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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.

Contributors:Dana Lynn Driscoll, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2010-07-13 09:30:07

Avoid using language that is stereotypical or biased in any way. 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.

Non-Sexist language

Writing in a non-sexist, non-biased way is both ethically sound and effective. Non-sexist writing is necessary for most audiences; if you write in a sexist manner and alienate much of your audience from your discussion, your writing will be much less effective.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) suggests the following guidelines:

Generic Use

Although MAN in its original sense carried the dual meaning of adult human and adult male, its meaning has come to be so closely identified with adult male that the generic use of MAN and other words with masculine markers should be avoided.

Occupations

Avoid the use of MAN in occupational terms when persons holding the job could be either male or female.

Historically, some jobs have been dominated by one gender or the other. This has lead to the tendency for a person of the opposite gender to be "marked" by adding a reference to gender. You should avoid marking the gender in this fashion in your writing.

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