Stanford Releases ‘Harmful Language’ List of Hurtful Words to Eliminate

The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative seeks to rid Stanford, and perhaps the world, of troubling terms like “American”
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In case you were worried that anything you say is likely to offend someone somehow these days, Stanford University is here to help, as the institute is hard at work updating its list of the “harmful language” it plans to remove from its websites and computer code, offering what it sees as more appropriate terms to be used instead.

The language policing is part of the university’s sweeping “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative,” which it says is a “multi-phase, multi-year project to address harmful language in IT at Stanford.”  The initiative’s handy website , launched in May, is “geared toward helping individuals recognize and address potentially harmful language they may be using.”

For instance, yes, “American,” from the “imprecise language” section is now problematic. People are instead asked to use “U.S. Citizen” because “American” is commonly used to refer to “people from the United States only, thereby insinuating that the U.S. is the most important country in the Americas.” The Americas, the guide points out, is made up of 42 countries.

Stanford says its goal is to eradicate “many forms of harmful language” and is divided into ten areas: ageism, ableist, colonialism, culturally appropriative, gender-based, imprecise language, institutionalized racism, person-first, violent, and additional considerations, Fox News reports.

When it comes to gender, the guide instructs the thoughtful speaker to use “pronouns” instead of “‘preferred’ pronouns” because “preferred” suggests “non-binary gender identity is a choice and a preference.” Terms such as “freshman,” “fireman” and “congresswoman” are also no good, as “gender binary language” is not inclusive.

You won’t be able to “master” math at Stanford anymore, either, as the index instructs that “historically, masters enslaved people,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Researchers, meanwhile, should not plan on conducting a “blind study” because that “unintentionally perpetuates that disability is somehow abnormal or negative, furthering an ableist culture.” Try a “masked study” instead.

A “child prostitute” is now a “child who has been trafficked,” so that prostitution does not become the child’s identity, and the fun and meme-y “Karen” is out (“used to ridicule or demean a certain group of people based on their behaviors”) and should now be the mouthful “demanding or entitled White woman,” Fox notes. Well, at least the index still allows people to specifically criticize white women.

When it comes to Native Americans, the manual suggests avoiding the word “brave” and recommends using a person’s name rather than addressing them as “chief” or “Pocahontas,” in case you just got here from the ’50s.

The “Institutionalized Racism” section discourages the use of the word “black” at all because there are apparently bad vibes around that color. We shouldn’t say things like “black hat,” “black mark,” “blackbox,” or “black sheep” because of “negative connotations to the color black.” Other weighted words to toss are “grandfathered” and use “legacy status” instead,  due to “roots in the ‘grandfather clause’ adopted by Southern states to deny voting rights to Blacks.”

Violent language is also a no-no. Troubling terms include “beating a dead horse, which “normalizes violence against animals,” “pull the trigger,” “trigger warning” and “killing two birds with one stone.”

Elsewhere in the guide, the reader is instructed that an “immigrant” is now a “person who has immigrated,” a “prisoner” is now a “person who is/was incarcerated” and a “homeless person” with “a person without housing.”

The index took “18 months of collaboration with stakeholder groups,” Stanford says.


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