The following list contains diversity related information. These terms will help guide use of appropriate terms and lists unacceptable phrases that are commonly used. Be aware that words and phrases that are acceptable today could potentially be outdated or harmful in the near future. Used with permission from DiversityInc LLC.
Able-bodied Refers to a person who does not have a disability. Although not a derogatory term, it is not preferred. Use without a disability. See disability, disabled
Accents Many words used in English derived from other languages require accents (e.g., resume: to begin again, résumé: summary of a job applicant's experience) to retain their meaning. Use accents in a proper name only if the person uses them. [For PC users: press Ctrl plus ' then release and press desired vowel for an acute accent (e.g., Ã¡).]
Acquaintance Rape is when a victim is attacked by someone he or she has met or been involved with before – i.e. friend, date, boyfriend, girlfriend, acquaintance.
ADA Acronym for Americans with Disabilities Act, federal civil-rights legislation that deals with discrimination in employment, public accommodation, transportation and telecommunications, on the basis of disability. See disability, disabled.
Africa Use Africa only if related to the continent as a whole. Use specific countries or regions in the continent when possible. Do not use Dark Continent. See African, African American.
Afro-American Outdated synonym for African American. Although not a derogatory term, avoid when possible. Use Black or African American if appropriate. See African American, Black.
African Caribbean, Afro-Caribbean Although people from the Caribbean of African descent can be from any race or ethnicity, the terms refer to nonwhite Caribbean people of African descent. Both are acceptable. See African American, Black.
AIDS Acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, a disease that weakens the human immune system, which makes it difficult for the body to fight opportunistic infections. Medications can slow progression, but there is no cure. HIV is only one of the factors needed for an AIDS diagnosis. HIV-positive people do not always develop AIDS. Regardless of orientation, anyone can develop AIDS. HIV disease is gaining popularity as an alternate term, but AIDS is still the preferred term. Do not use full-blown AIDS, AIDS victim or AIDS sufferer. Use person with AIDS, or, if used in a medical context. AIDS patient. See HIV.
Amerasian Describes person born in Korea of a Korean mother and a non-Asian father, and a person born in Vietnam of a Vietnamese mother and a non-Asian father. Originally described people fathered by members of the U.S. military during the Korean and Vietnam wars. Although not a derogatory term, avoid when possible. See Asian, Asian American.
American Describes a citizen of the United States. However, this term also may describe any citizen of North, Central or South America.
American Indian Used by the U.S. Census Bureau as the preferred term for Native American. Although not a derogatory term and used by some Native Americans, it is not preferred. Do not use Indian as a synonym. See Native American, Indian.
Arab Person from an Arabic-speaking nation. Not a synonym for Muslim. Most Arabs are Muslims, but not all Muslims are Arab (e.g., Iranians are Persian and speak Farsi). See Islam.
Asiatic Derogatory term for Asian or Asian American. See derogatory terms.
ASL Acronym for American Sign Language, the most common language used by deaf people in North America. See deaf, disability.
Assistance animals Describes animals that assist people with disabilities. Mostly refers to dogs, but can include other animals. Also service animals, guide dogs. Seeing Eye dog is a trademark of a group called The Seeing Eye. See disability, disabled.
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Bilingual Although bilingual often refers to Spanish and English, it describes fluency between any two languages.
Bilingual education A teaching method in which students are taught the language of the country they live in by using their native language. Although often related to Spanish and English, it refers to any two languages.
Bindi Hindi name for decoration worn by some Asian women between the eyebrows. Does not indicate marital status. See Hindi.
Birth defect Derogatory term for a disability since birth. Use congenital disability or disability since birth. See congenital disability, disability, derogatory terms.
Black Nonwhite person of Black descent, regardless of national origin. Use Black only in this larger context. Use terms as African American, Haitian, etc. when race is known. See African American, white, race.
Blind Use only for a person with total loss of sight. Many people who are legally blind have partial sight. For them, use visually impaired, partially sighted or person with low vision as alternatives. Avoid as a synonym for ignorant. See disability, disabled.
Braille A system of writing and printing for people who are blind where characters and letters are formed by raised dots felt with the fingers. Not limited to English. Always capitalized. See blind, disability, disabled.
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Cantonese Dialect spoken in the Canton province of China, and Hong Kong. Spoken by many 19th century Chinese immigrants to the United States and still spoken widely in many Chinese-American communities. See Chinese, Mandarin, Asian, Asian American.
Catholic, Catholicism Although these terms usually refer to the Roman Catholic Church, they can also refer to other Christian denominations, such as the Eastern Orthodox churches. Use in reference to the Roman Catholic Church only when the context is clear. See Christian, religious terms.
Chicano Term for Mexican American popularized by Mexican Americans activists in the 1970s. Also Chicana(s) for women and Chianos for women and men in a group. Although not a derogatory term, it is not preferred by many Mexican Americans. Use only if preferred by the person or if in a quote or title. See Latino, Hispanic.
Chinese Describes a person from China. Also the written language for China and Taiwan. Mandarin is the spoken language. Do not use as a synonym for Chinese American, a person of Chinese descent from the United States. See Mandarin, Cantonese, Asian, Asian American.
Civil unions Civil unions offer same-sex couples some of the benefits of marriage under state laws. Depending on their state's law, same-sex partners who enter into civil unions may have the right to visit each other in the hospital, file their state taxes jointly, inherit each other's property and take part in other benefits. The "Defense of Marriage Act," denies same-sex couples access to any federal protections of marriage, such as Social Security survivor benefits. There also is no guarantee that civil unions will be recognized by other states or the federal government. See opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples, civil unions, same-sex marriage.
Civil rights Political, social and economic legal rights and responsibilities guaranteed by the government. Also equal rights. Many groups in U.S. history, such as women, people of color and LGBTs, have struggled to attain them. The civil-rights movement refers to the struggles of African Americans. Do not use special rights.
Cognitive disability Describes a disability that affects learning and similar brain functions. Use specific disabilities when possible. Avoid mental retardation. See disability, disabled.
Colored Although used in regions of Africa to describe people of mixed race, do not use in the United States to refer to any people of color. See people of color.
Consent: is informed (i.e., a person has an understanding of what is being asked of them), voluntary (i.e., the choice by a person to participate or not participate is present and respected), active (i.e., actions, both verbal and non-verbal, demonstrate agreement from both parties) and uses clear words and actions (i.e., No means No, Stop means Stop, Slow Down means Slow Down).
Cripple Derogatory term for person with a disability. See disability, derogatory terms.
Cross-dresser Person who occasionally wears clothes identified with the opposite sex. Do not assume orientation. Do not use as a synonym for a transgender person. See transgender.
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Dating violence Violence that is committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim (See EDUCATIONAL DEFINITIONS of Dating violence).
Deaf Use for a person with total or profound loss of hearing. Many people have only moderate or mild hearing loss. For them, use person with hearing loss, partially deaf or hearing impaired. Do not use deaf-dumb, deaf-mute. See disability, disabled, mute.
Derogatory terms Offensive words or phrases. Do not use except in quotes that reveal the bias of people quoted or when their use is in some way essential to a written communication. Terms considered derogatory by many people are used by some people in an informal, non-derogatory manner among each other in an attempt to reclaim them from their hateful origins. Because such usage in controversial, however, and people who use these terms informally consider their use by people not in their group as inappropriate, avoid them.
Developmental disability Federal and legal definitions vary, but the term can include conditions such as autism and epilepsy. Use specific terms when possible. See disability, disabled.
Disability Functional limitations of at least one major life activity, such as walking, learning, etc. Legal definitions vary. Do not mention unless relevant. Person with a disability is preferred, not disabled person. Do not use victim of, suffers from, stricken with, afflicted with. See disabled.
Diversity Although often related to only race ethnicity and gender, it also includes people with disabilities, orientation and gender identity. White people should be included. See race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, gender identity.
Domestic partnership Legal recognition of unmarried, opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples, which gives them some of the legal rights of married couples. Domestic partnerships are not marriages or civil unions. They are not usually binding between jurisdictions. See opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples, civil union, gay marriage.
Domestic Violence is violence that occurs between partners who are married and/or living together for long periods of time (See EDUCAITONAL DEFINITIONS of Domestic Violence & LEGAL DEFINITIONS of Domestic Violence).
Dwarf Term for person of short stature. Derived from dwarfism, a medical term. See short stature, little person.
Dyke Derogatory term for a lesbian. See lesbian, derogatory terms.
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EEOC Acronym for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that enforces civil rights laws. See civil rights, affirmative action.
Ethnicity Classification of humans based on shared cultural heritage, such as place of birth, language, customs, etc. Do not use race as a synonym. See race.
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Faggot Derogatory term for a gay man. Also fag. See gay, derogatory terms.
Filipino Person from the Philippines. Many younger Filipino Americans prefer Pilipino because Tagalog, the primary dialect, does not have an F sound.
FTM Acronym for female-to-male. Describes a transgender person classified as female at birth, but who identifies as male. Do not assume sex-reassignment surgery. See MTF, transgender.
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Gay Person attracted to the same sex, sexually and emotionally. Most associated with men. Describes gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people as a group, but the acronym LGBT is preferred. Avoid homosexual(s). Do not use gay lifestyle. See LGBT, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, orientation.
Gender-neutral terms In general, use gender-neutral terms (e.g., police officer, not policeman) whenever possible, except if gender-specific terms are preferred by the person or if in a quote or title.
Gender expression Describes how gender identity is expressed, regardless of orientation, including traditionally masculine or feminine behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice and gestures. See gender, gender identity, orientation, transgender.
Gender identity Self-identification as male or female, regardless of sex assigned at birth. Do not use gender identity and orientation as synonyms. See gender, gender expression, orientation, transgender.
Ghetto Avoid using ghetto to describe a low-income neighborhood of people of color. Use the name of the neighborhood. See barrio.
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Handicap, handicapped Although they are not derogatory terms, avoid them when possible. Use only in legal contexts, in quotes or titles. Use disability. See disability, disabled.
HBCU Acronym for historically Black colleges and universities, established to provide higher education to African Americans at a time in U.S. history when such access was limited. Most of them now do not have only African Americans as students, but most of them still retain African-American majorities. See affirmative action, HSI.
Hermaphrodite Derogatory term for intersex person. Derived from hermaphroditism, a medical term. See intersex, derogatory terms.
Hip hop An urban culture rooted in rap music, break dancing and graffiti that was created by African Americans and Latinos in the late 1970s, now popular with most U.S. youth. Do not capitalize. Hyphenated only when used as an adjective. See rap.
Hispanic Person of descent from a Spanish-speaking country, regardless of ability to speak Spanish. Always capitalized. Use Latino instead of Hispanic, except if the person quoted prefers Hispanic, if Hispanic is in a quote, or title, or if Latino would be inaccurate. The U.S. Census Bureau uses Latino and Hispanic interchangeably to refer to persons of any race of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South American, Dominican, Spanish, and other Hispanic descent. See Latino, Spanish.
Homophobia Describes fear, hatred, and/or dislike of gay men and lesbians. Also often includes bisexuals and transgender people, but transphobia is the term when referring to trans-gender people specifically. See homosexual, orientation, gender identity, transgender.
Homosexual Person attracted to the same sex. Because of negative use historically, avoid homosexual as a synonym for gay. Use only if heterosexual would be used similarly, such as in a scientific reference. Do not use homo. See gay, heterosexual.
HSI Acronym for Hispanic-serving institutions, a term created by the federal government for colleges and universities. HSIs must have at least 25 percent Latinos, half of which are low income. Universities that earn this classification become eligible for additional funding. See affirmative action, HBCU.
Hyphenated Americans Derogatory term coined by Theodore Roosevelt to describe Americans that he believed did not want to join the U.S. mainstream. Still used negatively to describe people that identify as African American, Mexican American, etc., even though these terms are now hyphenated only when used as adjectives. See derogatory terms.
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Immigrant Person who enters into a new country to live. See immigration, emigrant, alien.
In-culture Describes outreach to racial and ethnic groups using familiar cultural contexts, which can include methods, images and languages.
Indian Describes a person from India. Use Indian American if referring to someone of Indian descent born in the United States. If referring to an American Indian, the term Native American is preferred. See Native American, American Indian, indigenous.
Intersex Person whose sex is ambiguous. Intersex people often are operated on soon after birth, but it is becoming more common not to perform surgery, even though a sex is assigned. In these cases, intersex people are allowed to make their own decisions about their sex and whether to have surgery when their gender identities are more apparent. Use pronoun preferred by the intersex person. Do not assume gender identity or orientation. Do not use hermaphrodite. See sex, gender, gender identity, orientation.
Islam Religion founded by Muhammed. Muslims are adherents of Islam. Islam and Muslim are not synonyms. An imam is a leader of prayer at a mosque, an Islamic place of worship. The two major divisions are Sunni and Shiite. Most Islamic countries have Sunni majorities, except Iran, which has a Shiite majority. See Muhammed, Muslim, Arab.
Judaism Religion founded by Abraham and Moses. Adherents are Jews; while not necessarily derogatory, do not use Hebrews. Jews can be of any race or nationality. Hebrew is the official language of Israel, which has a secular government. Both Christians and Muslims also trace their religion to Abraham. Do not use kike or hebe, which most Jews consider extremely derogatory. See Christian, Islam, Muslim, religious terms.
Latin America In common usage, includes all countries in the Americas that are primarily Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking. Although French-speaking countries are sometimes included in this definition, such usage is not preferred. See Latino, Spanish, Hispanic.
Latino Person of Latin American descent, regardless of ability to speak Spanish or Portuguese. Always capitalized. Always use Latino instead of Hispanic, except if the person prefers Hispanic, if Hispanic is in a quote or title, or if it would be inaccurate. Also Latina(s) for women and Latino(s) for women and men in a group. The U.S. Census Bureau uses Latino and Hispanic interchangeably to refer to persons of any race of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South American, Dominican, Spanish, and other Hispanic descent. See Latino, Spanish, Hispanic.
LGBT Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Many gay activists consider GLBT or LBGT to be more inclusive than gay as an adjective. Always use lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender on first reference. See bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender.
Little People Describes people of short stature. Derived from Little People of America, an advocacy group. Although used by some, use people of short stature. See short stature.
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Mandarin Official language of China and Taiwan, not a dialect. Refers to the spoken language only. Written language is Chinese, regardless of spoken dialect. See Chinese,Cantonese, Asian, Asian American.
Migrant Although migrant can be defined as a person who migrates, the term mostly refers to farm laborers who move often to different locations to harvest seasonal crops. Do not use as a synonym for immigrant or emigrant. See alien, immigrant, emigrant, immigration.
Minority, minority group Describes person/group not in the majority. Historically refers to people of color but can describe other groups, such as women, depending on the context. Use only when part of a quote or title. Use people of color, traditionally underrepresented groups or other terms when possible, such as Black or Latino. See people of color.
MTF Acronym for male-to-female. Describes transgender person classified as male at birth, but who identifies as female. Do not assume sex-reassignment surgery. See FTM, sex reassignment surgery, transgender.
Mute Derogatory term for a person who cannot physically speak. Use person who cannot speak or person who cannot voice. See disability, derogatory terms.
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Native American Descendant of native inhabitants of the United States, regardless of tribal affiliation. American Indian is used by the U.S. Census Bureau and is preferred. Indian is not a synonym. Do not use half-blood or half-breed, derogatory terms for an American Indian of mixed racial and ethnic heritage. If possible, use tribe name rather than American Indian or Native American. See Native Indian, Indian.
Negro Once considered appropriate, this term for African Americans and Black people is outdated. Do not use except when part of a title or phrase as used by African Americans. See African Americans, Black, people of color, derogatory terms.
Nigger Derogatory term for African Americans and Black people. Because it continues to be extremely offensive to many people of color, do not use it except in very rare circumstances, even if in quotes. Do not confuse with niggard (a miser) or niggardly (miserly). Use N-word. See African American, Black, people of color, N-word, derogatory terms.
Ñ Do not substitute n for this 17th letter of the 29-letter Spanish alphabet. [For PC users: press Ctrl plus Shift plus ~ then hold and press n for Ã‘ (uppercase); press Ctrl plus Shift plus ~ then release and press n for Ã± (lowercase). See Spanish.
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Opposite-sex couples Describes couples with partners of the opposite sex. Although heterosexuality is implied, this term also includes couples where one or both partners are bisexual. Hyphenate opposite-sex only when used as an adjective. See partner, same-sex couples, bisexual.
Orientation Describes sexual and emotional attraction, such as homosexual (gay or lesbian), bisexual and heterosexual. Do not use sexual preference. Not synonymous with gender identity or gender expression. See gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, gender identity, gender expression, transgender, gender, sex.
Outing Also "to out." Describes revealing orientation or gender identity without consent. See coming out, closeted.
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Pacific Islander Used by the U.S. Census Bureau to describe people from Fiji, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, the Philippines, Samoa, Tahiti and Tonga. Also used by many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for people from the Pacific Islands in general, but use specific countries when possible. See Asian American, Asian.
Pacific Rim Describes imaginary lines framing the Pacific Ocean, which borders several countries, primarily the United States, Canada, China, Japan and Australia. Not derogatory, but use specific regions and countries when possible. See Asian, Asian American, Pacific Islander.
Partner Describes a person in an opposite-sex couple or a same-sex couple who usually is unmarried. Use girlfriend, boyfriend, lover or companion if the couple prefers those terms. Use partner if they prefer it or if their preference is unknown. See opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples.
People of color Describes all non-white people. Singular is person of color. When describing a title or geographic location, of color can be used alone. (e.g., directors of color, New Yorker of color). Use specific terms (e.g., Black, Latino, Asian American) when possible. See African American, Black, Hispanic, Latino, Asian American, American Indian, Caucasian, white.
Protestantism Describes religious denominations formed as a result of their 16th-century break from the Roman Catholic Church, which includes Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Quakers. Do not use for Christian Scientists, Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons. Also, do not use for Eastern Orthodox churches. See Christian, religious terms.
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Queer Derogatory term for gay. Although queer has become acceptable among some LGBTs as an inclusive alternative for gay or LGBT, it is still considered offensive by many LGBTs because of its negative history. Do not use it unless part of a quote, title or phrase as used by LGBTs. See gay, LGBT, derogatory term.
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Religious terms Do not use fundamentalist or liberal unless preferred by groups or individuals. Use conservative or moderate, respectively, as alternates. Avoid Judeo-Christian. See Christian, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism.
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Same-sex couples Describes couples with partners of the same sex. Although homosexuality is implied, this term includes couples in which one or both partners are bisexual. Hyphenate same-sex only when used as an adjective. See partner, opposite-sex couples, bisexual.
Same-sex marriage Marriage for same-sex couples. Also gay marriage. Use marriage for same-sex couples when possible. Legal in Massachusetts only, but many other states are debating the practice. The federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman only, would have to be declared unconstitutional before recognition between states could be enforced. Many politicians have proposed civil unions as an alternative. See opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples, civil unions, same-sex marriage, domestic partnership.
Sex-change operation Use sex-reassignment surgery instead. Some transsexual people choose to receive this surgery to undergo physical alterations to look like their gender identity. See sex reassignment surgery, transsexual, transvestite.
Sex-reassignment surgery Some transsexual people choose to receive this surgery to undergo physical alterations to look like their gender identity. Do not use sex-change operation. See sex-change operation, transsexual, transvestite.
Sexual Assault and/ or Rape Any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape (See EDUCATIONAL DEFINITIONS of Sexual Assault and/ or Rape & LEGAL DEFINITIONS of Sexual Assault and/ or Rape).
Sikhism Religion founded by Guru Nanak in the 16th century, derived form Hinduism. Adherents are Sikhs. Although elements of Islam have been incorporated, it is not Islamic. See Hinduism, Islam, religious terms.
Sodomy Oral or anal sex between members of the opposite or same sex. Laws banning it were declared unconstitutional in the United States. Only use specific terminology unless sodomy is in quotes or used in a legal context. See orientation.
Stalking A pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear (See EDUCATIONAL DEFINITIONS of Stalking & LEGAL DEFINITIONS of Stalking).
Stutterer Use person who stutters. See disability, disabled.
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Third World Used during the Cold War, it describes countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America still developing economically. Do not use except in quotes or a title. The term developing countries is preferred.
Transgender Person whose gender identity and/or gender expression varies from sex assigned at birth. Describes transsexuals, cross-dressers, intersex people and many other classifications. Orientation is not to be assumed. Use a specific term when known or if preferred by the person. Use transgender when a specific term is not known or if preferred by the person. See gender, sex, identity, gender expression, intersex, LGBT, transsexual, transvestite, transition, cross-dresser, orientation.
Transition Process of altering sex to match self-identified gender, which can include hormone therapy, sex-reassignment surgery and/or legal identity. See LGBT, sex-reassignment surgery, sex-change operation, transgender, transsexual.
Transsexual Person who identifies as a member of the opposite sex, regardless of orientation. A transsexual may or may not choose to undergo physical alterations, up to and including sex-reassignment surgery, which is the preferred term to sex-change operation. Orientation is not to be assumed. Use the pronoun that matches public appearance and/or that is preferred by the person. Do not use transsexual as a synonym for transgender. See transgender, transition, orientation.
Tribe Although not derogatory, avoid except in quotes or a title, or when modified into an adjective (e.g., tribal law). Many American Indians prefer nation. Avoid referring to ethnic groups in Africa (e.g. Hutu, Tutsi) as tribes. See indigenous, American Indian, Native American.
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White Defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as a person of descent from the original people of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. See race, ethnicity, people of color, African American, Black, Hispanic, Latino, Asian American, American Indian.