Tag Archives: IELTS Avoid Language

IELTS Avoid Language Bias

IELTS Avoid Language Bias

Suggestions for avoiding language that reinforces stereotypes or excludes certain
groups of people.

Race Ethnicity, and National Origin
Sexual Orientation
Depersonalization of Persons with Disabilities or Illnesses
Patronizing or Demeaning Expressions
Language That Excludes or Unnecessarily Emphasizes Differences

Sexism is the most difficult bias to avoid, in part because of the convention of using man or
men and he or his to refer to people of either sex. Other, more disrespectful conventions
include giving descriptions of women in terms of age and appearance while describing men
in terms of accomplishment.
Avoid This        Use This Instead
mankind,           human beings, humans,
man                   humankind, humanity, people,
society, men and women
man-made         synthetic, artificial
man in the street    average person, ordinary person

Using gender-neutral terms for occupations, positions, roles, etc.
Terms that specify a particular sex can unnecessarily perpetuate certain stereotypes when
used generically.
Avoid This          Use This Instead
anchorman        anchor
bellman,            bellboy
businessman      businessperson, executive, manager, business owner, retailer, etc.
chairman chair,  chairperson
cleaning lady,     housecleaner, housekeeper, cleaning person, office cleaner
girl, maid
clergyman member of the clergy, rabbi, priest, etc.

clergymen          the clergy
congressman      representative, member of Congress, legislator

Race, Ethnicity, and National Origin
Some words and phrases that refer to racial and ethnic groups are clearly offensive. Other
words (e.g., Oriental, colored) are outdated or inaccurate. Hispanic is generally accepted
as a broad term for Spanish-speaking people of the Western Hemisphere, but more
specific terms (Latino, Mexican American) are also acceptable and in some cases
Avoid This         Use This Instead
colored,               black, African-American (generally preferred to Afro-American)
Oriental,             Asian or more specific designation such as Pacific Islander, Chinese
Asiatic                American, Korean Indian Indian properly refers to people who live in or                                 come from India. American Indian, Native American, and more specific                                 designations (Chinook, Hopi) are usually preferred when referring to the                               native peoples of the Western hemisphere.

Eskimo                Inuit, Alaska Natives

native (n.)          native peoples, early inhabitants, aboriginal peoples (but not aborigines)

The concept of aging is changing as people are living longer and more active lives. Be
aware of word choices that reinforce stereotypes (decrepit, senile) and avoid mentioning
age unless it is relevant.
Avoid This                        Use This Instead

elderly, aged,                     older person, senior citizen(s), older people, seniors
old, geriatric,
the elderly,
the aged

Sexual Orientation
The term homosexual to describe a man or woman is increasingly replaced by the terms
gay for men and lesbian for women. Homosexual as a noun is sometimes used only in
reference to a male. Among homosexuals, certain terms (such as queer and dyke) that are
usually considered offensive have been gaining currency in recent years. However, it is still
prudent to avoid these terms in standard contexts.


Avoiding Depersonalization of Persons with Disabilities or Illnesses

Terminology that emphasizes the person rather than the disability is generally preferred.
Handicap is used to refer to the environmental barrier that affects the person. (Stairs
handicap a person who uses a wheelchair.) While words such as crazy, demented, and
insane are used in facetious or informal contexts, these terms are not used to describe
people with clinical diagnoses of mental illness. The euphemisms challenged, differently
abled, and special are preferred by some people, but are often ridiculed and are best

Avoid This                    Use This Instead

Mongoloid                      person with Down syndrome

wheelchair-bound          person who uses a wheelchair

Avoiding Patronizing or Demeaning Expressions
These are expressions which can offend, regardless of intention. References to age, sex,
religion, race, and the like should only be included if they are relevant.
Avoid This                      Use This Instead
girls (when                        women
referring to adult
women), the fair