biased language

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

biased language
Speakers and writers who use biased language are often unaware that they are doing so. (Bureau Nz Limited/Getty Images)

Definition

The term biased language refers to words and phrases that are considered prejudiced, offensive, and hurtful. Contrast with bias-free language or unbiased language.

Biased language includes expressions that demean or exclude people because of age, sex, race, ethnicity, social class, or certain physical or mental traits.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Biased language insults the person or group to which it is applied. In denigrating others, biased language creates division and separation. In using biased language about races and ethnic or cultural groups, speakers and writers risk alienating members of those groups, thus undermining the communication and shared understanding language should promote."
    (Robert DiYanni and Pat C. Hoy II, The Scribner Handbook for Writers. Allyn and Bacon, 2001)

     
  • Writing for All the Members of an Audience
    "Using inclusive language makes you a more effective writer. If even one member of your audience feels excluded from what you are writing, you have created a barrier to communication. Notice the use of the word feels. It matters little if you meant to exclude. If any reader feels excluded, you are failing to communicate effectively. . . .

    "The problem with biased language of any kind is that it presumes one group sets the standard for the other. It buys into the idea that the majority sets the rules for the minority. That presumption is wrong, sometimes the result of arrogance, ignorance, or insensitivity. Writers cannot afford such indiscretions. We must do everything in our power to make our . . . audiences feel included in what we are writing about."
    (Ronald D. Smith, Becoming a Public Relations Writer, 4th ed. Routledge, 2012)

     
  • Gender-Biased Language
    "At the grossest level, gender-biased language implies that people are male unless 'proven' to be female. Female gender may be designated by either tagging on a feminine descriptor (e.g. lady professor, women doctor, female engineer) or by belonging to a stereotypically female group (e.g., kindergarten teacher, social worker)."
    (Janet B. Ruscher, Prejudiced Communication: A Social Psychological Perspective. Guilford, 2001)

     
  • Stylistic Advice: Striking a Balance
    - "Avoid, if you can, giving gratuitous offence: you risk losing your readers, or at least their goodwill, and therefore your arguments. But pandering to every plea for politically correct terminology may make your prose unreadable, and therefore also unread.

    "So strike a balance. If you judge that a group wishes to be known by a particular term, that the term is widely understood and that using any other term would seem odd, old fashioned or offensive, then use it."
    (The Economist Style Guide, 10th ed. Profile Books, 2010)

    - "Biased language, which is often used unintentionally, can defeat your purpose by damaging your credibility.

    "The easiest way to avoid bias is simply not to mention differences among people unless the differences are relevant to the discussion. Keep current with accepted usage and, if you are unsure of the appropriateness of the expression or the tone of a passage, have several colleagues review the material and give you their assessments."
    (Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, and Walter E. Oliu, Handbook of Technical Writing, 10th ed. Macmillan, 2011)