The language police are cracking down at the University of Michigan. The university’s Information and Technology Service has released a new memo courtesy of their “Words Matter Task Force.” The goal of the memo is to urge teachers and students to change the way they communicate with each other and with customers of the university’s IT services. But while we might expect any employer/academic institution to remind everyone not to use profanity or clearly-offensive words when interacting with each other and the public, some of the words were…a little weird.
For instance? The word “picnic” is discouraged. The memo encourages everyone to use the word “gathering” instead.
The word “picnic” is offensive now? According to a recent article in Reuters, “Images circulating on social media make the claim that the word ‘picnic’ originates from the racist, extrajudicial killings of African Americans. This claim is false.”
Ah. So apparently, even if there was some fake news going around making people think that a word has a racist origin, it still needs to be scrubbed from our collective vocabularies? Cool. Good to know there’s absolutely no ridiculous limit to political correctness.
Some of the other words discouraged by the memo:
- “Crack the whip” as a term to mean “get your employees back on track.”
- “Master/slave” to describe an IT situation where one device controls another.
- “Chairman”… because what about the women? And the gender-neutrals??
- No “handicapped.” No “blacklist.” No “crazy.” No use of the phrase “off the reservation.”
“To effectively communicate with customers, it is important for ITS to evaluate the terms and language conventions that may hinder effective communication, harm morale, and deliberately or inadvertently exclude people from feeling accepted to foment a healthy and inclusive culture,” the memo explains.
The problem is, when you’re delving this deeply into the history of words (even fake history, in some cases) to identify problematic terms, you’re much more likely to “learn” that a word is offensive than anyone else is to know that it is. So you’re creating a problem where there wouldn’t have been one. Additionally, we’re sure you can use specious arguments to make ANY word problematic if you really want to, so if the goal is to avoid the wrath of the Perpetually Offended, you can forget about it. When you devote your entire life to finding ways to get upset, you get really good at it.
Best not to play the game in the first place.