9 Words That Need to be Abolished – Hidden Power of Words Series, #6

9 Words That Need to be Abolished because they are full of bias, judgment, and meaning about who or what is automatically “correct” and “normal” in some cases and in other cases “incorrect” and “abnormal” and because they do not recognize the socially and culturally constructed nature of ideas and history related to said words.

1. Alien (e.g., illegal alien, alien concept, as in life outside of Earth)

2. Dropout

3. Handicap

4. Civilization

5. Illiterate (or literate)

6. Inefficient (or efficient) 

7. Straight (as in being honest, conventional, or as in not gay)

8. Criminal

9. Foreign (e.g., foreign language, foreigner)

What words would you add to this list? Please leave them in comments or tweet them! 

See the full Hidden Power of Words Series postings, too!

Power of Words

Categories: Thoughts and Perspectives

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12 replies

  1. And what if I wish to capitalize on that bias,
    To use that enhanced meaning
    To profess my thoughts
    To another mind,
    Alien though it may be.
    Removal of that inherent history,
    The richness of the vocabulary
    Is a handicap,
    A criminal act that cuts most brutally,
    Most efficiently the precepts
    Of a literate society,
    Our very civilization.

    I don’t like dropout or straight either,


  2. I don’t support abolishing any word. Language is such that even negative and bad/hurtful words can be reconstructed, redefined through time and different usage. I also like the word alien in reference to extraterrestrials.


  3. I think I’m with Tyler on this one. However I have to go a little stronger and point out that choosing not to name or quantify certain actions doesn’t eliminate their existence or meaning.
    By naming actions or conditions one can better understand and act on them, either for good or bad.
    Most of these words are, in my opinion, necessary statements of fact if used properly.


    • @Dave

      Thanks for your comment! For sure ideas exist independent of words, but when words themselves reinforce bias, that is a problem. For example, “straight” to describe a heterosexual person implies that one is “straight,” is “right,” is “better.” People can think this, but the word used en masse shouldn’t reinforce bias. Language, the default language used and reinforced by culture that is, should emphasis neutral diction and/or have an emphasis on equality and inclusion.


    • I appreciate you allowing my comments even tho we often disagree.

      I can understand where you are coming from with regards to the inferred bias of “straight.”

      However, to use another of your words for an example, “criminal” is either an adjective or a noun. It is either a type of action which is illegal, i.e. outside of the law, or a person who commits such actions. There is no bias in the definition of the word.

      “Dropout” is another such word. “Dropout” in no way tells me anything about a persons current condition or knowledge. It simply tells me that for one reason or another they were unable to complete something. This inability is not even always attributed to personal abilities, but can be related to outside factors… but I’m sure you are way ahead of me on that one too.

      The one word I most agreed with is “civilization.” That one in particular is so totally subjective as to be almost completely defined by the user.

      The problem I have with using language only for equality and inclusion is that inequality and exclusion are also neutral facts.

      For example, if I was to create a group of people with dark hair, you and I would (guessing by your gravatar) be included. However, there would be other groups of people with blond or red or white hair who would not be included. This doesn’t mean that we are better, or that they are, but that they don’t fit the criteria for the group. We in turn would not fit the criteria for theirs.

      If you were to study a group of financially wealthy individuals, you would have to exclude me. That doesn’t mean that I am more valuable, or that they are more valuable, it is simply a fact.

      I just find problems with the idea that language, which is a tool, should be required to be either positive or negative.

      Perhaps we would be better to educate people with the accurate meaning of words and the danger of “popular” usages in ignorance.

      One word that I would submit for your list, however, if we were to choose from the ones most misused, is “tolerance.”

      Thanks for making me think, and for responding.


    • Of course. I saw a cliché/quotation the other day that suggested we never learn from those we agree with!

      With “criminal” I was in particular thinking about how often “criminal” acts are social and cultural constructions that change according to time and place and said laws are even subjectively applied or not applied depending on various genderized, classized, and racialized factors. So, perhaps, “criminal” remains a needed word, but one where we need to be aware of all the related problems. For example, big corporations are not labeled “criminals” by the government if they avoid taxes but the common man/woman is.

      Good points regarding the word “dropout.” There I”m too thinking about broader social forces involved. So often minority students are forced to drop out in order to have money for the family or even by the school to avoid having their “image” and “ranking” “compromised.” How is it different if we simply say he or she did not complete _ because of _? Is the word “dropout” itself important somehow as a descriptor? Does it convey ideas not possible otherwise? With the word “dropout” I guess I was also thinking about the default image per se that “dropout” creates in my mind.

      Interesting points in reagard to equality/inequality and words. That the two exist somewhat independently per se (is that what you were saying?) Words, for better or worse, have constantly shifting meaning, from my perspective. The ways in which they are used creates positive connotations, negative connotations, and/or neutral meanings – and these change over time. If a movie or tv show begins to use a word in a specific way or if an issue becomes tied to a word (such as high school drop out and the Johns Hopkins University study), then the word has more baggage, so to speak.

      Here’s a link to a fantastic essay by Virginia Woolf about words you might enjoy: http://atthisnow.blogspot.com/2009/06/craftsmanship-virginia-woolf.html (The only known recording of her voice is of her reading part of this essay: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2009/08/virginia-woolf-words-fail-me.html)

      talk to you more soon!


  4. There’s a whole book about the N-word.
    It’s called: N-word: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, by Randall Kennedy


  5. retard,stupid,crazy, any slur words for male and female sexuall parts, cretin, m
    Ongoloid, Oreo, halfbreed,,
    Any ethnic slur’.


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