Stanford’s ‘Harmful Language’ List Mocked for ‘Sheer Insanity’

Social media users have been poking fun at a new list of “harmful language” crafted at Stanford University—which includes supposedly offensive terms like “American,” “brave, and “addicted.”

While many of the phrases on the list, which grew out of an initiative by the Stanford CIO Council and People of Color in Technology, have been widely condemned for being rooted in oppressive history, other terms have raised a few eyebrows and sparked some aggressive online backlash.

Stanford University’s independent newspaper, The Stanford Review, reported Monday that the “Orwellian” Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative is meant to address “harmful language in IT” at the university by providing alternative terms or phrases.

“Ostensibly, the goal is to make people of color and other perceived victims of historical injustice more comfortable as users of Stanford technology,” according to The Stanford Review, which put newly banned words in bold. “A cursory review of the page, however, should be shocking to any normal person for its sheer insanity.”

The newspaper, which provided a full glossary of words that should disappear within the Stanford universe, also noted that the school locked the list behind a passcode after an initial wave of criticism.

The list is divided into 10 sections: ableist, ageism, colonialism, culturally appropriative, gender-based, imprecise language, institutionalized racism, person-first, violent, and additional considerations.

Internet users, mostly conservatives, were quick to pounce on some of the word choices.

“Stanford University has lost its mind with [an] initiative to eliminate ‘harmful language’ such as ‘brave’ and ‘American,’” tweeted Fox News contributor Sarah Carter.

“Intellectual Morons formulate such crap so they can huff: ‘You just don’t understand!’” actor Adam Baldwin tweeted.

Stanford’s latest Facebook post, which had absolutely nothing to do with the list, was bombarded with comments Tuesday. Many Facebook users responded with “American” chants over and over.

The Daily Mail reported that Stanford first announced the plan in May as part of an effort to modernize language on its websites.

Some terms in Stanford’s elimination list have a definitive oppressive history, like “Hispanic,” which has been used to describe groups of people colonized by Spanish settlers. Instead, Stanford suggests the term “Latinx” to specify groups’ unique cultural heritages.

Other terms have offensive origins, like “Indian giver.” Stanford says the “term likely derives from misunderstandings about trade customs in early relationships between Indigenous people and White settlers. It is a slur that should not be used to describe anyone.”

Then, there are words like “user,” which the list says “can also negatively be associated with those who suffer from substance abuse issues or those who exploit others for their own gain.”

Some terms are undeniably open to philosophical debate: abort, killing two birds with one stone, immigrant, and war room.

Other words and phrases on the naughty list include “African American,” “trigger warning,” “abusive relationship,” and “Karen.”

In a request for comment, Stanford University did not directly address the online criticism it received Tuesday. However, assistant vice president of external communications Dee Mostofi said the “style guidelines are meant for internal use, often for individual workgroups.”

“In this case, the EHLI website was specifically created by and intended for use within the university IT community,” Mostofi said. “It will continue to be refined based on ongoing input from the community.”

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