University of New Hampshire: Saying “American” is Offensive

I was going to write a satire piece, but frankly, the truth is bad enough. And you’re not going to believe it. (Well, maybe you won’t be surprised.)

The University of New Hampshire has a complete guide to politically correct speech. They just don’t call it that. They call it the “Bias-Free Language Guide.” Let me give you some examples:

Don’t say “American” when referring to someone from the United States. Say “U.S. resident” or “resident of the U.S.”

Using the term “American” to denote someone from the United States is “problematic,” according to the UNH’s Bias-Free Language Guide because it excludes those from South America. The United States is not the only country in those two continents. Therefore, saying “American” is offensive.

Don’t say “older people.” Say “people of advanced age” or “old people.”

That’s one’s interesting, because I would’ve thought “old people” would be very offensive. As it turns out, the elderly – er, excuse me, people of advanced age – find it offensive to euphemize age. Sugarcoating it only makes it all the more obvious that people look at age as a negative thing. I’ve heard advertisements on the radio for assisted living apartments for people “60 or better.” That would now be politically incorrect and offensive, since it’s a euphemization of age.

Don’t say “obese” or “overweight.” Say “people of size.”

For the same reason that “old people” is being reclaimed by people of advanced age, “fat people” is also being reclaimed by overweight – er, excuse me again, people of size. But for now, obese and overweight are both problematic, and people of size is the preferred nomenclature.

Don’t say “homosexual.” Say “Gay,” “Lesbian,” or “Same Gender Loving (SGL).”

Homosexual just means “same sex.” But it’s become politically incorrect and offensive, although the previously pejorative term “queer” is being reclaimed by the LGBT community.

Don’t say “healthy.” Say “non-disabled.”

Any hint of making it sound like there’s a difference between someone who’s confined to a wheelchair with a debilitating disease and someone who is completely healthy and normal (pardon my French [sorry, that’s probably offensive too]) is totally uncalled for. But isn’t this offensive to those who are healthy – I mean “non-disabled?” We’re defining “normal” as “not disabled.” So, the standard is “disabled.” You’re either disabled, or you’re not disabled. There is no “healthy.”

Here’s more from the University of New Hampshire’s website:

Preferred: “non-disabled” is the preferred term for people without disabilities.

Problematic: normal, able-bodied, healthy or whole

Preferred: person who is blind/visually impaired

Problematic: blind person, “dumb”

Preferred: person who is deaf or hard-of-hearing

Problematic: deaf person, Deaf-and-Dumb, Deaf-Mute

Preferred: person with a speech/communication impairment

Problematic: dumb, speech impediment

Preferred: person who is learning disabled, person who has a cognitive disability, person with a learning or cognitive disability, persons with intellectual and developmental disability

Problematic: retarded, slow, brain-damaged, special education student

Preferred: person with a psychiatric disability; person with a mental health condition

Problematic: mentally ill, hyper-sensitive, psycho, crazy, insane, wacko, nuts

Preferred: wheelchair user, person who is –  wheelchair mobile, physically disabled, quadriplegic, paraplegic

Problematic: handicapped, physically challenged, invalid, “special”, deformed, cripple, gimp, spaz, wheelchair-bound, confined to a wheelchair, lame

Preferred: seeking help for emotional mental health, person who identifies as having an emotional disability

Problematic: emotionally disturbed

Preferred: cognitively/developmentally delayed/disabled, person with a cognitive/developmental delay or disability, person with an intellectual disability

Problematic: retard, mentally retarded, special ed student

Preferred: someone of short stature, little person

Problematic: dwarf, midget

Preferred: person “living with” a specific disability, (i.e. “someone living with cancer or AIDS”)

Problematic: victim, someone “stricken with” a disability (i.e. “someone stricken with cancer” or “an AIDS victim”)

“Afflicted with”, “stricken with”, “suffers from”, “victim of”, and “confined to” are terms that are based on the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or living a reduced quality of life. Instead, use neutral language when describing a person who has a disability. Not every person with a disability ‘suffers,’ is a ‘victim’ or is ‘stricken.’ Instead simply state the facts about the nature of the person’s disability, preferably in the way that they have told you they want to be identified.

Preferred: Sexual Minorities, Queer, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ)

Problematic: People of an alternative “lifestyle” (when referring to sexuality)

“Lifestyle” is an inaccurate term used by anti-gay extremists to denigrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lives. As there is not one straight lifestyle, there is not one lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender lifestyle. Queer, historically a derogatory term, has been reclaimed by many sexual minorities and their allies.  Queer is often used as an umbrella term to describe lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, and questioning (of sexuality and/or gender identity).

Preferred: Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS), Gender Reaffirming Surgery, Gender Confirming Surgery

Problematic/Outdated: Sex Change

Refers to surgical alteration, and is only one small part of transition (see transition directly above on intersex characteristics).  Not all transgender people choose to, or can afford to have Sexual Reassignment Surgery.  Journalists and researchers should avoid overemphasizing the role of SRS in the transition process.

One more:


The presumption that heterosexuality is universal and/or superior to other sexual orientations

Example of perpetuation of hetero-normativity – seeing a ring on a woman’s finger and saying “congratulations, what’s his name?”

This illustrates the assumption that the woman is heterosexual or that she is in a relationship with a person of male gender.

Note: Even though it may seem this way in some relationships where one person is more masculine and/or feminine than the other, the idea of someone being “the man” and the other being “the woman” is a reflection of a hetero-normative society.

In the comments section, please be mindful not to use any of the problematic words, phrases or outdated ideas. For a complete list of rules, visit the UNH’s “Bias-Free Language Guide.” Also, as usual, please check your white privilege.


H/T:  Campus Reform