Talking about People: A Guide to Fair and Accurate Language

Talking about People: A Guide to Fair and Accurate Language

Talking about People: A Guide to Fair and Accurate Language

Talking about People: A Guide to Fair and Accurate Language


Anyone who works with words and people will want to keep this indispensable guide close at hand. In her highly entertaining style, best-selling author Rosalie Maggio offers thousands of alternatives for outdated, stereotypical, and damaging language. This substantially updated and expanded version of Maggio's earlier work, The Dictionary of Bias-Free Usage, also covers numerous words and phrases that were not even part of our language five years ago. This handy reference guide merits a place next to the dictionary and thesaurus of all who are sensitive to the use of fair and accurate language. It will help them make an informed judgment when choosing words to describe people in terms of their age, sex, employment, economic status, religion, lifestyle, ethnic background, or disability.


In every civil rights movement...the first battlelines are always drawn around labels. It's far easier to agree on what words should not be used than on what to replace them with.

--Irving Zola

Accuracy of language is one of the bulwarks of truth.

--Anna Jameson

To speak of "mere words" is much like speaking of "mere dynamite."

--C. J. Ducasse

abbess/abbot retain these formal titles for persons holding them. "Abbess" is one of the few exceptions to the rule on avoiding feminine endings; abbesses were generally equal to abbots in power, influence, and respect (seventh-century abbess Hilda of Whitby had both monks and nuns under her authority, and her influence spread throughout England). In the generic sense of "abbess" or "abbot," you might use religious, superior, administrator, director.

abigail See lady's maid, maid.

able-bodied this term (and its partner "temporarily able-bodied") had its Warholian 15 minutes of fame but has lost ground, probably because of its artificiality and vagueness (very few people are 100% able-bodied, whether a toddler needing help up the stairs, a young person wearing glasses, or an older person with arthritis). Trying to establish a one-sizefits-all term to mean the opposite of "people with disabilities" emphasizes an adversarial and distancing us/them, either/or attitude. If you need a blanket term, circumlocute ("both those who use wheelchairs and those who don't") or, as a last resort, use non-disabled.

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