The University of Salford



Language both shapes and reflects social reality. Discriminatory language is therefore both a symptom of, and a contributor to, the unequal social status of women, people with a disability and people from various ethnic and racial backgrounds.

This guide aims to encourage staff and students at the University to think critically about the language they use, and provides practical guidelines on how to avoid using discriminatory language.

This guide replaces the University of Salford’s “Use of Gender Free Language”.

This guide is inextricably linked with aspects of the University's Policy and Procedures for Dealing with Harassment.


Language is a major vehicle for the expression of prejudice or discrimination. Some of the major forms of discriminatory language are:

Extra Visibility or Emphasis on Difference

In many contexts it is unnecessary to mention a person's sex, race, ethnic background or disability. Yet, for members of minority groups these characteristics are often mentioned. This type of detailed specification may result in overemphasis on a particular characteristic, thus creating the impression that the person referred to is somehow different.


A stereotype is a generalised and relatively fixed image of a person or persons belonging to a particular group. This image is formed by isolating or exaggerating certain features; physical, intellectual, cultural, occupational, personal, and so on which seem to characterise the group.
Stereotypes are discriminatory in that they take away a person's individuality. Although they may reflect elements of truth, these are usually misinterpreted or inaccurate owing to oversimplification. The status of minority groups in society is often adversely influenced by use of stereotypes.

Derogatory Labeling

The discriminatory nature of derogatory labels used to describe members of minority groups is often obvious. However, derogatory labels are still commonly used, and must be avoided.

Imposed Labeling

A characteristic often shared by minority groups is their lack of power to define themselves. Often the names and labels by which they are known, whether derogatory or not, have been imposed on them. Imposed labelling may be inaccurate and may also be alienating for the groups it supposedly describes.

Language is not fixed and static but constantly evolving and changing as society's attitudes and practices change. Be aware of the development of new forms of expression that seek to describe our diverse society in non-discriminatory ways


Sexist language expresses bias in favour of one sex and thus discriminates against the other. Though in certain circumstances bias does occur in favour of women, in general it appears to be in favour of men and against women. Any language that discriminates against women and men by not adequately reflecting their roles, status and presence in society is sexist.

Some of the major forms of sexist language are:


Women are often invisible in language. This is due to the use of the masculine pronouns 'he', 'him', 'his' to refer to both men and women, and the use of 'man' as a noun, verb or adjective in words such as 'mankind' and 'man made'.


Women are often portrayed in language as subordinate to men. Expressions such as 'female technician' and 'woman academic' imply that women are regarded as different in certain situations or occupations. The use of 'feminine' suffixes such as 'ette', 'ess', 'ienne' and 'trix' is unnecessary and demeaning. The inappropriate use of these titles indicates that women are viewed as subordinate to men.


Women/men and their activities, actions and occupations are often trivialised or denigrated in language through expressions like 'girls in the office', 'just a housewife', 'boys in the storeroom', etc.

Why You Should Use Non-Sexist Language

Non-sexist language is not intended to 'de-sex' language, but to ensure a balanced and fair representation of men and women in language. Non-sexist language increases clarity in language use by removing ambiguities, and increases accuracy by avoiding false assumptions about the nature and roles of women and men in society.

Alternatives for Using 'Man' Generically

Avoid Use

men of science scientists

manpower workforce, personnel, staff, human resources

'man' as a verb or adjective:

manning the office staffing the office

words that contain 'man':

sportsmanlike fair, sporting

man-made synthetic/artificial

The word 'Chairman' is traditionally used at the University but not everyone is happy with this because it seems to imply exclusion of women from the role. However, people have also expressed objections to the use of ‘Chairwoman’ or ‘Chair’. People in the Chair should therefore be free to consult with their committees and to choose whichever form of address seems most appropriate to them and their colleagues.

Alternatives to 'he' and 'his'

Because English does not possess a singular, sex-indefinite pronoun, the pronouns 'he', 'his' and 'him' are frequently used as generic pronouns. As this use is both ambiguous and excludes women, try to find alternatives. One of the following may be acceptable, depending on the context:

Avoid Use

The student may exercise Students may exercise their right to appeal
his right to appeal. He must They should do so ………
do so before the due date.
The student may exercise his/her right to
appeal. She/he must do so………..

The student may exercise the right to appeal before the due date.

Avoid personifying inanimate objects as 'he' or 'she'. The pronoun 'it' should be used to refer to inanimate nouns.

Varying Word Order

Men usually precede women in expressions such as men and women, his and hers, him and her, he and she, Sir or Madam, etc. Try reversing the word order in these expressions: women and men, hers and his, her and him, she and he, Madam or Sir, etc. Alternate the words throughout a document or verbal presentation.

Alternative Occupation Terms

The greater presence of women in a range of occupations makes it desirable to seek alternative forms and titles to avoid the impression that these positions are male-exclusive. It is important to be consistent in your use of alternative occupation terms, and to avoid using them only or mainly when the incumbent is a women

Generic occupational terms such as doctor, lawyer, academic, administrator, secretary, should be assumed to apply equally to a man or a woman. Expressions such as 'male secretary', 'lady lawyer', 'woman academic' should be avoided in contexts where the reference to a person's sex is irrelevant. If sex specification is necessary, the use of the adjectives 'female' and 'male' before the non-sexist noun is preferable.

Titles and Other Modes of Address

The inappropriate use of names, titles, salutations and endearments creates the impression that women merit less respect or less serious consideration than men. Titles and modes of address should be used consistently, and in a parallel fashion, for women and men:

Use of Ms, Mrs, Miss, Mr

The titles 'Miss' and 'Mrs' not only identify the person addressed as a woman but also reveal her marital status, whereas the use of 'Mr' merely identifies that person as a man. The use of 'Ms' is recommended for all women when the parallel 'Mr' is applicable, and 'Ms' should always be used when a woman's preferred title is unknown. A woman's preferred title should be respected when known.

It has become more common for women to keep their birth names after marriage or revert to them after divorce and this should be reflected.

Hyphenated surnames or double names are also increasingly used by married women. Care should be taken that a woman, like a man, is addressed by the name which she prefers. It is particularly important in a university environment to ensure that people's qualifications are accurately reflected in their titles, and that women's and men's academic titles are used in a parallel fashion.

Patronising Expressions

It is important to recognise and avoid language that trivialises or denigrates women. Members of both sexes should be represented as whole human beings and treated with the same respect, dignity and seriousness. Use the words man/woman, girl/boy, gentleman/lady in a parallel manner.

Avoid irrelevant references to a woman's physical appearance. It should also be noted that references to a woman's marital or parenting status are generally irrelevant in contexts where her professional role or capacity are being described.

Sexist 'Humour'

Sexist 'jokes' are offensive to many people and should be avoided.

Representation of Women and Men in Case Materials and Illustrations

When selecting examples, case studies and visual material and when using illustrations, ensure that both men and women are represented and shown in a variety of roles.

Quoting Sexist Material

When quoting from recent (post 1985) sources where demeaning or sexist language has been thoughtlessly and offensively used, it may be appropriate to draw attention to the usage by inserting '[sic]' after the offending word or phrase.


The portrayal of people with a disability has been fraught with contradictions because of ambivalent attitudes towards disability. People with a disability have often been described as helpless people to be pitied and cared for. Because people are often uncomfortable or embarrassed about disability, many euphemisms have been created to describe disability and people with a disability.

Linguistic Portrayal of People With a Disability

Discriminatory language in relation to the portrayal of people with a disability is characterised by derogatory labelling, by depersonalising, by emphasising the disability rather than the person, and by stereotyping.

Derogatory Labelling
The discriminatory nature of derogatory labels used to describe members of minority groups is often obvious. However, in the case of people with a disability, labels such as 'cripple', 'Mongoloid', 'deaf and dumb', or 'retarded' are still commonly used, and should be avoided. Some acceptable alternatives for such labels are 'person with a mobility impairment', 'person with Down's Syndrome', 'person with hearing and speech disabilities', 'person with an intellectual disability'.

Depersonalising or Impersonal Reference

Often people with a disability are referred to collectively as the disabled, the handicapped, the mentally retarded, the blind, the deaf, or paraplegics, spastics, epileptics, etc. These terms have the effect of depersonalising the description of people and equating the person with the disability. These impersonal references to people with a disability should be avoided. The following terms are generally preferred as they recognise that the disability is only one characteristic of the person or persons:

a person with a disability

students/employees with a disability

If it is necessary or desirable to be more specific about the type of disability involved, the same strategy is recommended; that is, not to focus entirely on the person's disability in the description. Do not put the disability first and the person second. The following are some commonly-used phrases and suggested alternatives:

Avoid Use

the handicapped/disabled people people with a disability

the physically handicapped people with a physical disability

a paraplegic, paraplegics people with paraplegia

the deaf people who are deaf or hard of hearing

a spastic a person with cerebral palsy


The portrayal of people with a disability as helpless, mindless, suffering beings deserving the sympathy and attention of the non-disabled is one of many powerful stereotypes which has led and continues to lead to discriminatory treatment of people with a disability. People with a disability should be portrayed in a positive manner.

Positive portrayal of people with a disability is mainly a matter of presenting them as individuals with a variety of qualities. It does not mean that a person's disability should be hidden, ignored or seen as irrelevant. However, it should not be the focus of description except when the topic is disability.

Be careful not to imply that people with a disability are to be pitied, feared or ignored, or that they are somehow more heroic, courageous, patient or 'special' than others. Never use the terms 'normal' or 'able-bodied' in contrast.

Never use the term 'victim' or 'sufferer' to refer to a person who has or has had an illness, disease or disability. These terms dehumanise the person and emphasise powerlessness. For example:

Avoid Use

victim of AIDS or AIDS sufferer people living with HIV or AIDS

polio victim person who had polio

A person in a wheelchair is a 'wheelchair user' or 'uses a wheelchair'. Avoid terms that define the disability as a limitation, such as 'confined to a wheelchair', or 'wheelchair bound'.

Disability and 'Humour'

Discriminatory 'jokes' about people with a disability are offensive to many people,
and should be avoided.

Representation of People With a Disability in Case Materials and Illustrations

It is important to extend the non-discriminatory portrayal of people with a disability to their presentation in case materials and illustrations. For example, people with a disability should not be excluded from illustrations unrelated to the topic of disability


Language plays a major role in expressing group relations and group conflicts. Ethnic and racial labels, names and expressions are often created and used to portray certain groups as inferior or superior to others.

Non-discriminatory language in relation to race and ethnicity aims to recognize and present the diversity of Britain’s population in positive ways.

The term 'race' is used in this guide to refer to physical differences between the various ethnic groups

Undue Emphasis on Racial and Ethnic 'Differences'

The language used to describe the majority group in Britain - people of Anglo-Celtic descent - might be seen to establish this group as the 'norm' against which other groups (minority or 'out-groups') might be judged. As a result, the racial or ethnic features Britains of Anglo-Celtic descent might be seldom mentioned, whereas those of other groups might be stressed, often to the exclusion of other, more relevant features.

It is generally not appropriate to refer to the ethnic or racial background of a person or group unless there is a valid reason for so doing. However if you need to refer to someone's racial background, you should be as precise as possible. e.g. Gambian rather than African

Another characteristic of discriminatory language is the tendency to describe the majority group, its actions and its members in positive terms - whereas minority groups, their actions and members are portrayed overwhelmingly in negative terms. For example, a similar characteristic can be given different connotations depending on the national, ethnic, or racial group it is being attributed to, e.g. 'reserved English' or 'inscrutable Orientals'.


A stereotype is a generalisation and relatively fixed image of a person belonging
to a particular group. For example, stereotypes based upon supposed racial, ethnic or national traits include 'the passionate French', 'excitable Italians' and the view that 'black people are natural athletes'. Even seemingly positive stereotypes are discriminatory in that they take away a person's individuality. Members of racial and ethnic minorities are far more likely to be described in stereotypical terms than members of the majority group. Women from minority groups are labelled with stereotypes that are both sexist and racist. Racial and ethnic stereotypes are offensive and should be avoided.


The diversity in and among various racial and ethnic minorities is often not acknowledged. For example, the various Asian ethnicities present in Britain are often lumped together under the single term 'Asian', despite their many differences.

Derogatory Labelling, and Ethnic and Racial Slurs

Verbal conflict and aggression between the majority and minority groups has given rise to a range of racial and ethnic slurs whose main function is to set the targeted group apart from others by stressing their eccentricity, exoticism, or undesirability. These include derogatory terms and nicknames, e.g. 'wog'

Commonly-used Terms in Relation to Race and Ethnicity

The suggested use of some commonly-heard terms relating to ethnicity and race
in the University context is outlined below. This list aims to provide general guidance. It should be noted that some of the words and phrases listed in this section do not have a single, universally accepted meaning.


English as a second language. This term indicates that English is someone's second language; it does not indicate the person's competence in English.

Ethnic group

An historically distinct people with specific characteristics, demonstrating a degree of institutional development along ethnic lines, and drawn together by their language and the pursuit of economic, political, social and cultural interests.

Ethnicity is distinct from race, which usually refers to physical attributes such as skin colour.

The word 'ethnic' is often inaccurately equated with 'foreign' or 'other' .Everybody has an ethnicity and belongs to an ethnic group.

Use of the label 'ethnics' to describe immigrants or people from a racial, ethnic or
ethno-religious minority is inaccurate and often offensive, and should be avoided.

Ethnic minority

A group within a population which is different from the dominant group with regard to such characteristics as language, culture and/or religion. This difference frequently results in discriminatory treatment.


A person involved in the process of immigration or someone who has recently arrived in Britain.

International student/s

Students who are not permanent residents of Britain, regardless of their ethnic and racial background, who are normally enrolled on a full-fee paying basis.

Distinguishing between British and international students, and queries in relation to resident status, citizenship and nationality, should only be made in relevant contexts, e.g. for enrolment purposes.

Racial Group

A minority group within a population that differs from the majority group with regard to physical features (typical of a 'race'). This difference frequently results in discriminatory treatment and is often inspired by notions of scientific racism.

Racist 'humour'

Racist 'jokes' are offensive to many people and should be avoided.

Representation of Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Case Materials and Illustrations

Visual and textual illustrations may contribute to the invisibility of ethnic and racial minorities by conveying an Anglo-Celtic image of British society. It is recommended that the racial and ethnic diversity of Britain's population be reflected in both visual and textual illustrations, provided that stereotyped language and images are not used.

Quoting Racist Material

When quoting from sources that use racist language, use '[sic]' after the racist word or phrase, calling attention to the fact that this form of words is used in the original.


The use of discriminatory language can be extremely hurtful and upsetting to the recipient and in some cases is unlawful. These guidelines should raise awareness on the inappropriate use of language and encourage enlightened practice in the University workplace and community.

Ref. DRWBH94A / 240130 / Academic Division /

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