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
  • racial bias
  • disability bias
  • LGBTQ bias
  • ethnicity bias
  • former felons bias
  • elitism bias
  • mental health bias
  • religion 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. A sentence using bias can affect how candidates view your company. 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 Biased Language: Racial 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. A sentence using bias like “blacklist” might turn off Black candidates. 

Example of bias in a sentence: “Mail control and blacklist monitoring.”

Recommended alternative: blocklist

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

biased language blacklist

Brown Bag

Type of Biased Language: Racial 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. 

Example of bias in a sentence: “You are expected to attend a weekly brown bag session with your team.”

Recommended alternative: Lunch and Learn 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 Biased Language: Racial 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. 

Example of bias in a sentence: “You make managing multiple tasks with tight timelines look like a cakewalk.”

Recommended alternative: an easy task

Chink

Type of Biased Language: Racial Bias

The word “chink” is considered a racial slur (towards Asians) by many people, and using it in your job postings is not recommended.

Recommended alternative: a person of Asian descent

In June 2021, a video surfaced of Billie Eilish mouthing this anti-Asian slur while singing a song from Tyler the Creator. It caused quite the social media stir. Fans demanded an apology and they got one:

Christmas Days Off

Type of Biased Language: Religion Bias

Christmas is associated with the religion Christianity and some might feel excluded by you mentioning it.

Example of bias in a sentence:  “Flexible schedules, paid vacation, and Christmas days off.”

Recommended alternative: holiday days off

Colored People

Type of Biased Language: Racial 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 Biased Language: 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. 

Example of bias in a sentence: “Including those confined to a wheelchair.”

Recommended alternative: person who uses a wheelchair, wheelchair user

Degree from a Top School

Type of Biased Language: Elitism Bias

Using a phrase like this might make someone who did not attend an elite school/program feel excluded.

Example of bias in a sentence: “Degree from a top school with strong academic performance.”

Recommended alternative: a college degree

Digital Native

Type of Biased Language: 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.

Example of bias in a sentence: “A digital native with in-depth knowledge of Product Lifecycle Management.”

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 Biased Language: 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.”

Example of bias in a sentence: “Plans and supervises programs that will enrich the lives of the elderly.”

Recommended alternative: Another word for elderly is “older people”

English Native Speaker

Type of Biased Language: 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”. 

Example of bias in a sentence: “Excellent verbal & written English native speaker.”

Recommended alternative: fluent in English

Ex-offenders

Type of Biased Language: Former Felons Bias

Using the term “ex-offender” is derogatory and suggests the idea of a person as a criminal.

Example of bias in a sentence: “Experience working with unemployed, underemployed, displaced workers, noncustodial parents, ex-offenders.”

Recommended alternatives: formerly incarcerated people, returning citizens, parolees

Girls/Guys/She/He

Type of Biased Language: 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.”

Example of bias in a sentence: “He/She will be a skilled marketing strategist.”

Recommended alternatives: people, teammates, them, they

Grandfathered In

Type of Biased Language: Racial 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.”

Example of bias in a sentence: “The group welcomes candidates who are board-certified or grandfathered in.”

Recommended alternative: exempt

Gypped/Gipped

Type of Biased Language: Racial 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 Biased Language: 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. 

Example of bias in a sentence: “Genuine care and interest in elderly and handicapped people.”

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 Biased Language: 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”.”

Type of Biased Language: gay person

Illegal Aliens

Type of Biased Language: Racial 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. 

Example of bias in a sentence: “Does not employ illegal aliens.”

Recommended alternative: immigrants

Long Time No See

Type of Biased Language: Racial 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 Biased Language: 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.

Removing gender biased language and using another word for mankind is more inclusive.

Example of bias in a sentence: “It is our goal and mission to serve mankind.”

Recommended alternatives: Another word for mankind is humankind or humanity.

Man Hours

Type of Biased Language: 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 and a better man hours synonym. Another man hours synonym listed below is “staff hours.”

Example of bias in a sentence: “Approve all man hours under his/her area of responsibility.”

Recommended alternative: staff hours

Master/Slave

Type of Biased Language: Racial 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

Example of bias in a sentence: “Experience with master/slave architectures.”

Recommended alternative: primary/secondary

Peanut Gallery

Type of Biased Language: Racial 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.

500 people per month Google the term “peanut gallery racist” (presumably asking Google if it is or not).

Example of bias in a sentence: “Part of the peanut gallery.”

Recommended alternatives: crowd, audience

Recent Graduate

Type of Biased Language: 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.

Example of bias in a sentence: “Apply if you are a recent graduate.”

Recommended alternative: a graduate

Retarded

Type of Biased Language: Mental Health 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.”

Example of bias in a sentence: “A minimum of four years’ experience working with retarded individuals.”

Recommended alternative: neurodivergent

Sanity Check

Type of Biased Language: Mental Health 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

Example of bias in a sentence: “Line edit, copy edit, and sanity check draft content.”

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

Spirit Animal

Type of Biased Language: Racial 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.

Example of bias in a sentence: “The brand spirit animal, the guardian of values, and the curator of guest experience.”

Recommended alternatives: BFF, friend

Tranny

Type of Biased Language: 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 Biased Language: Racial 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. 

Example of bias in a sentence: “Ambitious yet humble tribe of warm-hearted consultants.”

Recommended alternatives: friend group, network

Other bias examples — linguistic bias definition

Outside of the bias examples above, you might find linguistic bias in your JDs or anytime during the hiring process. But what is linguistic bias? 

A linguistic bias is defined as a systematic asymmetry in word choice that reflects the social-category cognitions that are applied to the described group or individual(s). Three types of biases are distinguished in the literature that reveal, and thereby maintain, social-category cognitions and stereotypes.

source: Oxford Dictionary

Here’s an example of linguistic bias related to job titles:

if someone says “This accountant is not boring”, this person most likely assumes that accountants tend to be boring & otherwise, this individual would have said, “This accountant is exciting”.

source: Linguistic biases, Dr. Simon Moss

How can you avoid using biased language and replace it with bias-free language?

This list is only a small sampling of biased words and phrases. Along with the bias source example and 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)
  15. Billie Eilish Apologizes After Video Of Her Mouthing Anti-Asian Slur Resurfaces (by Curtis M. Wong)

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 there are no bias words and they are inclusive to everyone. Request a demo to find out if you have any bias examples in your JDs. 

by in Diversity and Inclusion

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