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Language Matters

Language shapes how we think

Being thoughtful about the words we use isn’t about political correctness. It’s about taking other people’s identities and histories into account so they feel seen, heard and understood.

The language we use evolves over time. We know that it can sometimes feel like you’ve just gotten used to one phrase when another takes its place. But these changes are not meant to trick you. They’re just how we get better and more precise over time.


It’s hard to capture everyone in a single acronym

You’ll see a lot of different acronyms out there, and they often evolve over time. For example:

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color)

This recent term is meant to unite all people of color while intentionally acknowledging the particular racism, colonialism and injustice Black and Indigenous people face in North America.

There’s some debate over BIPOC vs POC vs other terms, so you’ll probably see different people use different terms.

BIPOC and POC are plural and describe mixed groups. They shouldn’t be used to describe individuals or groups where everyone is the same race/ethnicity. Someone is a Black creative, not a BIPOC creative. If it’s a group of Asian influencers, don’t call them POC influencers. It erases their identity.

LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex and Asexual/Allied)
  • This acronym is meant to highlight all these different identities and communities with a + to cover everyone.
  • Gender and sexuality are complex spectrums, so it’s no wonder this acronym keeps growing.
  • Different organizations use different acronyms.
  • We use LGBTQ+ for this guide as that’s what’s used by GSD&M’s LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group.

When in doubt, it’s best to be specific. If you need to know how someone would like to be identified, just ask them.

Resource Alert!


Is it Hispanic or Latino or Latinx or something else?


Hispanic and Latino are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings.

Hispanic People

Hispanic people speak Spanish and/or descend from Spanish-speaking populations.

Latino People

Latino people come from and/or descend Latin America.

So while most Latino people are Hispanic, not everyone is both. A Brazilian would be Latino but not Hispanic. And a Spaniard is Hispanic but not Latino.

Latino vs Latinx vs Latine

In recent years, many people have pushed for a non-gendered form of Latino. Latino is the masculine version of the word, and Latina is feminine, but neither word fully makes sense for nonbinary folks. So Latinx came to be. But the term has only caught on in certain, very small circles.


identify as Latinx

Only 23% of U.S. adults who self-identify as Hispanic or Latino have heard of the term Latinx, and just 3% say they use it to describe themselves, according to a nationally representative, bilingual survey of U.S. Hispanic adults conducted in December 2019 by Pew Research Center. (Adoption is even less in Latin American countries.).

So some people here and abroad are using “Latine” (la-tee-neh), which is easier to say in Spanish. Plus the construct “-e” can be applied to other Spanish words. For example, the gender-neutral pronoun “elle” (pronounced: ey-eh) has become a popular modification for “él” (he) and “ella” (she) when the person being identified is nonbinary.

Not sure which one to use? Consider your audience. If you’re talking to older or more traditional people, you might want to stick to Latino and Latina.

If you’re trying to reach academics or people involved in social justice or LGBTQ+ issues, consider Latinx and Latine. Latine doesn’t have as wide adoption yet, but it could easily replace Latinx in the future.

Once again, if you need to know how someone wants to be identified, just ask.

Phrases to Rethink

Words and phrases you might want to rethink

Blacklist / white list

While not directly connected to race, they could reinforce notions that black=bad and white=good. Instead, many people use blocklist and allowlist, which are also clearer terms.

Eeny meeny miny mo

“Catch a tiger by the toe” wasn’t always about “tigers.” The original rhyme included a racial slur rooted in the slave trade.

Grandfathered in

Originates with the practice of letting people vote if they had a grandpa who’d voted before 1867. Guess who didn’t? Black voters because their grandparents had been enslaved.

Hey, Guys

People use “guys” to address any group, but it is a gendered word. Making it the default can unintentionally reinforce male privilege. Trans and nonbinary people may even think you’re making assumptions about their gender. Promote equality and gender neutrality by using broader terms like “Hi, everyone,” “Hey, y’all,” or simply just “Hi/Hey” instead.

The “itis”

Stems from a longer version that started with a racial slur and alluded to the stereotype of laziness associated with Black people. Just say “food coma.”

Long time no see

This phrase first became popular as a way to make fun of a greeting exchanged between Native Americans.

Mumbo jumbo

Originated from the Mandinka word Maamajomboo, a masked male dancer who took part in religious ceremonies, and somehow came to mean confusing language. (The Mandinka people are the largest ethnic group in Ghana.)

No can do

Originally popular as a way to make fun of Chinese people


This Euro-centric term has a long history of negative stereotypes and has been tied to anti-Asian sentiment, violence and xenophobic legislation. In 2016, President Obama had the word stricken from federal law. Ideally, just don’t use it. It’s maybe okay for a rug, but definitely not for people. 

Preferred pronoun

While intended to be more inclusive, the “preferred” implies that the person simply has a preference or that it’s optional. In reality, using a person’s pronouns is meeting their most basic need to feel safe and exist in public spaces. Drop the “preferred” and simply say, “This is Michael. His pronouns are he, him and his.”

Spirit animal

Its pop culture usage is cultural appropriation that cheapens Native American spiritual traditions.

Turning a blind eye

This is supposed to mean ignoring something, but that’s not the same as having a visual impairment. Golden rule, avoid using a disability as an expression when it doesn’t actually apply.


Originated as a dance performed by enslaved Black people. They were mocking their enslavers, but enslavers didn’t get it and actually held contests where enslaved people competed for a cake. Later, this got popularized through minstrel shows and eventually became a carnival game.


A racist term for Black people stereotyped for their hair texture and used by British soldiers in the 1800s


Derives from stereotyping Gypsies as thieves and swindlers


Derives from the Greek word for uterus, because people thought lady parts made you unhinged


Referring to being LGBTQ+ as a lifestyle is both inaccurate and offensive. Lifestyle implies a choice. Lifestyle is a way of styling your life and can change based on income, interests and popular culture. Instead of lifestyle you can use terms like “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

Mom & Dad / Mother & Father

When you don’t know who is taking care of a child, avoid making any assumptions about their home life. Gender-neutral terms like “parents” are okay, but completely unassuming terms like “your favorite grown-ups,” “an adult you trust” or “the people you love” are even better!

__________ Nazi

Saying things like “grammar Nazi” or any other kind of metaphorical Nazi trivializes the horrors actual Nazis perpetuated during the Holocaust. Let’s not do that.

Off the reservation

Native Americans were once restricted to reservations created for them by the government. This phrase was often used with contempt for the indigenous people.

Peanut gallery

Refers to a vaudeville theater’s cheapest seats, which almost always belonged to poor Black people

Sold down the river

Enslavers in the North often literally punished enslaved people by selling them down the Mississippi River to Southern plantations, where conditions were much harsher.

Stupid / Dumb / Idiot / Moron

While usually not directed at those with developmental or intellectual disabilities, these words are all deeply rooted in the oppression of disabled people and were intended to demean someone based upon their perceived mental acuity.


Originated within the Black community but quickly adopted by racists to describe Black people “who didn’t know their place” in the social order.


Inclusive language isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about proactively building a space where everyone feels welcome and safe being themselves and sharing their perspectives.


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