A technology company rooted in California is seemingly on a moral crusade to replace, remove, and banish what it deems “offensive” or “violent” words from everyday Americans’ written and spoken language.
As if most decent, hardworking people go about their daily lives—be it at home, school, the workplace or leisure environments—spewing language riddled with aggressive jargon?
And for the share of the population who choose to use harsh language under their First Amendment right, the likelihood of a company in the West Coast influencing their choice of words is, frankly, very low.
The consequence of such a mission may result in Internet memes and backlash among libertarian and conservative political circles, and any chance of bridging a communications divide between those who lean politically left will have been further impaired.
The author of this language-modification manual, Anna Taylor, is the company’s director of communications and “champion for diversity, equity and inclusion.” She has stated, “The guide is for those who would like to replace mostly violently framed idioms with more positive and inclusive language.”
So it’s framed as a choice for those who would like to modify their speech but not forced to—or else they might feel bullied or berated out of their workplace for innocently using long-standing phrases without meaning to harm or hurt anyone’s feelings?
Therefore, expressions such as “jump the gun”, “roll with the punches,” and even “deadline” are being branded as “offensive” due to their “violent” undertones.
A few of Taylor’s suggestions include replacing the phrases “I’ll bite the bullet” with “I won’t avoid it any longer,” and “kill two birds with one stone” with “feed two birds with one scone.”
Let’s pause. The latter idiom dates back to the 1600s; it references using a slingshot for hunting birds and implies achieving two aims in a single action. Not sure how relevant “feeding” two birds with one “scone” is to this phrase’s original meaning.
Most sincere and honestly, those of us in the habit of using idioms, proverbs or phrases with origins in bygone eras are unlikely to be subconsciously promoting or giving a pass to violent behavior. If anything, those with a cunning and calculated mind to commit harm might choose to use the most innocent and softly spoken terminology that melts the hearts of their victims. But that’s a different article altogether.
Unfortunately, this trend in systematically attempting to change words and phrasing through organized institutions isn’t new.
Unsurprisingly, “inclusive” replacements are provided in a “guide” produced as part of the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) project launched earlier that year. The goal is to eliminate “many forms of harmful language,” including “racist, violent, and biased (e.g., disability bias, ethnic bias, ethnic slurs, gender bias, implicit bias, sexual bias) language.”
The EHLI outlines 10 “harmful language” sections, including ableist, ageism, colonialism, culturally appropriative, gender-based, imprecise language, institutionalized racism, person-first, violent and additional considerations.
(Talk about being systematic, organized and attention to detail.)
Indeed, under the Imprecise Language section, readers are advised to replace the term “American” with “U.S. citizen” because the former typically refers to “people from the United States only, thereby insinuating that the U.S. is the most important country in the Americas.” The Americas, the EHLI notes, comprises 42 countries between North and South America.
(Talk about championing patriotism—or the lack thereof.)
In fact, the justified sheer level of scrutiny over the term “American” forced the university to update its website as follows:
We have particularly heard concerns about the guide’s treatment of the term “American.” We understand and appreciate those concerns. To be very clear, not only is the use of the term “American” not banned at Stanford, it is absolutely welcomed. The intent of this particular entry on the EHLI website was to provide perspective on how the term may be imprecise in some specific uses, and to show that in some cases the alternate term “U.S. citizen” may be more precise and appropriate. But, we clearly missed the mark in this presentation.
No doubt Stanford missed the mark. But one could say the university is merely warming up with these “suggested alternatives.”
Indeed, the familiar phrase “beating a dead horse” is also cautioned against because such terminology might normalize the idea of violence against animals. Readers are advised to use “accessible parking” instead of “handicap parking” and “anonymous review” instead of “blind review.” Another recommendation includes replacing “Karen” with “demanding or entitled White woman.”
Imagine if such effort—the meticulous hours likely spent producing a speech-policing manual—were channeled to fuel constructive discussions between fellow Americans who might share different political persuasions and moral values, albeit a small stepping stone towards closing a seemingly widening gap within a nation of two halves.
First and foremost, we need to listen to one another; academic institutions are one of the few places to plant the initial seed of hearing—that and the growing online social platforms where young people, in particular, connect to exchange their views.
As part of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021,” over $550,000 was granted to researchers at the University of Washington to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to “protect” online users from “discriminatory” language and “microaggressions.” Although such an amount is a drop in the economic trillion stimulus bill, it was still, nonetheless, awarded by the U.S. federal government.
Professor Yulia Tsvetko, the principal investigator in receipt of the grant, has coauthored Finding Microaggressions in the Wild, which is an article that classifies various “microaggressions” into subcategories, including the “myth of meritocracy” where “differences in treatment are due to one’s merit.”
The article, which is based on the analysis of openly available data, might be written with the utmost sincere nature and goodwill, to support “marginalizing minorities and disadvantaged groups” as stated by the authors.
Having open, honest and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about attitudes and outlooks towards certain groups of individuals who might feel singled out negatively from a crowd isn’t such a radical idea.
As is the case with any attempt to “fix a problem,” the challenge begins when many people feel pressured and forced to change their speech for political correctness—and to keep their income. However, they may never actually agree with the sentiments posed in the altered speech. Consequently, frustrations over threatened First Amendment rights will lead to bitterness and likely trigger counteract activism that might further polarize our nation.
America, as a relatively young nation compared to the rest of the world, can strive to maintain its identity through the lens of sociocultural and economic success. And more and more Americans might consider listening to one another—even if that means passively hearing a commentator’s perspective through a podcast.
Of course, listening to someone with a different value system or political persuasion can be challenging, particularly if we don’t agree with them. However, some of us may learn to appreciate the stark differences among fellow citizens and patriots—before, say, attempting to offer an alternative outlook or lifestyle rooted in Christian teachings.
In mid-2022, Google trialled a language “correction” tool within its Google Docs editor, prompting “inclusive warnings” to users and suggesting they replace single-sex terms such as “policeman” and ‘landlord’ with more neutral versions of “police officer” and “property owner.”
However, the mammoth tech company experienced a surge of criticism across the entire political spectrum—yes, even those on the Left with rainbow colors in their biography—and soon thereafter announced it would be pausing the tool.
A Google spokeswoman reportedly expressed that the “inclusive language suggestions—an assisted writing feature—can over or undercorrect certain phrases. We’re looking more carefully at the inclusive language suggestions and have paused those for further review while we continue to improve this feature.”
She even said that the “assisted writing” feature is an AI program “based on millions of common phrases and sentences, to automatically learn how people communicate and suggest changes.”
In the summer of 2022, the opinion piece editor of Newsweek, Josh Hammer, clearly articulated a suspected purpose of the tool for Google Docs:
“Newspeak,” the language of [George] Orwell’s fictional single-political party superstate, was a tool devised for monitoring the people’s communications, prosecuting “thoughtcrimes,” and ultimately controlling and dictating the people’s very beliefs.
And even left-wing commentators, who are more likely to trust government bodies and public-private partnerships, expressed their annoyance, which was probably a sufficient reason for liberal Silicon Valley-headquartered Google to lay low on its AI speech-influence tool.
Changing expressions and terminology isn’t wholly radical and can be viewed as part of the evolution of culture. For example, consider the introduction of Christian-inspired wordings, allegories, metaphors and idioms throughout Europe since the 1st century.
Yet, such present “inclusive warnings” and “suggestions” are based on a cultural shift that is heavily critical of the sexes—i.e., only male and female people exist, albeit there are rare genetic exceptions of individuals born with intersex traits.
Moreover, the idea of potentially “harmful” and “non-inclusive” terms such as a computer “motherboard” would have left many writers downright annoyed. Unsurprisingly, Google’s “assisted writing” feature—sorry, a potential speech-policing feature—reflects decades of activism for sex-neutral terms and against phrases that might reflect racial prejudice, i.e., “deny list” instead of “blacklist”, as well as more significant concerns on how we identify people in 21st century America.
While Google’s attempt to modify speech might have been perceived as too aggressive and annoying, the popular language checker Grammarly has taken “inclusive suggestions” in its stride.
For example, the term “mankind” is highlighted as potentially “non-inclusive” to some readers, and a suggested replacement of “humankind” follows, assuming that “your intended meaning applies to all people, a gender-neutral term may be more effective.”
Indeed, Grammarly has mastered the art of presenting writing tips to its growing base of Gen Z and millennial students and professionals in a friendly, and seemingly non-threatening style.
Language is always evolving, and apparently that’s also why Grammarly’s “writing assistant has incorporated suggestions” to help users “stay empathetic to the LGBTQIA+ people” in their lives.
The decades-long relentless campaign to systematically change our culture—to fundamentally change how we recognise ourselves and our loved ones as individuals, and to alter the meaning of having a purpose in our lives—isn’t running out of steam, albeit has been experiencing pushback across the entire political spectrum to varying degrees.
Language is a potent tool, and the power of words is immeasurable towards influencing our thoughts positively or negatively, depending on the prevailing situation. Words, indeed, have symbolic meanings that can impact every person in different ways.
So yes, we might want to consider choosing our words carefully to ensure we convey our thoughts clearly to others, especially so when appropriate “suggestions” align with common sense and basic decency.
And even if we don’t, resulting in the possible consequence of confusion and potentially lost-in-translation moments—that is a right enshrined in our First Amendment.
Content syndicated from Dear Rest of America with permission