Is there such a thing as bias-free language?

what-are-we-offended-by-today-300x223Earlier this week, there was an article in the Perspective section of the Chicago Tribune by S.E. Cupp about the University of New Hampshire’s guide to “bias-free language”. Apparently this so-called “guide” was posted on their website as a way to never offend anyone anywhere and reduce all discourse to a few generic terms for everything.

For instance, you should use the term “parenting” instead of “mothering” or “fathering”, as if there is no difference between mothers and fathers and the way they parent.

It encouraged the use of the term “old person” instead of “elderly”. Just what, exactly, is an old person? And why is that better than an elderly person? Are you old at 80? 70? 50? Is it age or a state of mind? Are we just supposed to use a few basic words and ignore all the rich colorful ways to designate a person of advanced years? A venerable individual man. A woman of a certain age (I kinda love that one. It implies so much.) Patriarchial, time-honored, inveterate. All great words implying wearing your years well. Which is what we all hope to do.

Of course, an old person can be a fossil, archaic, ancient, antique and other less complimentary words. You get the point.

Is this crazy? Should we want to always be bias free? Does that infringe on free speech?

Good question. Language is so rich, so dynamic, so evocative that to narrow it down is criminal….at least it is to those of us who love to write, share viewpoints, or ponder the vagaries of contemporary life. Anyone who doesn’t think so should be required to write a blog on the differences between mothering and fathering, and read Shakespeare plays until they can quote large amounts of dialogue. Or read all the great classic authors, and some contemporary ones (James Lee Burke and Donna Leon come to mind), who use language so well to evoke times and places that most readers will never actually see. You can’t do that with just a few ordinary words used over and over.

If we all had to use the same carefully chosen words, there would be no need for newspapers, magazine, blogs, websites or any other written or spoken word. One essay, written one time would suffice for any idea. No novels, no plays, no poems. They would already all have been written. Or the older ones would be disgraced and unread because they had biased language.

Does it sound like 1984? Mind control? Are “they” going to read our email and find out if we use banned words to talk to our mothers?

It makes you think.


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