A “Bias-Free Language Guide” in use at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) labels dozens of rather innocuous words as offensive, including the word “American.”
The guide appears to have been around since at least 2013, but its intriguing contents were recently noticed by a correspondent for Campus Reform.
Though the guide is described as “not a means to censor” and intended to “invite inclusive excellence,” it seems to create a vast minefield of dozens of common words that are labeled as “problematic,” offensive, and to be avoided whenever possible.
Here’s a selection of highlights from the condemned word list, with quotes taken directly from the guide:
Preferred: U.S. citizen or Resident of the U.S.
Note: North Americans often use “American” which usually, depending on the context, fails to recognize South America
Preferred: North American or South American
Problematic: American: assumes the U.S. is the only country inside these two continents.
Preferred: Gay, Lesbian, Same Gender Loving (SGL)
“Homosexual” is an outdated clinical term considered derogatory and offensive by many gay and lesbian people. Gay and/or lesbian accurately describe those who are attracted to people of the same sex or gender. Same Gender Loving is sometimes used among African-American sexual minority individuals.
3. “Illegal alien”
Preferred: Undocumented* immigrant or worker; person seeking asylum, refugee
Problematic: illegal alien
*Although preferable to illegal (when we call a person illegal, we imply that they are an object), this term lacks recognition of the person’s humanity first.
4. “You Guys”
Preferred: Folks, People, You All, Y’all
Problematic/Outdated: Guys (when referring to people overall)
5. Pretty much any word containing “man.”
Preferred: First-year students
Preferred: Workforce, personnel, workers
Preferred: supervisor, police officer, flight attendant, homemaker, postal worker/mail carrier
Problematic/Outdated: foreman, policeman, stewardess, housewife, mailman
Preferred: parenting, nurturing (or specify exact behavior)
Problematic/Outdated: mothering, fathering Unless gender is specifically implied, avoid gendering a non-gendered activity
7. “The Opposite Sex”
Preferred: Other Sex
Problematic/Outdated: Opposite Sex
8. Being “biologically male” or “biologically female”
Preferred: Assigned Sex
Problematic/Outdated: Biological/Genetic/Natal/ “normal” sex
Preferred: Affirmed gender, Affirmed girl, Affirmed boy
Problematic/Outdated: “Real” Gender, “Real” Girl, “Real” Boy
9. “Senior citizen”
Preferred: people of advanced age, old people*
Problematic/Outdated: older people, elders, seniors, senior citizen
*Old people has been reclaimed by some older activists who believe the standard wording of old people lacks the stigma of the term “advanced age”. Old people also halts the euphemizing of age. Euphemizing automatically positions age as a negative.
10. Being “rich” or “poor”
Preferred: person of material wealth
Preferred: person living at or below the poverty line, people experiencing poverty
Problematic/Outdated: poor person, poverty-stricken person
11. “The homeless”
Preferred: person-experiencing homelessness
Problematic/Outdated: the homeless, which reduces the person to being defined by their housing rather than as a person first – one who does not have a home
12. “Overweight person” (but not “fat”!)
Preferred: people of size
Problematic/Outdated: obese*, overweight people
“Obese” is the medicalization of size, and “overweight” is arbitrary; for example, standards differ from one culture to another.
Note: “Fat”, a historically derogatory term, is increasingly being reclaimed by people of size and their allies, yet for some, it is a term that comes from pain.
In addition to condemning particular words and phrases, the guide also contains a warning about other forms of “micro-aggression:”
Micro-assault, verbal attack
- Example: “Why do you need a wheelchair? I saw you walk… You can walk, right?” to a person who is using a mobile chair for long-distance travel.
- Example: “Dogs smell funny” to a blind person using a guide dog.
Micro-insult, a form of verbal or silent demeaning through insensitive comments or behavior
- Example: A person exhibits a stubborn, begrudging attitude, that they will accommodate an accessibility request. The verbalization is appropriate but the tone seems insulting.
Micro-invalidation, degrading a person’s wholeness through making false assumptions about the other’s ability, causing a sense of invalidation.
- Example: “You have a learning disability? How can you be a lawyer?” to a person with a learning disability.
- Example: “The new international student is having language challenges.” (More appropriately, we would say that the new international student is concentrating on learning a new language.)
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