University’s ‘Bias-Free Language Guide’ Is a Cornucopia of Inoffensiveness


Political correctness, despite being one of those annoyingly overused phrases, does exist. There are people with stronger sensitivities to certain language, which gives way to a heightened sense of offensiveness whenever certain words are used, regardless of context.

And the University of New Hampshire has a new “bias-free language guide” that, while likely well-intentioned, comes across as incredibly ridiculous for just how many words it considers problematic or offensive.

The bias-free guide is not necessarily a set of rules, but more suggestions for how people should be speaking. They define “inclusive language” as “communication that does not stereotype or demean people based on personal characteristics including gender, gender expression, race, ethnicity, economic background, ability/disability status, religion, sexual orientation, etc.”

There’s a whole section on micro-aggressions, micro-insults, and micro-invalidation (“degrading a person’s wholeness through making false assumptions about the other’s ability, causing a sense of invalidation”).

But let’s get to some highlights from what language is “preferred” and what language is “problematic”:

Preferred: people of advanced age, old people*
Problematic/Outdated: older people, elders, seniors, senior citizen

Preferred: person living at or below the poverty line, people experiencing poverty
Problematic/Outdated: poor person, poverty-stricken person

Preferred: person of material wealth
Problematic: rich

Preferred: people of size
Problematic/Outdated: obese*, overweight people

Preferred: person who is blind/visually impaired
Problematic: blind person, “dumb”

Preferred: person who is deaf or hard-of-hearing
Problematic: deaf person, Deaf-and-Dumb, Deaf-Mute

Preferred: U.S. citizen or Resident of the U.S.
Problematic: American

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: use the specific name of the country on the continent; Africa; e.g., Egypt, Ethiopia
Problematic: Africa, which is a continent of many countries

Preferred: White people, European-American individuals
Problematic: Caucasian people

Preferred: international people
Problematic: foreigners

Preferred: Sexual Orientation, Sexual Identity
Problematic: Sexual Preference

Preferred: Folks, People, You All, Y’all
Problematic/Outdated: Guys (when referring to people overall)

Preferred: Human achievements
Problematic/Outdated: man’s achievements

Preferred: Children who are gender non-conforming, Children who are gender variant
Problematic/Outdated: Girlie or Tomboy


I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t good suggestions in their list. Some of the suggestions when it comes to (for example) minorities, transgender individuals, or people with disabilities is of the “look, just try not to be a dick” variety. And, well, yes, it would be nice if people in general were less dickish to other people by demeaning them or ridiculing their identity.

But for a lot of these words, you’ve got to wonder who exactly is going to take offense. Some of them are just so inconsequential that you would have to jump through a series of linguistic hoops to justify even a smidgen how they could possibly be “problematic.”

I mean, American. How is AMERICAN a problematic word? What could possibly be wrong with someone just innocently saying “I’m an American”?

UNH President Mark Huddleston understood how word police-y this looked and sought to clarify that this is not official campus policy:

While individuals on our campus have every right to express themselves, 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. The only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses. It is ironic that what was probably a well-meaning effort to be ‘sensitive’ proves offensive to many people, myself included.

Tonight’s homework: find the number of problematic words in that statement.

[h/t NYMag]
[image via screengrab]

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Josh Feldman is a Senior Editor at Mediaite. Email him here: Follow him on Twitter: @feldmaniac