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Stereotypes and Biased Language

Summary:

This handout will cover some of the major issues with appropriate language use: levels of language formality, deceitful language and euphemisms, slang and idiomatic expressions; using group-specific jargon; and biased/stereotypical language.

Biased language frequently occurs with gender, but can also offend groups of people based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, political interest, or race.

Stereotyped Language

Stereotyped language is any that assumes a stereotype about a group of people. For example, don't assume a common stereotype about blonde women:

Incorrect: Although she was blonde, Mary was still intelligent.
Revised: Mary was intelligent.

Gender-biased Language

Writing without gender bias is sound and effective. You should always consult your professional or disciplinary community standards or imagine what is appropriate to your rhetorical audience or genre. Writing without gender-biased language is necessary for most audiences. How you approach your audience, what assumptions you make or expectations you assume about it are choices you make as a writer. We merely share what our professional associations advocate, among them the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and its Conference on College Composition and Communication. We invite you to explore or ask your own professional or disciplinary organizations for guidance.

The Chicago Manual of Style, the MLA Style Guide, and the APA Style Guide all have similar recommendations about inclusive language use in writing (detailed behind pay-walls). NCTE suggests the following guidelines (created, 1975; revised 1985, 2002) that we have adapted and offer only for guidance:

Generic Use

  • Original: mankind
  • Alternatives: humanity, people, human beings
  • Original: man's achievements
  • Alternative: human achievements
  • Original: man-made
  • Alternatives: synthetic, manufactured, machine-made
  • Original: the common man
  • Alternatives: the average person, ordinary people
  • Original: man the stockroom
  • Alternative: staff the stockroom
  • Original: nine man-hours
  • Alternative: nine staff-hours

Occupations

  • Original: chairman
  • Alternatives: coordinator (of a committee or department), moderator (of a meeting), presiding officer, head, chair
  • Original: businessman
  • Alternatives: business executive, business person
  • Original: fireman
  • Alternative: firefighter
  • Original: mailman
  • Alternative: mail carrier
  • Original: steward and stewardess
  • Alternative: flight attendant
  • Original: policeman and policewoman
  • Alternative: police officer
  • Original: congressman
  • Alternative: congressional representative
  • Original: male nurse
  • Alternative: nurse
  • Original: woman doctor
  • Alternative: doctor
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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.