Purdue writing guide: Words with 'MAN' 'should be avoided'
- A widely-used online writing and grammar resource published by Purdue University encourages college students to avoid "the generic use of MAN and other words with masculine markers."
- While the guide acknowledges that "man" originally conveyed a dual meaning, referring to either adult males or humans in general, it says the terminology is now considered offensive.
A widely-used online writing and grammar resource for college students suggests that they find alternatives to words like “mankind” and “mailman” because such terms are “sexist.”
The Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) offers a handout titled “Stereotypes and Biased Language”—which was updated just last week—that encourages students to “avoid using language that is stereotypical or biased in any way,” adding that biased language frequently occurs based on gender, “but can also offend groups of people based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, political interest, or race.”
“Writing in a non-sexist, non-biased way is both ethically sound and effective,” the OWL advises. “Non-sexist writing is necessary for most audiences; if you write in a sexist manner and alienate much of your audience from your discussion, your writing will be much less effective.”
The guide then provides examples for the “Generic Use” of non-sexist language, noting that “although MAN in its original sense carried the dual meaning of adult human and adult male, its meaning has come to be so closely identified with adult male that the generic use of MAN and other words with masculine markers should be avoided.”
Hence, instead of writing “mankind,” the OWL suggests that students write “humanity,” people,” or “human beings.”
The guide also takes issue with the word “man-made,” saying that it should be replaced with alternatives like “synthetic,” “manufactured,” or “machine-made.”
The primer then explains that students should be careful in the way they describe occupations, again suggesting that the use of “man” should be avoided for occupational terms in cases where the job can be held by a male or a female.
For instance, the OWL finds the use of the term “mailman” to be improper, preferring “mail carrier” in its place. Other terms, such as “congressman,” should also be avoided, using “congressional representative” instead.
“Historically, some jobs have been dominated by one gender or the other,” the guide concludes. “This has lead to the tendency for a person of the opposite gender to be ‘marked’ by adding a reference to gender. You should avoid marking the gender in this fashion in your writing.”
Campus Reform reached out to the director of the OWL, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
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