University Labels ‘Trigger Warning,’ ‘Rule Of Thumb’ As Violent And ‘Oppressive Language’


Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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A private Massachusetts university has included numerous common phrases and words, like “trigger warning” and “rule of thumb,” as part of its “oppressive language” catalog.

Brandeis University included six different idioms, phrases and words on its “violent language” list, with “possible alternatives” and an explanation for why the term can denote violent meanings.

“Violent language in this list may be explicitly or implicitly violent expressions and metaphors that are used casually and unintentionally,” the guide, provided by the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center, reads. (RELATED: Baylor University Labels 9/11 Flag Tribute With Trigger Warning)

“Killing it,” which is commonly understood to mean someone is doing a “great job,” can be communicated in a less oppressive way without referring to murder, the guide continues.

Similarly, “take a shot at” or “take a stab at,” which usually means to give something a try, also uses violent imagery and should be replaced with a phrase that doesn’t involve “hurting someone or something,” according to the guide.

“Trigger warning” is a term that originated on feminist message boards, especially amid discussions on sexual violence, and that is commonly used on college campuses as a “content note” or warning before potentially distressing material is presented. Brandeis University considers the phrase violent and oppressive because the word “trigger” relates to guns.

“We can give the same head’s up using language less connected to violence,” the guide said. 

Ostensibly anodyne words were also included on the list, such as the word “picnic.” The word “picnic” is oppressive because it is “often associated with lynchings of Black people in the United States.”

The university said that white spectators would watch the lynchings while eating, thus making the word “picnic” inappropriate.

The last phrase on the list, “go off the reservation,” is oppressive because it “has a harmful history rooted in the violent removal of indigenous people from their land and the horrible consequences for someone that left the reservation.”

The university also has several other lists with oppressive language and alternatives. In an “identity-based oppressive language” list, “you guys” is considered gender exclusive. Under an “ableist language” category, words and phrases including “crazy, wild, insane,” “lame,” “walk-in,” “long time no see,” “no can do,” and “sold down the river” are deemed offensive.

Another list, called “Language That Doesn’t Say What We Mean,” suggests using “transparent” language instead of “inaccurate words” when communicating.

“Everything going on right now” is listed as an oppressive phrase that should be substituted with “police brutality, protests, BLM, COVID-19, etc.” The university suggests being specific about the current events instead of speaking generally. 

“Relationship with an abuser” should be used instead of the term “abusive relationships.” 

Phrases said flippantly rather than literally should also be avoided so as to not cause offense. “I’m going to kill myself,” or “kill me” should be replaced with “I’m really upset” or “I want to stop doing this.”