19 Biased Language Examples To Avoid

As a writer, you must use bias-free language in your writing to create an inclusive environment for all. Here are biased language examples to avoid.

It’s crucial to stay on top of speaking to people how they want to be spoken to–especially in an ever-changing climate where new realizations, definitions, and preferred monikers are constantly developing. If you’ve written using biased language in the past, it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person or a bad writer. Instead, it’s time to learn more about utilizing bias-free language so that your readers feel welcome, no matter their sexual orientation, preferred pronouns, age range, ethnic group, or race.

Here, we’ll explore examples of biased language so that you can learn from the mistakes other writers have made as you create an unbiased language that serves to help groups of people understand one another.

Examples of Biased Language

1. Brown Bag

Type of Bias: Racial

Say This Instead: Lunch bag

Many people are surprised to learn that this seemingly innocuous term has racist connotations. In the slavery era of the United States, a brown paper bag was often held up to the faces of potential business patrons. They were permitted to patronize the business if their skin was lighter than the paper bag. They were turned away if their skin was darker than the paper bag.

2. Cake Walk

Type of Bias: Racial

Say This Instead: Easy peasy

The term cake walk also dates back to the slavery era in the United States. On plantations, enslaved people were required to enter dance competitions, and the competition winner received a cake. However, using this language to describe a simple task is derogatory for African-American people, and it’s better to use a more appropriate descriptive term.

3. Christmas Vacation

Biased Language Examples: Christmas Vacation
Instead of referring to a week off in December as Christmas break, referring to it as a holiday break or vacation is more inclusive to all human beings

Type of Bias: Religious

Say This Instead: Winter vacation

Many people do not celebrate Christmas, and assuming that all people in a school or a workplace are Christian is an example of biased language. Instead of referring to a week off in December as Christmas break, referring to it as a holiday break or vacation is more inclusive to all human beings, regardless of which religion they celebrate (if they celebrate a religion at all).

4. Native English Speaker

Type of Bias: Language

Say This Instead: Fluent in English

When a job posting asks for a native English speaker, the posting is showing bias towards those who learned English as a second (or third, or fourth, etc.) language and does not give credit to the many people who speak multiple languages with more fluency than some people speak a single language. Therefore, requiring fluency is a better word choice than using the term native English speaker.

5. Hey Guys

Type of Bias: Gender

Say This Instead: Hey, everyone

Depending on what region of the United States you’re located in, it may be commonplace to address a group of people as “guys.” This language, however, shows gender bias and excludes women from the conversation.

6. Grandfather Clause

Type of Bias: Racial

Say This Instead: Exemption or preapproval

When African-American citizens were first permitted to vote in the United States, many states enacted laws that required voters to pass complex literacy tests to participate in democracy. State lawmakers understood that enforcing these laws would stop white voters from going to the polls. From this predicament, many states enacted rules stating that white people could vote (regardless of meeting literacy and other requirements) if they were able to vote before the literacy test requirements, during the time period that their grandfathers would have been voting. This phrase is rooted in discrimination against non-white Americans.

7. Long Time No See

Type of Bias: Racial

Say This Instead: I haven’t seen you in awhile

While linguists aren’t sure exactly how this phrase originated, it’s likely racist against one of two particular groups of people. Some linguists believe that the phrase came from Americans mocking Native Americans, while others believe that the phrase originated from Americans mocking Chinese people. It’s doubtful that any English person ever heard a Native American or a Chinese person use these exact words; however, mocking both cultures was expected and socially acceptable at the time. Either way, the phrase is biased against people of a specific ethnicity.

8. Man Hours

Type of Bias: Gender

Say This Instead: Work hours

Men aren’t the only ones going to work, and using the phrase man hours instead of a more gender-neutral term shows bias against women. There are many terms to use instead of man hours, including work hours, time at work, and billable hours. Whether a group of employees is male, female, or mixed, using the term man hours instead of a gender-neutral term can lend itself to creating an environment of sexism in the workplace.

9. Master Bedroom

Type of Bias: Racial/Gender

Say This Instead: Largest bedroom, suite

This is one of the nouns that is often thrown around without much thought. In actuality, however, the term is deeply racist against people of color. The term master bedroom refers to the master of a plantation, a slave owner who had living quarters far above and beyond the people who were forced to work in the fields. Many linguists have also pointed out that the term master bedroom refers to a male owner of the bedroom, which also has certain connotations about who should be in power within a home. However, many terms can be used in place of this outdated phrase to describe a large bedroom suite.

10. Disabled Person

Type of Bias: Ableist

Say This Instead: Person with a disability

Person-first language can be an essential part of speaking respectfully about a group of people. When you put the person before the disability, you’re making it clear that their disability is not what defines them. Seeing or discussing their disability before discussing their personhood is ableist. If you’re writing a non-fiction article, book, or story about a person with a disability, you must ask them whether they’re willing to have their disability disclosed. While some people are open about their disabilities, others are not, and writers need to respect those boundaries regardless of how respectful the language they’re using in their writing may be.

11. Peanut Gallery

Type of Bias: Racial/Classist

Say This Instead: People who aren’t in the arena

The term “comments from the peanut gallery” is often used to describe comments that a presenter or performer should ignore because the people in the group making the comments are viewed as not having valid criticisms. In the days of vaudeville performances, the least expensive seats, typically sold to African-American audience members, were known as being situated in the peanut gallery.

Peanuts were the least expensive snacks sold at the vaudeville show and were often purchased by those sitting in the least expensive seats. Peanuts would rain down on performers when people in these seats were displeased with a performance. Some linguists argue that the term encompasses anyone who purchased less expensive tickets, regardless of race.

12. Spirit Animal

Type of Bias: Racial

Say This Instead: Best friend, cut from the same cloth.

Many Native American and First Nations tribes agree that spirit animals are not a concept embraced by indigenous cultures in North America, despite the media’s insistence otherwise. Many indigenous people still find the term offensive, as it’s often used to make light of Native American and First Nations culture. Many people use the term to describe feeling incredibly connected to someone, and it’s easy to describe a feeling of closeness in a way that doesn’t mock someone’s culture.

13. Elderly

Biased Language Examples: Elderly
Instead of using the term elderly, it’s preferred to use the term senior or senior citizen to describe older adults

Type of Bias: Ageist

Say This Instead: Senior or senior, citizen

While the term elderly was acceptable in the past, today, many people associate the term with ageist biases that can result in hiring discrimination and other types of unfair treatment against older people. Therefore, instead of using the term elderly, it’s preferred to use the term senior or senior citizen to describe older adults.

Looking for more? Check out our explainer on bias free language.

14. Mankind

Type of Bias: Gender

Say This Instead: Humankind

Just like the term man hours, the term mankind excludes more than half of the population and infers that the only members of society who matter are those who consider themselves male. So instead of using mankind to refer to the human race, it’s better to use a term like human or humankind.

15. Mumbo Jumbo

Type of Bias: Racial/Cultural

Say This Instead: Double talk

This term is traced back to the Mandinka tribe, an African group of approximately 11 million people. In the 1700s, English colonizers feared the Maamajomboo, a masked dancer essential to the tribe’s religious ceremonies. Today, the word is used to mean nonsense. So it’s better to use another term to avoid using biased language.

16. Victim (of a disease)

Type of Bias: Ableist

Say This Instead: Person diagnosed with (disease)

Calling a victim can make them feel powerless over their situation. While it’s true that many diseases are not the fault of the person who contracted them, calling someone a victim makes it sound like they’ve succumbed to the disease or cannot fight back against their condition. Instead of describing a person as a victim of a disease, use person-first language to show that you see the person before you see their health condition.

17. Paddy Wagon

Type of Bias: Cultural

Say This Instead: Police vehicle

Known as the surviving Irish-American slur, the term paddy wagon is culturally biased against Americans of Irish descent. The term is commonly used to describe a police van present at events that have the potential to become rowdy, with the intent of picking up groups of law-breakers and carting them back to the police station. The term “paddy” is a deragatory slang word for an Irish person. In the 1800s, Irish people were heavily discriminated against in the United States, and those acting out against poverty were often taken to the police station in large groups. Instead of paddy wagon, it’s wise to use the phrases police van or police vehicle.

18. Indian Style

Type of Bias: Racist

Say This Instead: Criss cross apple sauce

The term Indian in and of itself is a misnomer. Christopher Columbus gave the name to Native American people when he arrived in the Americas because he thought he had landed in India. While some Native people today embrace the term (and are comfortable with the phrase Native American Indian), others do not. Using the phrase Indian style to describe sitting on the ground with the legs crossed can be offensive, so it’s wise to use another term to describe the position.

19. Tipping Point

Type of Bias: Racial

Say This Instead: Boiling point

White flight began to occur in the 1950s as members of minority groups began to move into urban areas. White people living in urban areas began to leave for the suburbs. The term tipping point refers to the ratio of minority residents to white residents that resulted in white people leaving cities in large numbers. Instead of using this racially biased term, it’s better to use the term boiling point. Your readers will still understand that you mean a point at which everything changes.

If you are interested in learning more, check out our essay writing tips!

  • Amanda has an M.S.Ed degree from the University of Pennsylvania in School and Mental Health Counseling and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. She has experience writing magazine articles, newspaper articles, SEO-friendly web copy, and blog posts.