“Fascism pretending to be manners.” “Bias hunters.” “Rank absurdity.” “Big Brother is watching you.” “Intellectual morons.”
Such are the stingers directed at Stanford University’s “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative.”
Among the harmful words never to be used again, according to Stanford University:
Among the harmful phrases never to be used again:
Beating a dead horse.
This is insane.
All of these words and phrases are harmful, to be replaced with unharmful locutions:
“American” is to be replaced with “United States citizen.” Why? “[American] often refers to people from the United States only, thereby insinuating that the US is the most important country in the Americas.”
Good to know. As I change my American flag to my United States Citizen flag that I hang on Memorial Day, I can also hang my head in shame for thinking that the US actually is the most important country in the Americas. No one wants to come here, you know.
What does Stanford demand as a replacement for “survivor?”There are to be no more survivors of the Holocaust, of the Marshall Fire or of anything else. “Survivor” is to be replaced with “person who has been impacted by.” Why? No reason given. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “It’s the iron law of academic writing: Why use one word when four will do?”
It was not just random words that Stanford stigmatized. It was 11 categories of stigmatized words, each category filled to the brim. The categories of harmful language include: Ableist. Ageism. Culturally appropriate. Gender-based. Imprecise Language. Institutionalized racism. Person-first. Violent.
Stanford’s initiative is much more than a list of banned words. It is a a sophisticated online program that allows the user to search for a particular term, or a term under a particular category. It’s meant to rewrite the dictionary and the way Stanford citizens speak English; and, by clear implication, the way everyone should speak English.
Harmful words come in three categories, Stanford informs us.
1. Egregious language that needs to be removed (or annotated with why it can’t be removed).
2. Language we don’t expect to see, but will scan for out of due diligence.
3. Potentially harmful language used in a non-harmful way.
This last category invites unending scrutiny of virtually every single English word and phrase, because virtually all language is potentially harmful, but in the vast majority of instances is used in a non-harmful way.
Stanford’s initiative would be pointless if it did not reflect the damaging tendency, prevalent today, to see offense where there is none and to peg virtually everyone as a victim or a perpetrator of some sort. For example, Stanford bans “black hat” because that demonizes the color black and demeans black people.
The response to the Stanford Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (replete with its own acronym, EHLI, to suggest its permanence) was swift and merciless. It costs $82,000 a year to go to Stanford. This is what one is paying for?
The backpedaling by Stanford’s chief information officer was also swift. The initiative offered only suggestions, not mandates, he assured us. Which, of course, contradicted the initiative’s own website, with its carefully constructed guides for usage and wide range of categories.
The chief information officer also allowed that Stanford “missed the mark” on its ban of “American.”
“We understand and appreciate those concerns. To be very clear, not only is ‘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 this term may be imprecise in some specific uses . . .” blah blah blah.
Notice: Stanford’s justification of its ban of “American” is dehumanized (“‘American’ often refers to people . . .” — who does the referring? when? where?) and so too the backpedaling (“how this term may be imprecise in some specific uses” — which uses? when? by whom?).
This is what passes for guidance by an “information” officer these days: obfuscation.
Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” If I were to follow Stanford’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, I would have to say, “I think, therefore I am not.”
The WSJ received a letter to the editor on the Stanford initiative. I quote it in full:
“I’m reminded of the second-grade teacher who asked her students to stand if they thought they were stupid. After a pregnant pause, little Alfred stood up. ‘Alfred,’ the teacher said, ‘do you think you are stupid?’ ‘No, ma’am,’ he replied, ‘but I didn’t want you standing up there alone.’”
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