The Elimination of Harmful Language

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

It is good to see that Stanford University is looking out for us.  The efforts of the University's IT department to further protect its delicate student body from the threats of imagery in language has been made available for all to see.  The Times reports that Stanford’s The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative followed on from the efforts of other US universities to protect students from words and phrases that might cause offence, do them harm or be injurious to their mental health.    

I particularly noted:

Flogging a dead horse / More than one to way to skin a cat  – Stanford's IT team says that such expressions normalise violence against animals, and suggest that we use “multiple ways to accomplish the task”.

You guys – Stanford says that this lumps a group of people using masculine language into gender binary groups, which don’t include everyone, so we should use “folks”, “people” or “everyone” instead.

Hold [down] the fort – it seems that this phrase stems from settlers and soldiers resisting “savages” when “on the warpath" and so we should use “cover the role”.

Killing it – this should be avoided because doing a good job should not be equated with death.

Webmaster – as, historically, masters enslaved people, this term should be avoided.  As should webmistress, I guess, but for different reasons.

Submit in writing – is problematic as the term can imply allowing others to have power over you.

and so it goes on ...

And then there are warnings that trigger warnings themselves might trigger mental anxiety in those who are warned even before they have seen anything.  Indeed.

In the face of much ridicule, the university has backed off  but some at least will have a modicum of sympathy for what the IT team was trying to do, on the basis that we should all think about the words we use – and think carefully about certain words.

As for me, I'd have a short list with master cylinder / slave cylinder being high on the list with chairman rather lower down.  I'm still bemused by how many women seem happy to be so described.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • I just finished watching a recent and fascinating Oxford Union Debate "This House Believes Woke Culture Has Gone Too Far - 1-8/8" where notable intellectuals also tackled this issue. My conclusion was that both 'sides' want a similar outcome of equity, fairness and discussion of how power and having a voice are crucial to socio-cultural evolution. What differs is the means and agenda's used to accomplish these goals. So while we argue about the techniques used we end up merely plodding through quagmires of language that serve to keep us at each others throats instead of the power structure that perpetuates inequality, unfairness, transparency, and dare I say it, personal sovereignty itself.