what do you think of people-first language?



i’m writing an essay on it and i’m not planning on using much (if any) anecdotal evidence i’ll get from you guys, but it made me think about how the ~ingroup~ feels about it.

i read a paper that proposes linguistic reform in order to combat prejudice by reducing language that contributes to making generalizations. that is, the author basically proposes we all switch to people-first language for marginalized groups. for example (from her paper): say “person with darker skin” instead of “black/african american person” and “person who follows islam” rather than “muslim.”

i don’t like it. i wouldn’t refer to myself as a “person with anxiety” in most contexts; i’d say i’m “an anxious person.” i also feel more comfortable saying i’m a “mentally ill person” rather than a “person with mental illnes.” in fact, i wouldn’t even call myself a “person of color” if the term wasn’t so popular that i’d be side-eyed for not using it. i think of myself as mixed-race. it feels like a transparent way to tip-toe around the point. it’s also wordy and probably going to join everything else already on the euphemism treadmill, so i don’t think it’ll even help very much.

zombies of philosophy, or P-zombies,

I think it is terrible because it completely misses the point of language.

Go to 4chan. Black people are called “Dindus,” in a fascinating bit of linguistic evolution that comes from “Didn’t do nothing,” as in “It was a crime when the cops shot my son, he didn’t do nothing.”

Give it five years and “Person who follows Islam” will become P’Islam. In another five, Muslims will be getting accused of being piss lame. P’Black will be slightly harder for the racists, but in 2020, “all the pebbles in here need to gbtAfrica,” unless you go for “darker skin” instead of black, in which case I can guarantee you that “darkie” will see a comeback.

Words used often get shortened. Nobody watches the Television, they’re on the TV / Telly

depending on which side of the Pond they’re on.

(Two syllables either way) The Pond, by the way. Not “The Atlantic Ocean” because that’s seven syllables and ain’t nobody got time for that.


I think it is terrible because it completely misses the point of language. It is the functional equivalent of saying: “If you want to talk about this using approved language, you must write the most amazingly stilted circumlocution that I, a university graduate with advanced language skills, can come up with. If you are unfamiliar with academic language and instead use a shorter, more common term, you must be a bigot.” A++ advocacy, Ivy league, you did it again.

(This is, incidentally, the exact same problem “African-American” has. “Black” is a lot better, and skips the ridiculous example of e.g. black people of English extraction being referred to as English African-Americans, which, yes, is a thing I have seen in the wild)

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