(UnitedHeadlines.com) – Stanford University has decided most people can’t handle the English language as it currently stands, and it has released a guide, the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI), to help readers navigate the new list of offenses. Supporters see the advice as a way to avoid unintentionally triggering others. Still, looking at some of the lists of “harmful” terms raises the question: How far is too far when policing others’ personal word choices?
Faculty members at Stanford explained to media outlets the intention behind the guide was to tackle language choices that people could perceive as racist, biased, or violent — in itself a worthy enough endeavor. They added that they defined eight categories of offenses: Ableist, Ageism, Culturally Appropriative, Gender-based, Imprecise Language, Institutionalized Racism, Person-First, Violent and Additional Considerations.
Yet, critics say some of the applied suggestions feel like a stretch. For example, using the shortened term “American” to depict a US citizen is one of the highlighted issues, given the United States is but one of 42 countries throughout North and South America. Stanford’s guide points to the use of “master” in the context of self-improvement (such as mastering an art) as inappropriate because the term applied to slave owners. The liberal term “trigger warning” also made the list because guns have triggers, and some people relate guns with violence.
Other critics of the list shared that the word “abort,” such as in cutting short a mission, is also now a problem, noting “cancel” or “end” are now the preferred terms. “Tone deaf” is also out, with the recommended “unenlightened” replacing it so as not to offend anyone who might actually suffer from hearing impairment. Apparently, “handicap” is also now offensive, but “accessible” is not. The list continues.
Power in Words
The academics at Stanford contend that the words we use contain real power. They can both express and evoke beliefs, feelings, and bitter truths and enable people to define and add meaning to experiences — like the heart-stirring effects of a powerful speech, the lyrics in a favorite song, or even a monologue in a book or movie.
Still, critics contend that all forms of power have their limits. As individuals and collectively as groups in society, people might agree that a word or phrase only carries the power they confer upon it. Essentially, language becomes harmful only when people decide it is.
For example, those opposing Stanford’s policy would ask people to consider every derogatory term they’ve never heard, every foreign word that would be meaningless to them but an outrage in a different language. Ultimately, they’re all just sounds and syllables — and the speaker’s intentions and the listener’s perceptions dictate the greater meanings.
So, do critics have a point? When a percentage of the people in a society choose only to see the possible offenses over all else, is censorship really the best solution?
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