The “Words Matter Task Force” at the University of Michigan has compiled a list of dozens of offensive words and phrases — including “crazy,” “picnic,” and “dummy” — for elimination from the university vocabulary.
A “Words Matter task force led by DePriest Dockins and in partnership with ITS’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee is looking broadly at our nomenclature to recommend alternative terms where possible or terms to eliminate if not needed,” said Ravi Pendse, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at the University of Michigan.
The Words Matter Task Force “was formed and charged with identifying terms used within ITS that are, or can be construed to be, racist, sexist, or non-inclusive,” states a memo from U of M’s Information and Technology Services (ITS), obtained by the attentive folks at the College Fix.
The task force has already identified some three dozen potentially offensive words and phrases such as “blacklist,” “brown bag,” “disabled,” “off the reservation,” “straw man,” and “sanity check,” all of which have been judged non-PC.
Curiously, even the term “picnic” has been deemed offensive, presumably because of an erroneous etymology mistakenly tracing the word origin to racist lynchings.
The task force offers helpful substitutes for those trying to wean themselves off the inappropriate language. Thus, instead of an offensive term like “crazy,” the force recommends “nonsensical” or “egregious.” Instead of a non-inclusive expression like “long time, no see,” the force suggests an innocuous substitute along the lines of “it’s been a while!”
In lieu of an abusive expression like “low man on the totem pole,” the team proposes “last in the pecking order,” (in callous disregard for the feelings of chickens).
The text proposes three goals in creating the modules:
- To encourage empathy for how others may feel when words have negative connotations.
- To spur curiosity about why words matter, and direct people to other educational resources.
- To provide a non-threatening, quick resource that is easily shared/disseminated.
“To effectively communicate with customers, it is important for ITS to evaluate the terms and language conventions that may hinder effective communication, harm morale, and deliberately or inadvertently exclude people from feeling accepted to foment a healthy and inclusive culture,” the memorandum states.