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The Concept of ‘Harmful Words’ is a Serious Problem in Higher Education

The Concept of ‘Harmful Words’ is a Serious Problem in Higher Education

“I am now the somewhat embarrassed recipient of a Master of Arts degree from Stanford”

Over at Minding the Campus, John S. Rosenberg analyzes this issue, focusing on a recent story from Stanford University, where even the word ‘American’ is a problem:

Not Just Semantics: Stanford’s “Harmful Words” Problem Is Serious

If Lewis Carroll were writing at Stanford University today, he would be strongly advised not to use the word master, because “Historically, masters enslaved people, didn’t consider them human and didn’t allow them to express free will.” (Full disclosure: I am now the somewhat embarrassed recipient of a Master of Arts degree from Stanford.)

By now everyone who follows the woke wackiness that permeates higher education—and even some who are usually shielded from it by mainstream media outlets such as Newsweek/MSN and USA Today—are familiar with Stanford’s recent attempt to blacklist 150 or so “harmful words.” (My advice to anyone offended by my use of one of them: get over it.)

Much of the coverage consists of gleeful mockery, such as the Daily Beast’s characterization of the list as “sheer insanity.” This mockery was all but unavoidable, inasmuch as the list contained many terms in common usage far removed from any association with bias (blind reviewchiefpeanut gallerycakewalkgrandfatheredbrown bag) or with violence against vulnerable groups (rule of thumbwhipped into shapewar room, even trigger warning).

The most controversial is the injunction to use the term “US Citizen” instead of American, in order to avoid “insinuating that the US is the most important country in the Americas.” We are also instructed, however, to use “Black” instead of African-American. Although the reason given is that “Black people who were born in the United States can interpret hyphenating their identity as ‘othering,’” “African-American,” by the logic of the Stanford list makers, could refer to any black person in the western hemisphere. Chauvinistic insinuators that we are, most Americans would be thoroughly confused by anyone referring to a dark-skinned Brazilian as an African-American, and I strongly suspect that most African-Americans do not feel “othered” by the hyphen. Language, fortunately, does not always submit to logic.

Also targeted are terms that should not be used to identify or describe people. Thus, instead of immigrant, one should use “person who has immigrated”; instead of prisoner, use “person who is/was incarcerated”; instead of disabled person, use “person with a disability.” Why? Because “using person-first language helps to not define people by just one characteristic.”

Ignore the split infinitive (everyone does these days). Is there any evidence that “person without housing” is any more respectful than homeless person,” or that anyone cares? Unavoidably, there are interesting exceptions to the “Person-First” rule. “First-year student,” for example, is preferred over freshman without any recommendation to use “first-year person who studies” instead. “White” is used frequently, even “White Supremacist,” without any thought that “white” tends to define melanin-deprived people “by just one of their characteristics.”


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JackinSilverSpring | January 31, 2023 at 8:39 am

Soon, no words will be acceptable, and we will become no different than mute animals. That though may be the Left’s aim because to them humans are essentially animals.

Especially the word WEAK! That is what these people are that cower from words.

The Gentle Grizzly | January 31, 2023 at 1:17 pm

I had a conversation with a leftist friend of mine. He is a leftist mostly through his relatively sheltered life, and his profession as an elementary school teacher, with all of the faculty lounge baloney.

At any rate, he is not a “packaged” leftist who just parrots what he hears. The Stanford list was discussed. We both think that it was put together as some sort of joke, but “escaped the lab”. A variation on what happened when a 30 minute radio drama was taken seriously on October 13, 1938.

    I mean no offense but would like to point out that the Left has been tinkering with the meaning of words for over 30 years. Let’s not forget the Oakland California Professor who wanted Ebonics accepted as a distinct language all it’s own. Whether he knows it or not, your friend was a part of the Long March Through the Institutions.

Can’t say Master?
Wonder what they write on the paper when they award an MBA?

    henrybowman in reply to 1073. | January 31, 2023 at 3:47 pm

    “I am now the somewhat embarrassed recipient of a Master of Arts degree from Stanford.”
    BFD. Just go out and find yourself a sub. Especially if you live in California, or pretty much any other blue state — the floors are carpeted with them. And they happily consent to the slavery!