Banned Words, Images, and Topics

A Glossary That Runs from the Offensive to the Trivial

Diane Ravitch collected more than 20 sets of guidelines produced by state departments of education, textbook publishers, test developers, educational research organizations, and other interest groups. The guidelines ban words, usages, and written and pictorial images from various educational materials. Much of the glossary aims to purify the past and present to the point that both are almost unrecognizable. The forbidden material includes the truly offensivesuch as using the term "dummy" to describe a person who is mute or depicting people of color as universally athletic—some legitimate cautions, such as using "hordes" to describe immigrants, and the thoroughly trivial and even the baffling. What follows is a small sample of Ravitch's "Glossary of Banned Words" and "Stereotyped Images To Avoid."


A Glossary of Banned Words

Dialect (banned as ethnocentric, use sparingly, replace with language) [SF-AW]
Differently abled (banned as offensive, replace with person who has a disability) [SF-AW]
Dirty old man (banned as sexist and ageist) [NYC]
Disabled, the (banned as offensive, replace with people with a disability) [SF-AW, HAR1]
Dissenter (ethnocentric, use with caution) [ETS2]
Distaff side, the (banned as sexist) [ETS2]
Dogma (banned as ethnocentric, replace with doctrine, belief) [SF-AW]
Doorman (banned as sexist, replace with door attendant) [HRW1]
Down's syndrome (banned as offensive, replace with Down syndrome) [ETS2]
Draftsman (banned as sexist, replace with drafter) [NES]
Drunk, drunken, drunkenness (banned as offensive when referring to Native Americans) [SF-AW, HM2]
Duffer (banned as demeaning to older men) [SF-AW]
Dummy (banned as offensive, replace with people who are speech impaired) [SF-AW]
Dwarf (banned as offensive, replace with person of short stature) [SF-AW, HAR1]

*  *  *

Heretic (use with caution when comparing religions) [ETS2]
Heroine (banned as sexist, replace with hero) [SF-AW, HAR2, NES]
Hispanic American (use with caution as some groups object to the term's suggestion of a shared European cultural heritage, replace with specific nationality)[NES]
Homosexual (banned, replace with person, child) [AEP]
Hordes (banned as reference to immigrant groups) [CT]
Horseman, horsewoman (banned as sexist, replace with equestrian) [HRW1]
Horsemanship (banned as sexist, replace with riding skill) [NES]
Hottentot (banned as a relic of colonialism, replace with Khoi-khoi) [NYC]
Houseman, housemaid (banned as sexist, replace with servant, housekeeper) [HRW1]
Housewife (banned as sexist, replace with homemaker, head of the household) [SF-AW, HAR1, HAR2, NES, ETS2]
Hussy (banned as sexist) [SF-AW]
Huts (banned as ethnocentric, replace with small houses) [SF-AW]

*  *  *

Pollyanna (banned as sexist, replace with optimist) [AIR]
Polo (banned as elitist) [ETS1, ETS2]
Pop (banned as regional bias when referring to soft drink, replace with Coke, Pepsi [however, note that brand names are banned by California social content review guidelines]) [AIR]
Postman (banned as sexist, replace with mail carrier) [MMH, HRW1]
Postmaster, postmistress (banned as sexist, replace with post office director) [HRW1]
Pressman (banned as sexist, replace with press operator) [NES]
Primitive (banned as ethnocentric when referring to racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural groups) [SF-AW, HM1, NES, NYC, AIR, ACT, ETS2]
Primitive man (banned as sexist, replace with primitive peoples) [HAR1, HAR2, NES]
Profoundly deaf (banned as offensive, replace with person with loss of hearing) [HAR1]
Provider, the (banned as synonym for husband) [HM1]

*  *  *

Sect (banned as ethnocentric when referring to a religious group, unless it separated from an established religion) [SF-AW, ETS2]
Senile (banned as demeaning to older persons) [SF-AW, HM1]
Senility (banned as demeaning, replace with dementia) [APA]
Senior citizen (banned as demeaning to older persons) [SF-AW]
Serviceman (banned as sexist, replace with member of the armed services, gas station attendant) [HRW1]
Showman (banned as sexist, replace with showperson, entertainer, producer) [MMH, HRW1]
Sickly (banned as demeaning reference to person with disabilities) [ETS2]
Sightless (banned as offensive, replace with people who are blind) [SF-AW]
Sioux (banned as inauthentic, replace with Lakota, Dakota, or Nakota) [SF-AW]
Sissy (banned as demeaning) [MMH, SF-AW, NES, CT]
Sissified (banned as demeaning) [HRW3]
Slave (replace whenever possible with enslaved person, worker, or laborer) [AEP]
Sneaky (banned when referring to Asian Americans) [SF-AW]
Snow ball (banned for regional bias, replace with flavored ice) [AIR]
Snow cone (banned for regional bias, replace with flavored ice) [AIR]
Snowman (banned, replace with snowperson) [AEP]
Sob sister (banned as sexist, replace with exploitive journalist) [NES, AIR]
Soda (banned for regional bias, replace with Coke, Pepsi [however, note that brand names are banned by California social content review guidelines]) [AIR]
Songstress (banned as sexist, replace with singer) [HM1]
Sophisticated (banned when it refers to religious practices or beliefs) [SF-AW]
Soul food (banned as regional or ethnic bias) [ETS1]

Foods to Avoid in Textbooks

[HRW2, for all of the foods below]
Jam, jelly, preserves
Juice drinks
Potato chips
Salad dressings, mayonnaise
Salad oil, shortening

Stereotyped Images to Avoid in Texts,Illustrations, and Reading Passages in Tests

Girls and Women/Boys and Men: Images To Avoid
Girls as peaceful, emotional, warm [SF-AW]
Girls as poor at math, science [SF-AW]
Girls as neat [SF-AW, HRW3, MMH]
Girls as shorter, smaller than boys [SF-AW]
Men and boys as strong, brave, silent [AIR, RIV]
Boys as strong, rough, competitive [SF-AW]
Boys as curious, ingenious, able to overcome obstacles [NYC]
Boys as intelligent, logical, mechanical [SF-AW, NYC]
Boys as quiet, easygoing [SF-AW]

People of Color: Images To Avoid
People of color as universally athletic [AIR]
Minority children or adults as passive recipients, observers of action, or victims in need of rescue by others [MA]
People of color who become successful by accepting discrimination and working hard [NYC]
People of color who abandon their own culture and language to achieve success [NYC]
People of color as exotic, childlike, folkloric [NYC]
People of color as gangsters and criminals [NYC]
People of color living in poor urban areas [AIR, ETS1]
People of color being angry [AIR]
People of color as politically liberal [AIR]
People of color belonging to any one religion [AIR]
People of color valued as tokens or valued by whites as professional peers [AIR]
People of color sharing a common culture or preferences [AIR]
People of color sharing common dress [AIR]

Persons Who Are Older: Images To Avoid
Older people as meddlesome, demanding, childish, unattractive, inactive, victims of ridicule and violence [MMH, NYC]
Older people in nursing homes or with canes, walkers, wheelchairs, orthopedic shoes, or eyeglasses [HRW1]
Older people as helpless and dependent on others to take care of them [AIR, NYC, ETS2, RIV]
Older people as ill, physically weak, feeble, or dependent [AIR, NYC, ETS1]
Older people as funny, absent-minded, fussy, or charming [NES]
Older people who have twinkles in their eyes, need afternoon naps, lose their hearing or sight, suffer aches and pains [NES]
Older people who are retired, are at the end of their careers, have lived the most fruitful years of their lives, or are engaged in a life of leisure activities [NES, NYC]
Older persons who are either sweet and gentle or irritable and pompous [HM1]


[ACT] Fairness Report for the ACT Assessment Tests, 1999-2000 (ACT, 2000).
[AEP] Association of Education Publishers online newsletter, speech by Jonathan Rosenbloom of TIME Learning Ventures, September 3, 2002.
[AIR] American Institutes for Research, AIR Principles for Bias, Sensitivity, and Language Simplification, Fall 2000.
[APA] American Psychological Association, Publication Manual, 4th ed. (APA, 1994), pp. 46-60.
[APhilA] American Philosophical Association, Guidelines for Non-Sexist Use of Language,, 2001.
[CA] California Department of Education, Standards for Evaluating Instructional Materials for Social Content: 2000 Edition (California Department of Education, 2001).
[CT] Connecticut Department of Education, Fairness/Bias review guidelines for the Connecticut Mastery Test, 2002.
[ETS1] Educational Testing Service, Overview: ETS Fairness Review (ETS, 1998).
[ETS2] Educational Testing Service, Sensitivity Review Process: Guidelines & Procedures (ETS, 1992).
[HAR1] Harcourt, Striving for Fairness (unpublished document, for internal use by publishing company, 2001).
[HAR2] Harcourt Horizons, Editorial Guidelines (unpublished document, for internal use by publishing company and reviewers of its textbooks, 2001).
[HM1] Houghton Mifflin, Eliminating Stereotypes (Houghton Mifflin, 1981).
[HM2] Houghton Mifflin, HMR 2001: Guidelines for Literature Search (unpublished, for internal use by publishing company, 2001).
[HRW1] Holt, Rinehart, and Winston School Department, Guidelines for the Treatment of People and Related Issues, 1981.
[HRW2] Holt, Rinehart, and Winston School Department, Guidelines for Literature Selection, 1984.
[HRW3] Holt, Rinehart, and Winston School Department, The Treatment of Sex Roles, 1975.
[MA] Massachusetts Department of Education, Guidelines for Bias Review of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, March 3, 1998.
[MMH] Macmillan McGraw-Hill, Reflecting Diversity (1993).
[NES] National Evaluation Systems, Bias Issues in Test Development, 1991.
[NYC] New York City Board of Education, Promoting Bias-Free Curriculum Materials: A Resource Guide for Staff Development, 1988.
[RIV] Bias and Sensitivity Concerns in Testing (Riverside Publishing, 1998).
[SF-AW] Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley, Multicultural Guidelines, 1996.

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