As part of its “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative,” or EHLI, Stanford University recently published a 13-page language guide which suggests alternative words and phrases for those it deems offensive and triggering. One word the guide says should never be used is “Americans”-- because the term “often refers to people from the United States only, thereby insinuating that the US is the most important country in the Americas (which is actually made up of 42 countries.)” We sure as hell wouldn’t want to somehow “insinuate” that the United States is in any way more important or notable than, say, Aruba, Grenada, or Suriname.
But “American” is just one of dozens of words and phrases Stanford’s EHLI language guide warns us against employing. (We are to say “U.S. citizen” instead.) To wit:
We are to say “nervous” instead of “basket case,” “anonymous review” in place of “blind review,” and “wild” or “surprising” instead of “crazy” or “insane.” Wow, that’s, um…surprising!
We are not to say a person is “mentally ill,” but are encouraged to say the person is “living with a mental health ‘condition.’” Similarly, we are cautioned against saying “disabled person” and are urged to say “person with a disability” instead. I’m not sure that’s any different. In fact, the latter could be the definition of the former. It’s really a distinction without a difference.
“Abort,” too, is verboten. “Cancel” or “end” are recommended alternatives. Ah, I see. “Late-term cancellation” sounds like one’s flight was scrubbed at the last minute, not like one decided to kill their baby late in a pregnancy.
“Tribe” is apparently also problematic and should be replaced by “friends,” “network,” or “support system.” Really? Do Native Americans—oops!-- Native U.S. citizens prefer being called “networks?” The Cherokee or Sioux “support system” just doesn’t sound right. Incredibly, “brave” is not to be used, either, as the guide says, “this term perpetuates the stereotype of the ‘noble courageous savage,’ equating the Indigenous male as being less than a man.” No one thinks this. Everyone equates brave with noble and courageous, no one with “savage” or being “less than a man.”
“OCD” (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is acronym non-grata. We are to use “detail oriented” in its place. So, if someone washes their hands 742 times a day, refuses to step on a crack in a sidewalk, and continually rearranges their sock drawer by color, thickness, and length, we are simply to say they are “detail oriented?”
“Gentlemen” is to be permanently placed atop the ash-heap of verbal history, too. The EHLI guide suggests using “everyone” in its place. But is “everyone” a logical, viable substitute for “gentlemen?” Even in today’s Era of Ambiguous Genders? Does “Everyone prefer Blondes?” Probably not. Is it even okay to say “blonde” anymore? Or should we say “color-challenged?”
Remarkably, Stanford’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative guide states that we shouldn’t use the term “Karen,” either, suggesting instead the phrase “demanding or entitled white woman.” I took its advice. My next-door neighbor’s name is Karen. Yesterday I greeted her, when we were both getting our mail, by saying, “Hi demanding or entitled white woman.” She gave me a funny look and went into her house without replying.
At the bottom of Stanford’s EHLI language guide are the following two remarkable codicils:
“*We understand that it may not be possible to eliminate all harmful language on our sites and in our code due to costs, resources, or other reasons. ‘Eliminate’ is a goal to strive for even if it can’t be achieved.”
“**How a person wishes to be addressed or identified supersedes any of our suggested alternatives for potentially harmful terms. If you are unsure in a given situation, ask the person with whom you are interacting.”
Actually, it is possible to eliminate all potentially “harmful” language, though there is only one way to do so: eliminate language. Period. Seems like a fair trade-off, right? What would be the downside?
And, in closing, let me just say that I would like to be addressed as a “toxically-masculine, cis-gendered, heterosexual, American gentleman.”