Sensitive Terms

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Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Maya Angelou

As a university, it's our responsibility and our pleasure to be welcoming to all in everything we do. This includes being welcoming and considerate in the language we use. Our language is a product of a complex cultural history and may contain phrasing that is rooted in some aspects of our history that we seek to overcome. Many words and phrases are obviously offensive and we don't intend to catalog them here. The list below includes phrases that may most often be used unintentionally; alternatives are suggested.

It's important to note that inclusion on this list does not necessarily indicate that the term or phrase's etymological history is problematic. When in doubt, it's best to err on the side of how a word is potentially perceived.

If there are other words or phrases that you think should be included on this list, please contact us using the 'Email Us' tab at the bottom of the page.

Term(s)Sometimes/NeverExplanationAlternative(s)External Resource(s)
blacklist/whitelist never Any construction where "white" is a positive and "black" is a negative, whatever the history of the term, should be avoided, as there are easy alternatives. "Deny list," "Denied;" "Allow list," "Allowed" Dice Insights
crazy, insane almost never Mental conditions are serious concerns. Many feel that use of these and similar terms trivializes mental health. Use only clinical terms for mental illness in describing actual diagnoses by licensed professionals or legal terms used in verdicts by courts of law. "chaotic" Penn Medicine News
gyp sometimes

Do not use when referring to a bad transaction. OK to use when referring to gypsum-based construction materials ("gyp board" as a synonym for "drywall.")

"cheated," "defrauded" NPR Code Sw!tch
manpower, manning, other generic "man/woman" words avoid

Avoid constructions and compounds that may imply gender specificity when gender neutrality is more accurate.

"resources" instead of "manpower," "staffing/staff" instead of "manning/man."



Be cautious of context when used as an adjective (the etymology of "master bedroom," for instance, is unclear, but substitutes are easily found). Never use "master/slave" to describe a logical relationship in information technology contexts (see "master/slave" in this document). OK to use when describing full expertise in a subject area (mastery of language).


master/slave (IT)


Never use "master/slave" to describe a logical relationship in information technology contexts. See "slave."


off the reservation


Disrespectful of Native American history; avoid similar constructions targeting other groups

"outside of normal behavior" or similar meaning

NPR Code Sw!tch
paddy wagon


Anti-ethnic origin

"police van"



Only use in reference to events described as a "powwow" by a sponsoring Native American group.

rule of thumb


Possibly misognynistic origin

"general guideline"


OK to use when describing anatomy. Do not use as a verb in any context.

"secondary sale," "secondary seller"


When describing a person, in attaching a specific and factual condition of enslavement, use 'enslaved person' rather than 'slave.' The latter implies an inherent condition, the former a condition being imposed on the person by another. Do not use casually.

"enslaved person"

grandfather clause/grandfathered


History in Jim Crow laws designed to deny franchise to Black Americans. Alternatives can be used.

"legacy rights," "legacied" There are many, but the conversation is ongoing and there does not yet appear to be a consensus replacement.
sold down the river


"betrayed" NPR Code Sw!tch


If a Native American group self-describes as a tribe, OK to use. As in "Omaha Tribe of Nebraska."