrases along with appropriate substitutes. One of the words is “American,” which implies, so the guide says, that we are the only Americans in the Americas. Using “U. S. citizen” is one way to correct that bias.

When the existence of the guide was brought to the attention of Mark Huddleston, the president of UNH, he had it removed from the University’s website. “While individuals on our campus have every right to express themselves,” he said, “I want to make it absolutely clear that the views expressed in this guide are NOT the policy of the University of New Hampshire. I am troubled by many things in the language guide, especially the suggestion that the use of the term ‘American’ is misplaced or offensive.” Though the guide no longer appears on the UNH website, you can find many other websites where the same sort of guides appear.

Here are some of the words I found at various websites that some consider inappropriate along with suggested substitutions:

  • “Bat-keeper” instead of “batboy”
  • “Snow figure” instead of “snowman”
  • “Gender” instead of “Sex” on information request forms
  • “His or her” instead of “his” when referring to people who may either be male or female
  • “Chairperson” or simply “chair” instead of “chairman”
  • “Person with epilepsy” instead of “epileptic”
  • “Older adult” instead of “senior citizen”
  • “Developmentally disabled” or “cognitively disabled” instead of “retarded”
  • “Asian” instead of “oriental”
  • “Craftsperson” (or “potter,” “weaver,” etc.) instead of “craftsman”
  • “Inuk” instead of “Eskimo”
  • “Roma” instead of “gypsy”
  • “Bellhop” instead of “bellboy”
  • “Lesbian” or “gay man” instead of “homosexual”
  • “American Indian” or “native American” instead of “Indian”
  • “Jewish person” instead of “Jew”
  • “Layperson” or “non-specialist” instead of “layman”
  • “Staff hours,” “staff time,” or “work time” instead of “man hours”
  • “Manufactured,” “fabricated,” or “constructed” instead of “manmade”
  • “Parenting” or “nurturing” instead of “mothering” or “fathering”
  • “Intermediary” instead of “middleman”
  • “Conjoined twins” instead of “Siamese twins”
  • “Flight attendant” instead of “stewardess”
  • “Server” instead of “waiter” or “waitress”
  • “Uses a wheelchair” or “is wheelchair mobile” instead of “ is wheelchair-bound”
  • “U. S. citizen” or “resident of the United States” instead of “American”
  • “Person seeking asylum” or “refugee” instead of “illegal alien”
  • “International people” instead of “foreigners”
  • “Person who lacks advantages that others have” instead of “poor”
  • “People of material wealth” instead of “rich”
  • “Person of size” instead of “obese”
  • “Non-disabled instead of “healthy” (I’ve read of one “disabled” person who referred to healthy people as “temporarily enabled”)
  • “The average person” or “ordinary people” instead of “the common man”
  • “Staff the . . .” instead of “man the . . .”
  • “Y’all” instead of “guys”

The Bias-Free Word Finder: A Dictionary of Nondiscriminatory Language by Rosalie Maggio, goes even further than the UNH guide. Edward Lipman, writing for Commentary Magazine, suggests that Maggio is a bit too zealous.

Diane Ravitch, author of The Language Police, wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal about the extremes to which some (including textbook authors and test designers) go in order to avoid offending anyone.

Lest you think that altering or excising words that someone perceives as offensive is a new phenomenon, I suggest that you consider the case of Thomas Bowdler (1754 – 1825) who, along with his sister, edited Shakespeare’s plays to make them fit for women and children and published the “bowdlerized” result as The Family Shakespeare.

— — — — —


NPR recently published 51 colloquialisms (one from each state and the District of Columbia) that can be found in the multivolume Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). Be sure to check out the links in the NPR article.

 — — — — —

 There is a new version of Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary at The Verge that includes some words that would have been totally unfamiliar to Mr. Bierce. One of those words (though I’m not sure I like it) is “blogger”:

blogger (n.): An invasive species with no natural predators.

This entry was posted in Books, Words at Play. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s