‘American’ added to Stanford’s list of ‘harmful words’

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


Stanford University has added the word “American” to its list of “harmful” words to be avoided in its updated language guide, part of the university’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI).

The guide had been disseminated in a password-protected chain that was revealed by a Twitter user on Monday.

The objective of the project, according to the EHLI website, is to help people “recognize and address potentially harmful language they may be using.” Since the project’s launch in May, a multitude of common words and phrases have been relegated to categories of speech shame including “racism,” “homophobia,” and “ableism.”

“American,” for example, implies that the United States is “the most important country in the Americas,” according to the guide. Stanford recommends “U.S. citizen” as its replacement.

Among other disfavored diction are phrases like “brown bag lunch” (institutionalized racism) and “blind study” (ableist). Instead, Stanford recommends “lunch and learn” and “masked study,” respectively.

“Beating a dead horse” and “crack the whip” made the “violent” list this year, along with “kill two birds with one stone” which EHLI said is far more appropriately expressed as “accomplish(ing) two things at once.” 

“The purpose of this website is to educate people about the possible impact of the words we use,” the guide’s preface read.

“Language affects different people in different ways. We are not attempting to assign levels of harm to the terms on this site. We also are not attempting to address all informal uses of language.”

Christina Somers, a senior fellow at The American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank, posted the EHLI guidelines to Twitter on Monday.

“Avoid ‘he’ & ‘she’ unless you know the individual’s preferred pronoun. But don’t use ‘preferred pronoun’ because ‘that suggests non-binary gender identity is a choice,'” she wrote, referring to the guide’s language.

The post prompted a flood of comments from users weighing in on the subject.

One suggested: “If a person is so weak that they break into tears upon hearing ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ then maybe higher education or the general public isn’t for them.”

“You can no longer say ‘stand-up meeting’ or walk-in appointments. I’d say it’s insane, but we can’t say that either!” a user quipped.

“Leland Stanford would be ashamed of the institution he cofounded,” media strategist Gabriella Hoffman wrote, referring to the prestigious university’s founder and former California governor.

“It’s only a matter of time before we speak through scrubbing intermediaries since at some point it’s going to be considered ‘potentially harmful’ to point out that one has used ‘potentially harmful’ words,” said another.

In a statement to the New York Post, Dee Mostofi, Stanford’s assistant vice president of external communications, said the guidelines were created for “internal use” only.

“In this case, the EHLI website was specifically created by and intended for use within the university IT community,” she said. “It will continue to be refined based on ongoing input from the community.”