Kanopi Team
October 6, 2022

Inclusive Language

As we move through the world, our language is infused with words and phrases that are anything but inclusive. This list of alternatives will help you (and others) to communicate in a more inclusive way.

At Kanopi, we strive to be inclusive in as many ways as possible: from our hiring practices, to accessibility within our documents and website, to social media. We also work as a company to make our verbal communications inclusive. Some everyday phrases have problematic origins, and we may not have awareness of that. The following lists contain phrases/words that are problematic, some suggestions for what to use instead, and some links that explain more. 

As many of these phrases have been used for decades, a person using problematic language may be unaware of the issues surrounding particular words or phrases. So we suggest giving the individual the benefit of the doubt (within reason, of course), talking to that person about the word or phrase by approaching them privately, telling them what you noticed, your understanding of why the word or phrase is problematic, and suggesting alternate language they might use to get their point across.

Trigger Warning: the following content includes examples of abelist, gendered, racist, and gatekeeping language. While some examples may be specific to the US or to Canada, we realize that this is an evolving list that can and will grow and change over time.

Ableist Language

Ableist language encompasses words and phrases that deliberately or accidentally hurt individuals who live with disabilities. Rather than using ableist language, we strive to use people-first language.

Resource: https://gcdd.org/news-a-media/people-first-language.html 

Problematic LanguageUse Instead
Lame Stodgy | Tacky | Cheesy
Crazy | Insane | Schizophrenic | Hysterical | Manic | Psycho | Spaz | MoronUnbelievable | Silly | Preposterous | Illogical | Irrational | intense | Wild | Vehement | Impassioned | Piercing
ADHDUnfocused
OCDTidy | Organized
That’s so gay…Cheesy | Tacky
Blind to, deaf toDidn’t understand | Couldn’t perceive
RetardedSilly | Confusing
Click (when referring to mouse action)Select
See URLVisit URL
Suffers from….Lives with… (ex: “Suffers from Aids” versus “Lives with AIDS”)
BingeingIndulged | Satiated | Spree | Wallowed
A table of ableist language and recommended alternatives

Gendered Language

Resource: https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/gender-inclusive-language/

Problematic LanguageUse Instead
Umbrella terms like “homosexual” or “gay”Use LGBTQIA or LGBTTIQ2S
Brother or sisterSibling
Man the boothStaff the booth
MankindHumankind
Guys or Dudes (as in, “Hey guys!”)Hey everyone | Y’all | Folks or Folx
Pronouns (she/her or he/him)Neutral pronouns (they/them), or use the person’s name
LaymanLayperson
A table of gendered language and recommended alternatives

Pronouns

Not every person identifies as part of a gender “binary” (meaning, either male or female). Gender identity and expression fall upon a broad spectrum, and individuals may identify anywhere on or outside of that spectrum. Non-binary individuals may identify as gender fluid, agender (without gender), genderfluid, genderqueer, or something else entirely. Knowing this, we should never assume a person’s gender identity strictly based upon the clothes they wear, the timbre of their voice, or even their physical attributes. 

One way that we can be clear about our own gender expression (if we are comfortable doing so) is to name our pronouns. We can do this in conversation (“My name is XXX, and my pronouns are XX/XX”), through our email signature, Slack profile, Twitter handle — there are many avenues! What’s more, by identifying our own pronouns, we may make another person feel comfortable identifying their pronouns for us. 

If you are not clear on a person’s pronouns, or the information is not presented by the person, it is also okay, when speaking to someone, to ask for their pronouns. Some ways to do this might be to simply say:  “What pronouns do you use?” or “What pronouns should I use for you in this space?” or “My name is [NAME], and my pronouns are [XX/XX]. What about you?”

Racist and Colonialist Language

Problematic LanguageUse InsteadResource
Peanut Galleryhecklers, interrupters, botherers, cheap seatsLink
White Trash, RedneckLink
Inner City, Urbanlow-income city, high-need locale, metropolitan population, city-dwellersLink
Ghetto, GhettoblasterLink
Grandfather (as in, “grandfathered in”)Legacy, old rule, inherited, precedentLink
Gyp, GyppedRipped off, cheated, conned, swindled, shortchanged, bamboozledLink
Master | SlaveLeader | Follower, Teacher | Student, Parent | ChildLink
Indian give(r)UngiftedLink
No can do | Long time no see | Me likeyI can’t, I cannot | I haven’t seen you in a while | I like itLink
Spirit Animal“Patronus” (Harry Potter reference), familiar, raison d’être / reason for living, kindred spiritLink
Paddy WagonPolice vehicleLink
Call a spade a spadetell it like it is, it is what it is,
“if it looks like a duck and it sounds like a duck, it is probably a duck”
Link
Colored (people)People of ColorLink
Sherpaguide, coach, commander, leaderLink
Guruexpert, virtuoso, authority, maestro, captainLink
Ninjaexpert, ace, virtuoso, maven, jediLink
Naziauthoritarian, absolutist, boss, sticklerLink
Scalpedrobbed, hustled, fleeced, pulled a fast oneLink
Tribegroup, crew, squad, community, circleLink
Powwowchat, brainstorm, ideateLink
Hip Hip Hooray!Hooray! (“Hip hip” is the problem)Link
Eenie Meenie Miney Moflip a coin, ask a friend, just make a decision without singing.Link
Moronfool, doofus, nitwitLink
Nomad / digital nomadremote worker, location-independent workerLink
Tipping Pointboiling point, reached the limit, crossroad, the final straw.”Link
The “ok” Emoji and/or Hand GestureThe “thumb’s up” Emoji and/or Hand GestureLink
Low Hanging FruitQuick Wins, easy tasksLink
SpookyCreepy, scary, frighteningLink
SavageFierce, cruel, violent. In some contexts, this is used as a synonym for “expert” – in those instances, use expert, ace, virtuoso, maven, jediLink
Stakeholderinvestor, sponsor, partner, collaborator, colleague, associate, participantLink
A table of racist and colonialist language, with recommended alternatives and further reading.

Gifs and Digital Blackface

“Digital blackface” describes the act of producing, posting, or circulating ‘black reaction gifs’ online and especially on social media threads. The practice is problematic because it re-enforces stereotypes of Black Americans as exaggeratedly comic personae, or, especially in the case of women, as archly sassy, but in a way that does not detract from their fundamental availability to the project of white identity construction. Several good articles about digital blackface can be found here, here, and here

So, as a practice, reaction gifs are fine to use, but be mindful of the individuals pictured within those gifs, and the big-picture message the content you choose may be sending. 

“Knowledge Gatekeeping” Language

Knowledge gatekeeping relates to an assumption of another’s level of understanding and/or education level, and inferring a level of ease as a result (for example: “It’s so easy” “as simple as”). 

Problematic LanguageWhy it’s Problematic
“It’s so easy”This assumes the recipient’s skill level
“Common knowledge”This assumes a level of education or exposure to information
“Wait, you have never used a [Git client]?”This not only assumes a level of education or exposure to information, but it discourages folks that are new to a concept from speaking up or reaching out for help.
A table of knowledge gatekeeping language and why it’s problematic.