language in the
Why does inclusive language matter?
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) language are ever-growing, always evolving, and increasingly important in the workplace right now. After all, language shapes culture and people crave supportive cultures and healthy communication in an uncertain world.
Inclusive language aims to be just that: inclusive of all people. Inclusive language avoids offensive and negative expressions that imply ideas that are sexist, racist, otherwise biased, prejudiced, or denigrating to any particular group of people.
Because DEI language is a work in progress, we recommend bookmarking this page; we’ll continually refresh it with some of the most important terms.
Principles of inclusive language
- Any group interactions should be applied with care and consideration, with an awareness of the diversity within and between groups, and always be couched in inclusive terms.
- Use people-centric language, which focuses on the person and reflects the individuality of people. People-centric language doesn’t classify or stereotype people based on their association or identity with a group or culture.
- Only reference personal attributes or characteristics when it’s relevant to the context.
- Consider a strengths-based approach (recognizing the agility of people and focusing on abilities, knowledge, and capacities), rather than a deficit approach (focusing on deficiencies of a person or group of people).
- Where appropriate, ask about the language the person prefers and respect their wishes. Don’t make assumptions about people or their characteristics based on stereotypes or limited information.
- Be conscious of the implications of your language. Avoid excluding others or making people invisible by your choice of language. Avoid language and expressions that disparage or trivialize others.
- Where possible, empower the person or group to speak for themselves. If you do need to speak on the behalf of a group of people, it is very important that you consult widely to ensure that the language you use is reflective of the group.
- Address and remove stereotypes and myths. If someone uses inappropriate language in your presence, speak out against it and correct the inappropriate language used, if safe.
Specific ways to implement inclusive language in the workplace:
- Ensure professional development materials in lectures and professional development settings, accurately reflect the diversity of the audience and society generally.
- When referencing material that includes non-inclusive language, use to demonstrate that this was used by the original author and is unacceptable language.
- When using examples in lectures or professional development workshops, avoid limiting the inclusion of people to only the area of their diversity.
- Ensure everything you do in the work space, such as developing lecture slides, developing and maintaining websites, scheduling meetings, is accessible for a diverse audience. This includes the language used and the way it is delivered.
- Educate yourself on cultural differences to ensure that your material and the delivery of your material are not offensive in cross-cultural communications.
- Address and remove stereotypes or inappropriate language in all instances — including casual conversation, such as catching up over coffee or discussions in tutorials.
- If someone uses inappropriate language in your presence, it’s good practice to use a positive, educative approach to inform the person why the language they used is inappropriate, and offer an alternative approach they could use next time.
- Ensure that the language and the delivery of your material is accessible to a diverse audience with diverse needs.
- Be aware of the context of the language being used. Some terms are ok to use by people as a means of claiming their identity, but are not ok, and can be seen as derogatory, when used by others.
Keep the following questions in mind when using inclusive language:
- Is it necessary to refer to a person or groups’ personal characteristics?
- If it is, are the references to personal characteristics couched in inclusive terms?
- Do the references to people reflect the diversity of the intended audience, and is the material accessible to the intended audience?
- Are you excluding people in the design and delivery of your material?
Diversity and inclusion terms you need to know for an inclusive workplace
Age and family status
This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s age and/or family status.
|Give/given up for adoption||Placed for adoption, birth parent chose adoption|
|Is adopted||Was adopted|
|Orphan(s)||Child(ren) without parent(s)|
|Grandfather clause||Legacy, exempt from the new rule, exempted from the new rule, exempted|
|Master/slave||Leader/follower, primary/secondary, primary/standby, patriarch, indentured servant|
|Poor, blue-collar||Lower-income, person/people experiencing poverty, working class, wage earning|
|Homeless||Person/people experiencing homelessness, person/people without (a) home(s), unhoused, displaced|
|The hungry||Person/people experiencing food insecurity|
|Low-class people||Person/people experiencing socioeconomic difficulty|
|Welfare reliant||Person/people receiving government assistance|
|Homeless shelter||Person/people experiencing socioeconomic difficulty|
|Up-and-coming neighborhood||Gentrified neighborhood|
|Spinster, old maid, maiden (as in, my maiden aunt)||Person/people who is/are single, person/people who is/are unmarried, single people, unmarried people neighborhood|
|Divorcée, divorcé, divorcee||Person/people who is/are divorced, divorced people|
|Normal body||Non-disabled body|
|Person that||Person who|
This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s disability status.
|The handicapped, the disabled, the differently abled||Person/people with a disability/disabilities/impediment(s)/impairment(s), person/people with a disability, neurodiverse (when referring to cognitive ability)|
|Retarded||Person/people with a learning disability|
|Addict||Person/people with an addiction|
|confined to a wheelchair||Person/people who use(s) a wheelchair, uses a wheelchair|
|Normal, healthy, whole people||Person/people without disabilities/impediment(s)/impairment(s), non-disabled body, neurotypical (when referring to cognitive ability)|
|Disabled community, disabled sport||Disability community, sport for athletes with a disability|
|Person with a birth defect||Person/people who has/have a congenital disability/disabilities/impediment(s)/impairment(s)|
|Person afflicted with, suffers from, is stricken with, a victim of…||Person/people who has/have… person/people who has/have been diagnosed with…|
|Downs person, mongoloid, mongol, mongolism||Person/people who has/have Down syndrome|
|The autistic||Person/people who has/have (or has been diagnosed with) autism, person/people on the autism spectrum, on the spectrum|
|A quadriplegic, a paraplegic||Person/people with quadriplegia, person/people with paraplegia, person/people diagnosed with a physical disability/disabilities/impediment(s)/impairment(s)|
|A cripple, crippled||Person/people with a physical disability/disabilities/impediment(s), person/people with a mobility impairment(s), person/people who walk(s) with crutches, person/people who use(s) a walker|
|Deformed||Disfigurement, person/people who has a/are disfigurement/disfigured, disfigured|
|Epileptic||Person/people with epilepsy|
|A dwarf, a midget||Person/people of short stature, little person/people|
|Learning disability||Learning difference|
|Slow learner||Person with a learning disability|
|Dumb, mute, non-verbal||Person/people who is/are unable to speak, person/people who use(s) a communication device, communicates without using words|
|Hearing impaired, the deaf||Person/people who is/are deaf (little to no functional hearing, often communicates through sign language), person/people who is/are hard of hearing (mild to moderate hearing loss, may or may not use sign language)|
|The blind||Person/people who is/are blind, person/people who is/are visually impaired, person/people with low vision|
|Attack, spell, fit||Seizure|
|Learning disabled||Person/people with a learning disability|
|Brain damaged||Person/people with a brain injury, person/people who has/have sustained a brain injury|
|Crazy, insane, psycho, mentally ill, emotionally disturbed, demented, nuts||Person/people diagnosed with a mental health condition, person/people with a psychiatric disability|
|Sanity check||Quick check, confidence check, coherence check|
|Special ed student, special education student||Student(s) who receive(s) special education services|
|Confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound||Person/people who use(s) a wheelchair or a mobility chair|
|Handicapped parking, handicapped bathrooms, etc.||Accessible parking, accessible bathrooms|
|Special, courageous, heroic, inspiring, brave||Person/people who adapt(s) to their disability do not necessarily acquire these traits — consider whether the individual or situation merits these terms beyond disability.|
Gender identity and gender expression
This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s gender identity and expression.
|Transgendered, a transgender (n.), transgenders, transvestite, tranny, she-male, he/she, it, shim||Transgender (adj.), trans|
|Gender identity disorder||Gender dysphoria|
|Biologically male/female, genetically male/female, born a man/woman||Assigned male/female at birth, designated male/female at birth|
|Sex change, sex reassignment, sex-change operation, pre-operative, post-operative||Transition, gender affirmation|
|Normal||Non-transgender people, cisgender|
|Opposite sex||Different sex|
|Opposite sex||LGBTQ+ community|
|Special rights||Equal rights, equal protection|
|Passing, stealth, deceptive, fooling, pretending, posing, trap, masquerading||These terms should not be used because they promote the harmful idea that transgender people are being deceitful in their gender expression.|
This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s non-binary pronouns.
|Man hours||Person hours, engineer hours|
|Mankind||People, human beings, humanity|
|The common man||The average person, folks|
|Chairman||Chair, chairperson, coordinator, head|
|Mailman||Mail carrier, letter carrier, postal worker|
|Females||To many English speakers, “females” sounds like a scientific designation one would use for animals or plants. Say “women” instead..|
|Girl/girls||For anyone over 18 years old, woman or women is a better choice.|
Race, ethnicity, and nationality
This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s race, ethnicity, and/or nationality.
|Geographic descriptors interchangeably with religious or other terms to describe specific groups of people. For example, Muslim is not synonymous with Arab.||With regards to nationality, avoid using citizen as a generic term for people who live in a given country.|
|Indian, natives, red||Native American, American Indian (for groups). Individuals and/or individual tribes should be identified by tribal affiliation. Indigenous, aboriginal (for non-American), native (adj.) can be used to describe styles (e.g., native art)|
|Eskimo||Alaska Native (Eskimo refers to a specific tribe and isn’t all-inclusive)|
|Oriental, yellow, jap paki, flip||Asian, South Asian (India, Pakistan, etc.), East Asian (China, Japan, etc.), Southeast Asian (Indonesia, Philippines, etc.), demonym (a word used for people or the inhabitants of a place) can be joined with American (e.g., Asian American or Indian American)|
|Exotic, hapa||Pacific Islander (Fijian, Guamanian, Hawaiian, Northern Mariana Islander, Palauan, Samoan, Tahitian and Tongan)|
|Negro, colored, n—– (this word should never be spelled out, even when quoting someone)||Chair, chairperson, coordinator, head|
|Blacklist||Denylist, blocklist, block, deny, disallow, exclude|
|Spanish (for people not from Spain), brown||Latino/Latina/Latinx, Hispanic, Latin American, demonym (e.g., Mexican, Chilean)|
|Middle Eastern, Muslim (in reference to a geographic area)||Given the size and diversity of the Middle Eastern region, there is not an accepted encompassing racial or ethnic term. Some more accurate localized terms include: Arab (referring to an Arabic-speaking country), Persian (referring to Farsi-speakers), North African, as well as many more country and region-specific designations.|
|White, Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP), redneck||White, Caucasian, European American|
|Nonwhite||Person/people of color, Black, Indigenious, People of Color (BIPOC), African American, Latino/a American, Asian American & Native American (ALANNA)|
|Mulatto||Multiracial, biracial, mixed race|
|Alien(s), illegal alien(s), illegal(s)||Undocumented non-citizen(s), undocumented immigrant(s), immigrant(s) undocumented immigrant(s), Undocumented|
This category describes how to avoid discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation.
|Homosexual, gay (n.) (as in, He is a gay.), homo, sodomite||Gay (adj.), lesbian (n. or adj.), bisexual, bi (adj. and should not be hyphenated), queer (adj.)|
|Homosexuality, lesbianism, gay (as a pejorative)||Being gay/lesbian/bisexual/queer|
|Sexual preference, same-sex attractions, sexual identity||Sexual orientation, orientation|
|Gay/lesbian/bisexual lifestyle||LGBTQ+ people and their lives|
|Normal||Person/people who is/are not gay, person/people who is/are not lesbian, person/people who is/are not bisexual, heterosexual, heteronormative (to describe norms that shut out LGBTQ+ people)|
|Admitted homosexual, avowed homosexual, openly gay||Out, out gay man(men), out lesbian(s), out queer person/people|
Business and technology
This category describes how to avoid discrimination within business and technology settings.
|I will pray for you||I hope you are well|
|Workaholic||Person who works a lot|
|That has nothing to do with me||I’m sorry, I do not know how to help you with this issue.|
|Stop wasting my time||I believe this is not the best way for us to use our time.|
|I’ve got more important things to worry about||I believe this is not the best way for us to use our time.|
|Personal circumstances should not affect your work||How can I help?|
|Leave it at home||How can I help?|
|If you can’t do a better job, I’ll find someone who can||If you want, we can transfer this work to someone else.|
|Because I’m in charge||Here’s what I’m thinking|
|Get your shit together||I think we can find more efficient ways of completing this task. Let’s sit down and discuss a few ideas.|
|Thank you in advance||Thank you for reading|
|Open kimono||Transparent, open book|
|Killed it||Did a great job, ended it|
|Par for the course||Expected|
|Fumble||Mistake, make a mistake|
|Carry the ball||Be responsible for|
|Game plan||Plan of action|
|Bases are loaded||Have an advantage|
|Covering all the bases||Being thorough|
|Out of the ballpark||Beyond the limit|
|Play hardball||Be tough|
|Rain check||Accept at a later time|
|Right off the bat||Instantly|
|Step up to the plate||Respond to an opportunity|
|Touch base||Sync, follow up, connect|
|Home court advantage||Favorable position|
|Down to the wire||Right at the end|
|Front runner||Expected to win|
|Into full swing||Comfortable with, underway, in the midst of|
|Let her rip||Go ahead, went ahead|
Politics, geopolitics, and the law
|Is woke||Is a liberal person, is liberal|
|Years of experience||Experience solving, experience|
|Work hard play hard||working with, much experience|
|Pathologically||Wholeheartedly support a healthy work/life balance passionately, excitedly, energetically|
|Obsessed||Passionate about, excited about, love, energized by|
|Maternity/Paternity leave||Family leave|
|Ruthless||Persistent, determined, persevering|
|Objectives||Goals, ideas, plans|
|Resilient||Flexible, nimble, agile|
|Aggressive||Persistent, determined, persevering|
|Cool||Great, interesting, fascinating, compassionate, collegial, supportive|
|Fast-paced||Requires strong time-management skills, ability to prioritize many deadlines at once|
|Warrior||Professional, devoted, caring, passionate|
|Wizard||Professional, pro, expert, fluent, adept, certified|
|Skin in the game||Invested, devoted|
|Bleeding edge||Future, innovative, unconventional, new, high-risk, risky|
|Cutting edge||Latest, advanced, high-tech|
|Next level||Latest, advanced, high-tech|
|Live and breathe||Uphold, promote, embody, center, live by|
Want to stamp out bias in writing and inspire a positive workplace culture?
Writer can highlight outdated terms with in-line suggestions.