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HomePolicy'Grandfather,' 'Ninja,' and ‘Crazy' Among UW’s List of ‘Problematic’ Words

‘Grandfather,’ ‘Ninja,’ and ‘Crazy’ Among UW’s List of ‘Problematic’ Words


The University of Washington (UW) has released a language guide listing words that it considers “problematic.”

The university’s IT department has listed some 85 words in this “equitable language guide” that are “racist,” “sexist,” “ageist,” “ableist,” “homophobic,” or in any way non-inclusive.

Words like “ninja,” “guru,” “cakewalk,” “crazy,” “lame,” and “grandfather” featured on the list will no longer be used on the university’s website or promotional materials. 

“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,” UW said. 

‘Problematic’ Word List

The list of problematic words is grouped into four categories: race, disability, age, and sexual orientation. The university also suggests alternatives for every word that it labels problematic.

For example, the word “crazy” to describe something chaotic and disorganized was also used in history to “describe someone suffering from mental illness.” Instead of “crazy,” the university recommends using synonyms such as “confusing,” “baffling,” “disoriented,” “wild,” or “silly.”

Likewise, words such as “freshman,” “housekeeping,” and “manpower” have been replaced with “first-year student,” “maintenance,” and “workforce” to emphasize the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

The university is also slashing words like “grandfather” because the “Grandfather clause” prevented African Americans from voting in the 19th century, “mantra” because Buddhists regard it as a spiritual experience, and “spirit animal” because it encourages cultural appropriation.

Similar Initiatives 

UW joins a list of schools that have developed their own controversial word guides in a conscious effort to respect their community.

Last year, Massachusetts-based Brandeis University cautioned students and teachers against using language with alleged racist and sexist origins

Besides words like “policeman” and “rule of thumb,” the university also ruled out the word “picnic,” which has ties with “lynchings of Black people,” recommending the phrase “outdoor eating” instead.

The University of Pittsburgh published its “non-sexist language guidelines,” using terms like “ladies and gentlemen” instead of “colleagues, guests, students.”

“You are free to not use this language. You are also free to criticize the way someone is dressed even if you don’t know them, but then most people would probably think you are rude. Isn’t it nice to have a little guidance about how to be considerate and polite?” Pitt professor Scott Kiesling remarked.

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