The Stanford Guide to Acceptable Words

University at Stanford


Ben Margot/Associated Press

Parodists have a hard time these days when so much of modern life and culture resembles the Babylon Bee. The latest evidence is that in May Stanford University administrators published an index of banned words to be removed from the school’s websites and computer code, and provided comprehensive replacements to help re-educate the deranged.

Do you call yourself an “American”? Please do not. Better say “US citizens,” according to the bias hunters, lest you disparage the rest of America. Also “immigrant” is out, “person who has immigrated” as a permitted alternative. It’s the iron law of academic writing: Why use one word when four will do?

At Stanford you can no longer “master” your subject; In case you haven’t heard, the school teaches that “historically masters of enslaved people”. And don’t you dare design a “blind study” that “inadvertently establishes that disability is somehow abnormal or negative and promotes a culture of accomplishment.” Blind studies are good and useful, but whatever; “Mask study” is to be preferred. Follow the science.

‘Gangbusters’ is banned because the Index says it ‘evokes the notion of police action against ‘gangs’ in a positive light, which can have racist undertones’. Not hitting a dead horse (a phrase that, according to the Index, “normalizes violence against animals”), but back in the day you had to have a liberal arts degree to write something stupid like that.

The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative is a “phased” project by Stanford IT leaders. Compiling the list required “18 months of stakeholder engagement,” the university tells us. We can’t imagine what’s next, other than there will certainly be more work for more administrators, the proliferation of which has caused much of the tuition and student debt surge. For 16,937 students, Stanford lists 2,288 faculty and 15,750 administrative staff.

The list was preceded (to use another banned word) with a trigger warning: “This site contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace.”

Apparently this was all too much for some at school. On Monday after the index came to light on social media, Stanford hid it from the public. Without a password, you wouldn’t know that “stupid” made the list.

Wonderland: The Twitter censorship files are the tip of an expanding anti-language iceberg. Images: AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the print edition on December 20, 2022.

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