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Examples of biased language are scattered throughout the English vocabulary. After researching hundreds of bias-words (past and present), we found 25 examples common enough to bring to your attention. Ongig’s Text Analyzer software, which flags these and many more exclusionary words, provides suggestions for alternatives to such biased words. We share those recommendations below too.

These 25 biased language examples include:

  • gender bias
  • age bias
  • race bias
  • disability bias
  • LGBTQ bias
  • ethnicity bias

 

What is biased language?

But, first, what is biased language?

Biased language is made up of words or phrases that might make certain people or groups feel excluded or underrepresented. ThoughtCo.’s blog Biased Language Definition and Examples Prejudiced, Offensive, and Hurtful Words and Phrases defines biased language as:

“words and phrases that are considered prejudiced, offensive, and hurtful. Biased language includes expressions that demean or exclude people because of age, sex, race, ethnicity, social class, or physical or mental traits.”

You can still find the terms on this list of biased words in job descriptions, social media posts, marketing materials, political speeches, etc. Others have either already been put to rest or are on their way to being removed from day-to-day language.

 

25 Biased Language Examples

Blacklist

Type of Bias: Race Bias

Many terms used every day can contain potential bias. Words like “blacklist” are an example of bias language and imply Black is bad and White (e.g. “whitelist”) is good.

Note: Ongig’s Text Analyzer scans job descriptions (and more) for biased words like “Blacklist” (pictured below), gives synonyms to remove bias, and shows a pop-up explaining why people might feel excluded or offended.  

 

biased language blacklist

 

Brown Bag

Type of Bias: Race Bias

The Brown Paper Bag Test (aka “Brown Bag” test) was a form of racial discrimination practiced within the African-American community in the 20th century. The test involved comparing an individual’s skin tone to the color of a brown paper bag. The test was used to gain or be denied entry into certain clubs and organizations. 

Recommended alternative: Lunch and Learn Session (instead of “Brown Bag Session”

Note: You can learn more about the history behind this biased phrase in our blog, The “Brown Paper Bag Test”

 

Cake Walk

Type of Bias: Race Bias

The phrase “cake walk” originated from a pre-US Civil War dance performed by slaves for slave owners on plantation grounds. The dance was first known as the “prize walk”; the prize was an elaborately decorated cake. Hence, “prize walk” is the original source for the phrases “cakewalk” and “takes the cake”. Some people of color find this offensive because of its history related to slavery. 

Recommended alternative: an easy task

 

Colored People

Type of Bias: Race Bias/Ethnicity Bias

Describing a person or people as “colored” is considered offensive by many. People of color or POC was an alternative to this biased word. But now BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) is more widely used. 

Note: Our blog, BIPOC: The Hottest (Controversial) Word in Diversity? , touches on the POC vs Black vs BIPOC controversy. 

Recommended alternatives: People of Color, Black, Indigenous

 

Confined to a Wheelchair

Type of Bias: Disability Bias

Using “confined to a wheelchair” to describe a population might offend or minimize people who use wheelchairs. Using people-first language like “a person who uses a wheelchair” is more inclusive to people using wheelchairs. 

Recommended alternative: person who uses a wheelchair, wheelchair user

 

Digital Native

Type of Bias: Age Bias

The phrase “digital native” is and example of biased language when used as a descriptor implying a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology. It may feel exclusionary to older people and increase the risk of age discrimination lawsuits.

Recommended alternative: person passionate about technology

Note: Ongig’s blog,  6 Ways to Avoid Age Bias in Your Job Descriptions, discusses biased words like “digital native” and “young”. 

 

Elderly

Type of Bias: Age Bias

The descriptor “elderly” is negatively viewed by some people because it implies frailty. Other similar bias-words related to the elderly include “geezer” and “old geezer”. “The elderly” which is used a lot in the medical field, among other places, is offensive to some. A neurologist at the University of Chicago says the word is as offensive as “imbecile” and “idiot”. His views on the word “elderly” are:

“My suggestion that we avoid the term elderly in medicine goes beyond the word itself to encompass all that it connotes: stereotypes, unwarranted impressions, and bias. This is essentially a human rights issue. Medicine is the science and art of individualised communication, evaluation, recommendation, and treatment. Each patient has the right to be treated as an individual, according to medical standards based on their specific age, general condition, and comorbidities. To label everyone above a certain age as elderly and to treat them identically defies this principle, which should be at the heart of medicine.”

Recommended alternative: older people

 

English Native Speaker

Type of Bias: Ethnicity Bias

Using the terms “English” and “Native” together in phrases like “English native speaker” or “English Fluency Level: native” might make a person who speaks English as a second language feel excluded. This biased phrase is often found in job descriptions, and can easily be replaced by “fluent in English”. 

Recommended alternative: fluent in English

 

Girls/Guys/She/He

Type of Bias: LGBTQ Bias

The term “girls” or “guy” might make some people within the LGBTQ community feel excluded when referring to a group of people. Assuming gender in a group is discouraged. A blog on Mashable about accidental transphobic phrases touches on these biased words: 

“When looking to be inclusive of all people, we often use the so-called gender catch-all “he or she.” But when making it a goal to be inclusive of all people under the transgender umbrella, it’s important to remember that binary pronouns don’t fit all genders.”

Recommended alternatives: people, teammates, them, they

 

Grandfathered In

Type of Bias: Race Bias

“Grandfathered in” or “grandfathered” are considered biased by some and discouraged for their racial undertones. According to Encyclopedia Britannica:

“Grandfather clause — statutory or constitutional device enacted by seven Southern states between 1895 and 1910 to deny suffrage to African Americans. It provided that those who had enjoyed the right to vote prior to 1866 or 1867, and their lineal descendants, would be exempt from recently enacted educational, property, or tax requirements for voting. Because the former slaves had not been granted the franchise until the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, those clauses worked effectively to exclude Black people from the vote but assured the franchise to many impoverished and illiterate whites.”

Recommended alternative: exempt from the new rule

 

Gypped/Gipped

Type of Bias: Race Bias

“Gyp” or “Gip” has ties to the mistreatment of nomadic Gypsies and is discouraged for its racial undertones. “Gypped” is commonly used as a term to describe being cheated or to have something taken away. 

Recommended alternative: cheated

 

Handicapped

Type of Bias: Disability Bias

“Handicapped” has been used to describe people with disabilities, but some might feel it minimizes their personhood. Using people-first language like “person with a disability” is more accepted. Another example is the switch from “handicapped parking” to “accessible parking” to be more inclusive. 

Recommended alternative: with a disability

Note: We discuss the politically correct terms for people with disabilities in the blog The Top 20 Questions on “Politically Correct” Terms [with Answers!]

 

Homosexuals/Homos

Type of Bias: LGBTQ Bias

The terms “homosexual” and “homo” are considered offensive to many people in the LGBTQ community. The Guardian reported that Dictionary.com’s language referring to LGBTQIA people: 

“has been revised to change “homosexual” to “gay” and “homosexuality” to “gay sexual orientation”, with the dictionary saying that the changes would put “the focus on people … removing the implication of a medical diagnosis, sickness, or pathology when describing normal human behaviors and ways of being”.”

Recommended alternative: gay person

 

Illegal Aliens

Type of Bias: Race Bias/Ethnicity Bias

“Illegal aliens” is considered a biased term with ties to both race and ethnicity bias.  “Illegal aliens” and its variations (“illegal alien”, “illegal immigrant”, and “illegal worker”) dehumanize the migrant community and should be avoided. 

Recommended alternative: an immigrant

 

Long Time No See

Type of Bias: Race Bias/Ethnicity Bias

The phrase “long time no see” has been historically used to mock Chinese pidgin English and Native Americans and is considered offensive by some people. Lifehacker.org posted a list of Seven Words And Phrases With Racist Origins. “Long time no see” made this list. The article said:

“It might be surprising to see these seemingly innocuous phrases on this list, but they’re actually born out of mean-spirited mockery.”

Recommended alternative: it has been a while

 

Mankind

Type of Bias: Gender Bias

“Mankind” along with other terms that use the word “man” (e.g. “manmade” and “man the stockroom”) are considered by some to be gender biased language and might make people who are not men feel excluded.

Recommended alternatives: humankind, humanity

 

Man Hours

Type of Bias: Gender Bias

Similar to “mankind”, the term “man hours” is also considered gender biased language that may offend people who are not men. Words like “people hours” are not biased or sexist language examples, making them more widely accepted.

Recommended alternative: staff hours

 

Master/Slave

Type of Bias: Race Bias

The terms “master” and “slave” are discouraged for discriminatory undertones related to times of slavery. Tech firms are among people who have stopped using “master/slave”. The timeline for removing master-slave bias is detailed in Ongig’s blog. The Story Behind “Master-Slave” Being Excluded by (Most) Tech Firms

Recommended alternative: primary/secondary

 

Peanut Gallery

Type of Bias: Race Bias

“Peanut Gallery” is a common phrase that is considered biased language by some people. In the 19th Century, during the Vaudeville era, the peanut gallery was often the cheapest section of seats with the worst view. Peanuts were sold at these shows, people seated in the cheaper seats would sometimes throw peanuts at performers they didn’t enjoy. The peanut gallery was often occupied by Black theatergoers.

“Peanut gallery” suggests to some that those who sat in the cheapest section were ill-informed and gave unwarranted criticism. Vaudeville itself carries some racist history — it featured caricatures of Black people portrayed by white actors in blackface.

Recommended alternatives: crowd, audience

 

Recent Graduate

Type of Bias: Age Bias

The term “recent graduate” if used in the wrong context, is a bias-word against older people. Using this type of language for hiring in the United States and other countries with age discrimination laws, increases the risk of being sued.

Recommended alternative: a graduate

 

Retarded

Type of Bias: Disability Bias

The term “retarded” is offensive to people who have a mental illness. “Retarded” and its variations were used historically to describe someone with an intellectual disability. The National Center on Disability and Journalism says:

“The terms “mentally retarded,” “retard” and “mental retardation” were once common terms that are now considered outdated and offensive. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed a measure known as “Rosa’s Law” that replaced the term “mental retardation” with intellectual disability in many areas of government, including federal law.”

Recommended alternative: neurodivergent

 

Sanity Check

Type of Bias: Disability Bias

“Sanity check” is often used in day-to-day language and unnecessarily references mental health. It denotes that people with mental illnesses are inferior, wrong, or incorrect. A forum on GitHub called Ableist Language in Code: Sanity Check mentions there are less-biased replacements for “sanity check” including:

  • Quick check
  • Initial check
  • Confidence check
  • Coherence check
  • Soundness check
  • Calibration check
  • Rationality check

Recommended alternatives: Double-check and re-check are also better alternatives.

 

Spirit Animal

Type of Bias: Race Bias/Ethnicity Bias

“Spirit animal” is a phrase used in pop-culture for describing something that represents a person’s inner personality. (e.g. “Rhianna is my spirit animal.”) “Spirit animal”  being used in this type of casual manner is offensive to Indigenous groups. This is another one of the examples of biased language that might offend people due to its racial undertones towards American Indians and other tribes whose cultures include spiritual animals, totems, and symbols.

Recommended alternatives: BFF, friend

 

Tranny

Type of Bias: LGBTQ Bias

“Tranny” is a culturally derogatory slang that might offend some people in the LGBTQ community. Genderkit.org gives some history behind the phrase, how it became offensive, and how some people in the transgender community are trying to take the phrase back for positivity-sake. According to genderkit.org

““Tranny” was originally a term used by transgender people to refer to themselves. However, over time it started to be used differently – by people who did not consider themselves transgender, to refer to transgender people pejoratively. As a result, it is now normally considered a slur and to be offensive, but some people who adopted the “tranny” identity in the past still use it. Others have also attempted to reappropriate the term by using it to describe themselves positively.”

Recommended alternative: a transgender person

 

Tribe

Type of Bias: Race Bias/Ethnicity Bias

“Tribe” is thought to have negative racial undertones towards African and American Indian groups. This bias-word is commonly used in pop-culture to casually describe a group of friends (e.g. “this is my tribe”). But “tribe” may offend certain people if used to describe groups outside of these cultures because it can promote misleading stereotypes. 

Recommended alternatives: friend group, network

 

How can you avoid using biased language?

This list is only a small sampling of biased words and phrases. Along with the resources listed below and in the blogs mentioned in this post, there are loads of links on the internet around biased language examples. If you are unsure, you can always ask a person which words they prefer.

 

Shout-outs

  1. Biased Language Definition and Examples Prejudiced, Offensive, and Hurtful Words and Phrases (by Richard Nordquist)
  2. Basket case: the case against (by David Marsh)
  3. Twitter Engineers Share List of Terms They’ll Swap Out to Be More Inclusive (by James Crowley)
  4. The Trouble with Tribe (By Chirs Lowe)
  5. Common Words and Phrases That Have Seriously Racist Roots (by Adeshina Emmanuel)
  6. 5 Popular Phrases With Shockingly Racist Meanings (by Elizabeth Enochs)
  7. These Words You Use Every Day Have Racist/Prejudiced Pasts, And You Had No Idea (by Zoë Triska)
  8. GLAAD Media Reference Guide – Terms To Avoid
  9. 5 accidentally transphobic phrases allies use — and what to say instead (by Kate Dupere)
  10. Terms to Avoid When Writing About Disability (by National Center on Disability and Journalism)
  11. Seven Words And Phrases With Racist Origins (by Patrick Allan)
  12. It’s Time Pop Culture Stops Embracing the Term “Spirit Animal” (by Allison Cacich)
  13. Ableist Language in Code: Sanity Check
  14. Is ‘elderly’ an offensive and discriminatory term? (by Michael Cook)

Why I Wrote This

Our mission here at Ongig is to transform your job descriptions to attract top-tier and diverse talent. Our Text Analyzer software analyzes every word of your job descriptions to ensure they are inclusive to everyone.

by in Diversity and Inclusion