IT Connect
Your connection to information technology at the UW

IT Inclusive Language Guide

A UW-IT reference for software and other information technology content

Introduction

Words matter. Words that reflect racial or other discriminatory bias are contrary to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in UW Information Technology (UW-IT) and at the University of Washington. They undermine the inclusive environment we aim to create in UW-IT and in serving a diverse University community.

UW-IT has joined IT organizations at universities around the country that are involved in activities to replace racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, homophobic or otherwise non-inclusive language scattered throughout materials and resources in the software and information technology fields.

The resources provided in this document are mostly focused on language surrounding technology tools, resources and services, or language that is more likely to be used on web properties or documentation platforms.

How we arrived at this guide

This guide was created with the input of dozens of people, from leadership to service owners and service managers in UW-IT, and was guided by an advisory committee made up of people representing units across the UW and from UW Medicine and UW-IT’s DEI Community of Practice.
As an educational institution, it’s imperative that we remain committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and one place to start is how we communicate to those who visit our websites. This guide shows our commitment to ensuring our organization, and our websites, continually show respect for everyone.

How this guide can be used

We have divided our language guide into two tables. The first table is focused on words that are IT-specific. The second table is a more general list of problematic words.

These reflect the principles of inclusive language: use gender-neutral terms; avoid ableist language; focus on people not disabilities or circumstances; avoid generalizations about people, regions, cultures and countries; and avoid slang, idioms, metaphors and other words with layers of meaning and a negative history. This second list isn’t exhaustive, and isn’t intended to be exhaustive, but to illustrate the kinds of words to be mindful of.

We expect this guide to be used as a reference to audit the language used on websites, web pages, wikis, online documentation, software and system applications, and documentation about these applications.

Together, the two tables are intended to complement other high-quality references for inclusive language, such as UW Marketing & Communications’ Communicating with an Equity Lens resource.

Roles and responsibilities

Web content creators and editors

As creators and editors of website content, we have a responsibility to carefully consider the language we use in our documentation and its impact on the diverse community we serve at the University and beyond.

Therefore, we are accountable for ensuring racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, homophobic, or otherwise non-inclusive language are not within the materials and resources online.

This resource is especially for those who manage and update content related to software and information technology at the University of Washington.

UW-IT Service Offering Owner

As part of our service management practice, UW Information Technology clearly defines roles and responsibilities related to each of our service offerings.

Toward integrating diversity, equity and inclusion best practices with this service management practice, the role of the service offering owner is best suited to implementing and training service team staff. Consider using the UW-IT inclusive language guide in materials for end users and front-line support teams, including request submission forms and workflow, support knowledge articles, documentation and self-help aids.

Vendor liaison

If the name for something or if a word in documentation is in the tables below and comes from a vendor, and where changing the word may create more confusion, it is recommended that you contact the vendor and urge them to change the word(s). Below are two sample emails that other university IT shops have used for reference:

Sample Email 1

We are reaching out to you because the University of Washington has been working toward fostering an inclusive and welcoming culture in our campus community and wish to work with suppliers who share this desire. As such, we have been working to eliminate some of the IT terminology used for years that has racist, ableist and/or sexist origins and their continued use perpetuates privilege. Attached is a list of words [insert link to this guide] we have identified as non-inclusive within our own IT organizations. Some of our other vendors including Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, and GitHub are addressing this issue and I am curious if [fill in name of vendor] has plans to do so as well; I noticed you still use terms such as [provide example]. Does [fill in name of vendor] have plans to address this? We would love to know what efforts you are undertaking to move away from this language to create a more inclusive product/service. I am asking from an inclusive partner and curiosity perspective, and would offer any help I can to have you make such changes in your language. I greatly appreciate your time and consideration.

Sample Email 2

Dear [insert vendor name],

The University of Washington works to foster an inclusive and welcoming culture for everyone in our campus community, and we wish to work with suppliers who share this desire. Unfortunately, in working with your product/service we have identified language that can be considered offensive due to its racist, ableist and/or sexist origins. Specifically, the use of [fill in]. Can you let us know what efforts you are undertaking to move away from this language so as to create a more inclusive product/service?

Updating this guide

This IT language guide is by no means exhaustive, and not all problematic words or phrases have been captured here. If you have comments, suggestions, or think a word related to information technology is missing from this guide, please email help@uw.edu with “Inclusive language guide” in the subject line to start a conversation with the UW-IT Communications team.

Plain, non-colloquial language

Using clear, concise and direct language (known as plain language) is a good way to avoid problematic words. Plain language is communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Plain language avoids jargon and colloquial language.

Colloquial language in particular can be a source of many problematic words and phrases, and many of the terms we included in the list below are colloquial.

Colloquialisms are used in casual conversation where some slang terms are used and where no attempt is made at being formal. This can include idioms, or phrases that have a cultural meaning, but that meaning is derived from a cultural familiarity and not the meaning of the words themselves.

Examples include “raining cats and dogs” or “sanity check” or “lowering the bar.” While most people reading this guide know exactly what these phrases mean, the meaning is derived from a cultural context and not the words themselves. Two of those phrases are problematic, and included in the list of problematic words below.

You can learn more about plain language from plainlanguage.gov.

Problematic words and phrases

The problematic words and phrases are grouped into two tables: one for words that are IT-specific, and a second section with a more general list of problematic words.

These reflect the principles of inclusive language: use gender-neutral terms; avoid ableist language; focus on people not disabilities or circumstances; avoid generalizations about people, regions, cultures and countries; and avoid slang, idioms, metaphors and other words with layers of meaning and a negative history. The general list is organized into the following categories:

  • Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Religion, Native/Indigenous Identity
  • Disability and Ableism
  • Ageism
  • Gender and sexual orientation

The tables are organized into three columns. The first column lists the problem word or words and phrases, the second column gives suggested alternatives and the third column provides an explanation of why the words are problematic.

IT-specific words and phrases

Problem words Suggested Alternative(s) Context
blackout days/dates

black/gray days

blocked days

restricted days

make no changes period

Definition:

“Blackout dates” in the technological world are dates where something is inaccessible or denied, such as when operations are shut down for maintenance, when employees or executives are not allowed to trade in the company’s share or when travel rewards and other special discounts or promotions are not available.

Why it’s problematic:

Use of the words “black” for something undesirable, wrong or bad, and light or “white” for desirable, right or good perpetuates concepts that have been used to oppress people of color.

black list (blacklist, black-list)

 

deny/denied list

 

Definition:

In computing, a “blacklist” or “whitelist” is a basic access control mechanism; a “whitelist” allows everyone access, and a “blacklist” denies its members access.

Why it’s problematic:

Use of the words “black” for something undesirable, wrong or bad, and light or “white” for desirable, right or good perpetuates concepts that have been used to oppress people of color.

Using plain language (i.e.,”deny list” or “allow list”) makes the meaning more clear.

white list (whitelist, white-list) allow list

 

blackbox

 

 

blackbox:

closed box

closed system

opaque glassbox

frosted glass box

mystery box

unknown origin

obfuscated

 

 

Definition:

A “blackbox” is a reference to a physical machine (machine learning algorithms) or testing.

In testing, “white box” indicates the presence of knowns and a clear view, and “black box” indicates unknowns or lack of visibility.

Why it’s problematic:

Because these words are derivatives of racist tropes — “black” for something undesirable, wrong or bad, and light or “white” for desirable, right or good — they perpetuate concepts that have been used to oppress people of color.

whitebox
whitebox:

known

open box

open system

glass box

clear box

clear box testing

 

blackbox/whitebox  blackbox/whitebox:

clear/opaque

viewed/hidden

visible/invisible

clarify

 

Blackhat

Black Hat Hacker/ blackhat hacker

 

unethical

malicious

malevolent

malignant

bad

criminal

unethical hacker

 

Definition:

A “blackhat,” “Black Hat” or “blackhat” hacker are criminal hackers that concentrate on malicious breaking of cyber defenses for money or fame.

A “whitehat,” “White Hat” or “whitehat” hacker are ethical hackers who focus on testing cyber defenses as part of an organized corporate development process, cybersecurity plan or strategy.

A “Gray Hat Hacker” is a hacker who exploits a weakness in cyber defense and brings the weakness to the attention of the owner, with the goal of improving security. They don’t have permission to hack into a system; they bring attention to the system owner, so they are straddling between right and wrong. They think they’re doing good, but they’re still doing something illegal.

Why it’s problematic:

Because these words are derivatives of racist tropes — “black” for something undesirable, wrong or bad, and light or “white” for desirable, right or good — they perpetuate concepts that have been used to oppress people of color.

Whitehat

White Hat Hacker/ whitehat hacker

 

 

security researcher

ethical

benevolent

benign

good

ethical hacker

 

Gray Hat Hacker
Hacktivist
grandfather clause/ grandfather policy/ grandfather right

grandfathered (in) grandfathering

Legacy

legacy status

exempt

Definition:

A “grandfather” clause, “grandfather” policy or “grandfathering” in IT s a provision in which an old rule continues to apply to some existing situations while a new rule will apply to all future cases. Those exempt from the new rule are said to have grandfather rights, acquired rights, or to have been grandfathered in.

Why it’s problematic:

“Grandfathering” or “grandfather clause” was used as a way to exempt some people from a change because of conditions that existed before the change (e.g., we’ve grandfathered some users on an unlimited data plan.”) “Grandfather clause” originated in the American South in the 1890s as a way to defy the 15th Amendment and prevent black Americans from voting.

master

 

source

main

active

primary

parent (note: the parent/child binary may be helpful in certain contexts, and so consider the association and connotation when used, as it may not be helpful)

head

in charge

principal

active

leader

local

Definition:

The master-slave relationship in technology usually refers to a system where one — the master — controls or is at the top or head of other copies, processes or systems.

Why it’s problematic:

The master/slave metaphor in technology dates back to at least 1904, describing a sidereal clock system at an observatory in Cape Town, according to a 2007 essay by Ron Eglash, a professor at the University of Michigan. He argued that the words may have been chosen to emphasize the concept of a “free master that did no work and a slave that followed the master’s orders made for a vivid, if ethically suspect, technosocial metaphor.”

Note: Consider the context in which “master” is used, and whether that use is derived from the racist binary “master/slave:” where the “master” controls an inferior process or system.

For example, a Master’s degree or the common use of master in degrees, such as Master of Science, Master of Arts, etc., suggests a mastery of a subject, and thus is not deemed derogatory.

  • Example of proper usage: “She is a master at the game of chess.”

However, if “master” is in reference to a person who is in charge of a group and evokes the offensive “master-slave” dynamic, then “master” should be replaced.

For example, a Kanban flow master facilitates Kanban meetings, continuous improvement initiatives and process reviews. Kanban project management has been evolving in recent years to de-emphasize the master role, and the focus is now on Service Delivery Manager and Service Request Manager.

slave

 

 

replica

secondary

child

worker

follower

passive

branch

standby

remote

primary record, file or recording of data/ secondary record, file or recording of data.

 

master/slave (relationship)

 

 

hierarchical

parent-child

primary-replica

primary-secondary

active-passive

active-standby

leader-follower

conductor-musician

origin-clone

lead-support

local-remote

 

(Kanban) flow master

 

 

(Kanban) flow manager

 

Scrum master

 

 

Agile Lead

Agile Program Manager

Agile Coach

Agile Team Facilitator

Scrum Coach

Scrum Teacher

Scrum Leader

Scrum Facilitator

Servant Leader

Scrum Custodian

Scrum Guardian

Scrum Guide

Process Expert

Process Lead

 

master branch

 

 

trunk

main branch

 

webmaster/ Web master
Web product owner

Web manager

Website manager

Product Manager

first-class citizen

first-class function first-class control

first-class data type

type

object

entity

value

Definition:

In programming language design, a “first-class citizen” in a given programming language is an entity which supports all the operations generally available to other entities. These operations typically include being passed as an argument, returned from a function, modified and assigned to a variable

Why it’s problematic:

“First-class citizen” implies that this particular value is the best quality or in the highest grade, and thus others under this group are second-class or lower class. Using cultural hierarchies in people-people relationships to denote relationships between things is a form of classism, which is prejudice against or in favor of people belonging to a particular social class.

mob programming whole team

swarming

herd programming

troop

collaborative programming

Definition:

Mob programming (informally mobbing) is a software development approach where the whole team works on the same thing, at the same time, in the same space, and on the same computer.

Why it’s problematic:

The intention was for a general, non-hierarchical group of people to self-organize and by accomplishing tasks “be dangerous.” However, historically, the use of “mob” has a racial component and has been used derogatorily and in a negative way.

Red Team

White Team

Yellow Team

Red Atomic Team

Cyber Offense

Cyber Exercise Cell

DevSecOps Team

Definition:

In cybersecurity, colorization of teams is used to differentiate between different roles or personas in a cybersecurity context. For example, the red team is “offensive security,” white team is “coordinators or referees,” the yellow team is the builders of software, etc.

Why it’s problematic:

Using colors based as racist tropes — labelling “white” as good, “black” as bad, “red” as attackers, or “yellow” as excluded third parties — is offensive.

Also, “red atomic” surfaces associations to the Cold War and negative relations with Russia, which was often denoted as “red” and therefore bad because the country was communist.

dumb terminal terminal

computer terminal

thin client

Definition:

An original, and still technically intact, Old English meaning of the word dumb, which means to be mute/unable to speak. The function of a terminal is confined to the display and input of data (no local programmable data processing capability) and depends on the host computer for its processing power.

Why it’s problematic:

It’s a negative word often associated negatively with those who cannot speak and should not be used in an association with technology.

dummy value placeholder value

sample value

test data/test value

pseudo value

Definition:

A known test or sample values for an identifier or scheme that has no meaningful value.

Why it’s problematic:

The origin of the word, “dummy,” is a person who cannot speak. Because the use of this word is often negatively associated with a disability, implying a person is worthless, ineffective or incapable, an alternative word should be used.

sanity check quick check

confidence check
coherence check

gut check

Definition:

A test run to confirm or validate something that should follow very clear and simple logic. For example, after receiving the software build, sanity testing is performed to ensure that the code changes introduced are working as expected. If the sanity test fails, the build is rejected by the testing team to save time and money.

Why it’s problematic:

The phrase sanity check is ableist, and unnecessarily references mental health in code bases. It denotes that people with mental illnesses are inferior, wrong, or incorrect. Using an appropriate replacement will also clarify what is intended.

Mom/girlfriend test user test

test with novice users

Definition:
Putting a product in front of people who are unfamiliar with it to learn more how they would use the product.Why it’s problematic:The assumption — if a mom or girlfriend can use a program, anyone can — is both sexist and ageist.
male or female connectors and fasteners connector and receptacle

plug and socket

pin and receptacle

Definition:

A “male” connector is commonly referred to as a plug and has a solid pin for a center conductor. A “female” connector is commonly referred to as a jack and has a center conductor with a hole in it to accept the “male” pin.

Why it’s problematic:

Use of male or female anatomy to describe electrical and IT connectors and fasteners and sexualize how they fit together is inherently problematic. Applicability of the issue includes for USB and A/V jacks.

man-in-the-middle person-in-the-middle

machine-in-the-middle

monster-in-the-middle

Definition:

In cryptography and computer security, a man-in-the-middle attack is a cyberattack where the attacker secretly relays and possibly alters the communications between two parties who believe that they are directly communicating with each other.

Why it’s problematic:

Use of “man” is not inclusive, and thus sexist.

Other Problematic Words

The problematic words and phrases are grouped into four categories and in table format. The categories are:

  • Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Religion, Native/Indigenous Identity
  • Disability and Ableism
  • Ageism
  • Gender and sexual orientation

The following table is organized into three columns. The first column lists the problem word or words and phrases, the second column gives suggested alternatives, and the third column provides an explanation of why the words are problematic.

Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Religion, Native/Indigenous Identity

Problem words Suggested Alternative(s) Context
tribal knowledge institutional knowledge

organizational knowledge

Definition:
The word “tribe” is sometimes used to mean a well-connected or organized group of people. “Tribal knowledge” refers to the collective information of people who work together for an organization such as employees in a unit. But using forms of tribe in this way are offensive to many American Indian and Alaska Native and world indigenous peoples.Why it’s problematic: In a Western context, the word “tribal” often implies savage and further perpetuates stereotypes of primitiveness, lack of culture and uneducated. Calling people “tribal” is equivalent to a racial stereotype.Institutional knowledge is more accurate when referring to a long-time employee’s understanding of processes and operations. Reserve the use of “Tribal” at the UW to apply specifically to the UW’s acknowledgement of the “Coast Salish peoples of this land, the land which touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations.”

  • Potentially offensive/non-inclusive example: “Much of what we know about these processes comes from tribal knowledge.”
  • Correction: “Much of what we know about these processes comes from institutional knowledge.”
brown bags lunch and learn

tech talks

Definition:

A brown bag lunch, sometimes referred to as a brown bag meeting, is an informal training session usually held during lunch, and implies that employees should bring their own lunches from home to participate.

Why it’s problematic:

Brown bags trace back to the “brown paper bag test,” which was traditionally used to judge skin color by certain African-American sororities and fraternities. References to a “brown bag” when we are really referencing a get-together over lunch surfaces an ugly period of American history that can alienate and offend people.

It would be more clear to say: bring your own lunch.

cakewalk (and the shortened “takes the cake”) easy Definition:

A “cakewalk” is an easy victory or task. “Takes the cake” means to win the prize or to rank first.

Why it’s problematic:

The cakewalk was a pre-Civil War dance performed by enslaved people, and the winner of which would be given a cake. This is the original source for the phrases “takes the cake” and “cakewalk.” Because of this history, this word and phrase should be avoided.

gyp / gip steal

scam

defraud

cheat

Definition:

The word “gypsy” originated as a term used to refer to the Romani (or Roma), a nomadic ethnic group who were characterized as thieves and swindlers. Hence, the term “gyp / gip” is used to refer to the act of stealing.

Why it’s problematic:

All versions of this term should be avoided as they are derogatory to the Romani people.

lower the bar simplify

inclusive

make more accessible

Definition:

This phrase is based on the erroneous idea that a company has to relax hiring standards in order to add people from different racial, ethnic, gender backgrounds.

Why it’s problematic:

In fact, in many cases it’s the opposite; companies that have poorly designed hiring practices fail to adequately evaluate highly qualified, and often diverse, candidates.

mantra North Star

elevator pitch

mission statement motto

Definition:

While “mantra” is a word or sound repeated to aid in concentration or meditation, the word is often used to imply someone’s basic belief or belief that they live and work by.

Why it’s problematic:

Many people in the Buddhist and Hindu community hold this term “mantra” as highly spiritual and religious experience, and is not to be used with nonchalance.

Minority

(if used to comment on a specific group of people and how the group would like to be referred to isn’t considered)

Native American

African American

people of color

traditionally underserved community

historically excluded

Definition:

“Minority” literally means the smaller number or part, or a number that is less than half the whole number. Often “minority” refers to groups of people that are racially or ethnically different from the racial or ethnic “majority.”

Why it’s problematic:

When “minority” is used to refer to other races or abilities, used as a generalized term for “the other” and implies a “less than” attitude toward the community or communities being discussed. For example, the minority neighborhood (when talking about redlined areas of a town); the minority agenda, when people insinuate that the agenda is negative. The nuance and context of how the word is used is important to consider.

Avoid referring to an individual as a “minority” unless in a quotation.

Use either community-specific terms (e.g., “Native American,” “African American,” etc.) or the general term “people of color” when referring to racial or ethnic communities.

When referring to other marginalized communities, clarify which specific community or communities are being discussed.

Potentially offensive/non-inclusive examples:

  • “El Pueblo de Los Ángeles State Historic Park, in the oldest section of Los Angeles, is the location of some of the most significant cultural landmarks of L.A.’s minority.”
  • “That city has several minority neighborhoods.”

Corrections:

  • “El Pueblo de Los Ángeles State Historic Park, in the oldest section of Los Angeles, is the location of some of the most significant cultural landmarks of L.A.’s diverse Latino population.”
  • “That city has several neighborhoods historically affected by red-lining practices.”
native speaker

non-native speaker

(If used to imply a speaker of English who lives in the U.S. or a person who learned English and lives in the U.S., then these words are problematic)

English as a primary language

English as first language

English language learners

English as a secondary language (ESL)

Definition:

A person who has or hasn’t spoken the language in question from early childhood.

Why it’s problematic:

Over time, as officials have recognized that some of these labels can perpetuate negative or inaccurate narratives, the terminology regarding those whose first language isn’t English has changed and evolved.

English is not the native language of the land occupied by the United States of America.

Other terms better describe people learning English as a secondary language from their primary language. The U.S. Department of Education talks about English language learners (ELL) or just English learners (EL). The Center for Promise, the research institute at America’s Promise, uses students whose first language is not English (FLNE).

ninja

guru

expert

Agile expert

charismatic person

talented person

specialist

Definition:

A person who excels in a particular skill or activity.

Why it’s problematic:

These words are culturally appropriative and thus are problematic.

In tech job descriptions, these words can be perceived as more masculine and therefore discourage some groups from applying. These words also don’t identify exactly what qualities and qualifications are being sought.

no can do I can’t do it

Not possible or not feasible (within a time frame, or within the parameters)

Definition:

“No can do” is a colloquial or slang phrase that means “I cannot do it.”

Why it’s problematic:

What might seem like a folksy, abbreviated version of “I can’t do it” is actually an imitation of Chinese Pidgin English. The phrase dates from the mid-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries, an era when Western attitudes towards the Chinese were markedly racist.

off the reservation out of bounds
out of the norm
Definition:

To deviate from what’s expected or customary; to behave unexpectedly or independently.

Why it’s problematic:

Native American peoples were restricted to reservations created by the U.S. government, and their freedom was severely limited by the terms of the treaties they were often forced to sign. The term can feel like a slight because it doesn’t acknowledge the origins of the phrase that was used historically in contempt of Native Americans.

open the kimono full disclosure

provide insight into

Definition:

“Open the kimono” means to reveal what is being planned or to share important information freely.

Why it’s problematic:

A kimono is associated with formal attire in Japanese culture. Over time, this 1970s-era slang has been misinterpreted from myths that certain Japanese warriors would open their robes to show someone that they were not hiding their weapons. Kimonos were also worn by geishas — highly trained hostesses who throughout history have been inaccurately depicted as concubines in various films and books. Both amplify a stereotypical view of Japanese culture.

peanut gallery upper balcony/gallery

other tier

the cheap seats

observers

Definition:

The upper levels of a balcony, gallery, theater and often the least expensive.

Why it’s problematic:

Peanut gallery originally referred to the balconies of segregated theaters, where African Americans had to sit. Peanuts were introduced to America during the slave trade, and thus became associated with Black people.

pow wow huddle

standup

discussion

meeting

meetup

Definition:

A North American Indian ceremony involving feasting, singing and dancing.

Why it’s problematic:

Using the word “pow wow” is cultural misappropriation, and ultimately racist.

redline scrap

shelve

mothball

cancel

drop

edit

marked up (legal comments in a doc)

Definition:

Collaborative text editing or to designate what’s included and what’s not included.

Why it’s problematic:

Because the word is so strongly associated with discriminatory practices and policies, it is best to use an alternative word if collaborative editing is being referenced.

jerry-rigged designed

poorly designed

biased

skewed

predisposed

Definition:

“Jerry-rigged” means organized or constructed in a crude or improvised manner.

Why it’s problematic:

“Jerry” is a derogatory term used by soldiers and civilians of the Allied nations for Germans in WW2.

sherpa guide

coach

leader

tutor

Definition:

A Sherpa is a person with Tibetan heritage who lives in the Nepalese Himalayas. The ethnic group is well-known because there are so many Sherpas that have served as porters on mountain-climbing expeditions.

Why it’s problematic:

Referring to someone as a “sherpa” is cultural appropriation.

spirit animal kindred spirit

BFF

personal icon

role model

Definition:

Spirit animals are an important part of the belief system of some cultures and refer to a spirit that “helps guide or protect a person on a journey and whose characteristics that person shares or embodies.”

Why it’s problematic:

Referring to something as your spirit animal is cultural appropriation.

totem pole (e.g., low person on the totem pole) hierarchy Definition:

A totem pole or monumental pole is a tall structure created by Northwest Coast Indigenous peoples that showcases a nation’s, family’s or individual’s history and displays their rights to certain territories, songs, dances and other aspects of their culture.

Why it’s problematic:

Using “totem pole” is culturally appropriative.

Disability and Ableism

Problem words Suggested Alternative(s) Context
blind to the truth

blind eye to

blind spot

imperceptive

ignorant

uneducated

insensitive

dense

unaware

choosing to ignore

biased against

Definition:

Several colloquialisms use the word “blind” to describe a lack of awareness.

Why it’s problematic:

This phrase is ableist, connoting that “blind” is equivalent to ignorant.

crazy

insane

baffling

confusing

disoriented

disorienting

amazing

incredibly

super difficult

very complicated

wild

irrational

ridiculous

silly

absurd

strange

unnatural

outrageous

out of this world

exciting

infatuated

passionate

enthusiastic

impractical

senseless

Definition:

Colloquially, labelling something “crazy” or “insane” is describing something that is chaotic, unorganized, or nonsensical.

Why it’s problematic:

Historically, “crazy” was commonly used to describe someone suffering from mental illness and not mentally sound.

Using a word associated with mental health and attributing it to someone or something is problematic because it perpetuates the stigma associated with mental health issues.

“Crazy” is a word with many uses and connotations, but it’s recommended to avoid this word as much as possible.

cripple(s) slow(s) down

inhibits

hinders

prevents

Definition:

A lame or partly disabled state of being that is deprived of the capability for service or of strength, efficiency or wholeness.

Why it’s problematic:

This is an ableist word that tends to be used with a negative connotation describing the disability.

dumb

dumb-down

clueless

uninformed

ignorant

mute or nonvocal

simplify (to replace dumb-down)

Definition:

The origin of the word, “dumb,” is a person who cannot speak.

Why it’s problematic:

It’s a negative word often associated negatively with those who cannot speak.

“deaf” to something; fell on deaf ears unwilling to hear or listen

ignorant

unwilling to learn/understand

misunderstanding

uneducated

dense

didn’t listen

ignored

disregarded

Definition:

This phrase connotes that being deaf is the same as being unwilling to listen.

Why it’s problematic:

There is a long history of associating people who are deaf with being unintelligent. It stems from the idea that if someone cannot use their voice and speak then they do not have anything of value to share.

lame weak Definition:

Originally, the word was used in reference to people with reduced mobility, and now it’s often a synonym for “uncool.”

Why it’s problematic:

This word is offensive, even when it’s used in slang for uncool because it’s using a disability in a negative way to imply that the opposite, which would be not lame, to be superior. This use is considered ableist.

normal, healthy (to denote people without disabilities) nondisabled person

sighted person

hearing person

person without disabilities

neurotypical person

desired state

Definition:

These words are often (and problematically) used to describe a person who does not have disabilities.

Why it’s problematic:

People with disabilities are equally healthy, and calling someone without a disability “normal” is denigrating those with disabilities as “abnormal” and therefore, “normal” is an ableist word.

  • Potentially offensive/ non-inclusive example: “A normal person can use both mouse and keyboard with their computers.”
  • Correction: “People without physical disabilities have the option of using a mouse, keyboard or both with their computers.”
see (this web page) read or visit this web page

hyperlink to the reference

view

read

Definition:

The definition of “see” can mean to look with one’s eyes at something, and so is associated with vision. It can also be used on a website or in a story posted online to mean “refer to,” “visit,” “know” or “understand.”

Why it’s problematic:

Though these uses of the word “see” aren’t inherently incorrect or necessarily offensive, content providers should avoid using the word “see” in situations in which a more accurate, non-ableist word would be better.

  • Potentially offensive/ non-inclusive example: “See the notes at the end of the article.”
  • Correction: “Refer to the notes at the end of the article.”

Ageism

Problem words Suggested Alternative(s) Context
Gray Beard Use the person’s name

experienced person

knowledgeable person

source person

Definition:

An older, more experienced IT or cybersecurity person, who may be sought after for their experience and wisdom born from study and experience over a lifetime.

Why it’s problematic:

Using this phrase can be perceived as derogatory toward someone’s age.

Gender and sexual orientation

Problem words Suggested Alternative(s) Context
he/she as an inclusive combined subject pronoun, also:

s/he

he or she

he and she

his and her

his or her

they/them/ theirs as singular (neutral) Definition:

In the past, when referring to others, the binary pronoun (he/she) and possessive pronoun (his/her) was often used.

Why it’s problematic:

Using the binary pronoun and possessive pronoun is no longer considered accurate due to greater understanding and acceptance that gender and sexual orientation are not binary or limited to male and female or he/she and his/her.

  • Potentially offensive/ non-inclusive example: Applicants for the position should submit his/her resume and cover letter.”
  • Correction: “Applicants for the position should submit their resume and cover letter.”
freshman, freshmen first-year student Definition:

Term applies to people in the first year of a traditional four-year undergraduate degree program.

Why it’s problematic:

Use of “man” and “men” in “freshman/freshmen” is not inclusive, and thus sexist.

housekeeping maintenance

cleanup

overview

Definition:

Housekeeping refers to the management of business duties and tasks.

Why it’s problematic:

In reference to office work, this language can feel gendered. It carries a fraught history and connotation of women’s traditional domestic role as housekeepers.

man (verb: e.g., “I’ll be manning the front desk”) staffing

working

Definition:

To staff or furnish with a person or people, such as in customer service.

Why it’s problematic:

Use of “man” is not inclusive, and thus sexist.

man hours person hours
engineer hours, hours of effort, work hours, labor hours
Definition:

Hours of a worker’s time.

Why it’s problematic:

Use of “man” is not inclusive, and thus sexist. Gender is unnecessary when describing time worked.

manpower workforce

human effort

Definition:

People capable of doing the work necessary to complete a task.

Why it’s problematic:

The word “manpower” is gendered in a way that implies that men are required for a task, when gender is irrelevant to a task’s completion.

preferred pronouns pronouns
personal pronouns
Definition:

Pronouns that individuals use to substitute for themselves in the third-person and how they prefer to be referred to. Examples include: he/his/him, she/her/hers, they/their/theirs, ze/hir/hirs and ze/zir/zirs.

Why it’s problematic:

“Preferred” implies that a person’s pronoun is optional, and it suggests that gender identity and expression is a preference and that respectful pronoun use is therefore optional. Gender identity and expression is more complex than that, and respectful use is neither preferred nor optional; it is expected and warranted.

upperclassman, upperclassmen junior or senior student(s)

returning student(s)

Definition:

A student who is a junior or senior in secondary school or college.

Why it’s problematic:

Using “men” or “man” is not inclusive and considered sexist.

guys folks

people

you all

y’all

friends

Definition:

Used to refer to people in a group or audience, regardless of their sex.

Why it’s problematic:

Avoid gendered pronouns that favor one gender over the other and aim for those that are inclusive.

ladies/gals women

folks

people

you all

y’all

friends

Definition:

Used to refer to women in a group or audience.

Why it’s problematic:

Terms like “ladies,” “gals” or others can feel patronizing to some.

mankind humankind Definition:

The human race; humankind.

Why it’s problematic:

Using “man”kind to represent all of humankind is sexist.

sexual preference

lifestyle

sexual orientation Definition:

Romantic or sexual attraction (or a combination) to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, to both sexes or more than one gender.

Why it’s problematic:

The terms “sexual preference” and “lifestyle” are considered offensive because they imply that a person’s sexuality is a choice.

Gay, as a generic term LGBTQIA+

LGBTQQIAAP

Definition:

Gay is a term used to refer to homosexuality, a homosexual person, or a homosexual male.

Why it’s problematic:

The term “gay” has fallen out of favor, and the preferred term is now LGBTQIA+ which stands for:

LLesbian. Lesbian is a term used to refer to homosexual females.

G Gay. Gay is a term used to refer to homosexuality, a homosexual person, or a homosexual male.

B Bisexual. Bisexual is when a person is attracted to two sexes/genders.

T Trans. Trans is an umbrella term for transgender and transsexual people.

Q Queer. Queer is an umbrella term for all of those who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender.

Q – Questioning. Questioning is when a person isn’t 100% sure of their sexual orientation and/or gender, and are trying to find their true identity.

I Intersex. Intersex is when a person has an indeterminate mix of primary and secondary sex characteristics.

A Asexuality. Asexuality is when a person experiences no (or little, if referring to demisexuality or grey-asexuality) sexual attraction to people.

A – Allies. Allies are a person who identifies as straight but supports people in the LGBTQQIAAP community

P – Pansexual. Pansexual is a person whose sexual attraction is not based on gender and may themselves be fluid when it comes to gender or sexual identity.

+ – The “+” symbol simply stands for all of the other sexualities, sexes, and genders that aren’t included in these few letters.

virgin first run

first launch

Definition:

The word can mean first, but is commonly used to indicate a person who has not had sexual intercourse.

Why it’s problematic:

Because the strong association to a woman who has not had sex, and the negative and emotionally charged stereotypes associated with the word, the word should be avoided.

References

Race, Ethnicity, Nationality, Religion, Native/Indigenous Identity

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Belisle, Michele. “Words matter. remove racist labels used in technology.” NTEN, August 19, 2020.

Boiser, Lena. “Kanban Roles for Successful Project Management.” Kanban Zone, April 16, 2019.

Brown Paper Bag Test – 2014 – Question of the Month – Jim Crow Museum. Ferris State University, Feb. 2014.

Cimpanu, Catalin. “Infosec community disagrees with changing ‘black hat’ term due to racial stereotyping.” ZDNet, July 4, 2020.

Emerson, Joelle. “Want to Hire a More Diverse Set of People? Raise Your Bar.” Medium, May 11, 2015.

Emmanuel, Adeshina. “Common Words and Phrases That Are Racist.” Attn, Apr. 10, 2016.

Emmanuel, Adeshina. “Common Words and Phrases That Have Seriously Racist Roots.” Attn, April 10, 2016.

Eubanks, Olivia. “Here are some commonly used terms that actually have racist origins.” ABC News, July 30, 2020.

First-class citizen – Wikipedia. Wikipedia, Nov. 13, 2021.

Gandhi, Lakshmi. “The extraordinary story of why a ‘cakewalk’ wasn’t always easy.” National Public Radio, December 23, 2013.

Harder, Eva and Varga, Shannon M. “ESL, ELL, or FLNE? How to Describe Students Whose First Language Isn’t English.” America’s Promise Alliance, Sept. 27, 2017.

Hunter, Tatum. “Terms like ‘slave’ and ‘master’ finally have their reckoning. It’s a start.” Built In, July 26, 2020.

Knodel, Mallory. “Terminology, power, and exclusionary language in Internet-Drafts and RFCs.” Datatracker, Oct. 22, 2021

Landau, Elizabeth. “Tech confronts its use of the labels ‘master’ and ‘slave’.” Wired, July 6, 2020.

Malesky, Kee. “Should Saying Someone Is ‘Off The Reservation’ Be Off-Limits?” NPR, Code Switch, June 29, 2014.

Native Life & Tribal Relations | Diversity at the UW. University of Washington, [date?]

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Redlining – Wikipedia Wikipedia, Nov. 18, 2021.

Regarding Git and Branch Naming. Software Freedom Conservancy, June 23, 2020.

Riggins, Jennifer. “Words Matter: Finally, Tech Looks at Removing Exclusionary Language.” The New Stack, June 19, 2020.

Rodriguez, Katitza, et. al. “Protecting Security Researchers’ Rights in the Americas.” Electronic Frontier Foundation, October 16, 2018.

Schneider, Christian. “Provost reprimanded for using word ‘mantra,’ cited as biased against Buddhists.” The College Fix, Aug. 6, 2020.

Seele, Mike. “Striking out racist terminology in engineering.” The Brink, Boston University, July 16, 2020.

Smythe, Will. Guidance for changing the default branch name for GitHub repositories. GitHub, Jan. 15, 2021.

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Sully, Benny Wayne. “7 Things You Should Never Say to a Native American.” Insider, Jan. 9, 2020.

Tikayatray, Lokajit. “Racist and Sexist Terms That Are Commonly Used in Technology World.” Medium, Oct. 29, 2020.

Tuck, Eve. “Things you can say instead of spirit animal: role model inspiration board inner avatar secret twin desired doppelgänger personal icon.” Twitter, Jan. 1, 2017.

Turner, Bob. “The colors of cybersecurity.” The CISO’s Special Edition blog, UW Madison Information Technology, July 13, 2020.

Wallen, Jack. “GitHub to replace master with main starting in October: What developers need to do now.” TechRepublic, September 22, 2020.

Weidman Powers, Laura. “What You’re Really Saying When You Talk About Lowering the Bar in Hiring.” beyourself, Feb. 10, 2016.

Disability and Ableism

Ewing, Rachel. “That’s crazy:” Why you might want to rethink that word in your vocabulary.” Penn Medicine News, Sep. 27, 2018.

Hanson, Seán. “Ableist language in code: Sanity check.” GitHub Gist.

Ping-Wild, Jessica. “Ableist language to avoid and acceptable alternatives – “Crazy” Edition.” The Rolling Explorer, October 1, 2020.

Ping-Wild, Jessica. “Ableist language to avoid and acceptable alternatives – “Blind” Edition.” The Rolling Explorer, October 1, 2020.

Torres, Monica. “Instead of these ableist words, use inclusive language at work.” HuffPost, October 15, 2020.

What is ableism.” Stop Ableism.

Writing inclusive documentation. “Developer documentation style guide.” Google.

Ageism

Turner, Bob. “The colors of cybersecurity.” UW Madison Information Technology.

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Gender and sexual orientation

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California City Drops Words Like ‘Manpower’ in Push to be Inclusive.” VOA | Learning English, July 23, 2019.

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Jake. “The Great Ubuntu-Girlfriend Experiment (Content Consumer).” LWN.net. 28 April 2008.

Hare, Kristen. “AP style change: Singular they is acceptable ‘in limited cases’.” Poynter, Mar. 24, 2017.

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Sakurai, Shige. MyPronouns.org.

Seiter, Courtney. “An incomplete guide to inclusive language for startups and tech.” Buffer. 6 Jun. 2018.

Shankland, Stephen. “Twitter engineers replacing racially loaded tech terms like ‘master,’ ‘slave’.” CNET. 2 July 2020.

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Zap, Claudine. “Washington state gets rid of sexist language.” Yahoo News, July 3, 2013.

Last reviewed January 31, 2022