As the world becomes increasingly aware of the power of language and its potential to perpetuate biases and stereotypes, we must examine the words we use daily. This is especially important in the events industry, where we have an obligation to create inclusive and welcoming environments for all attendees, exhibitors, partners, and more.
In part two of our series, we’ll explore additional words and phrases that are common in the events industry but have negative historical connotations or promote exclusivity. From the insensitive use of “manhours” to the problematic term “grandfathered-in,” let’s dive into how our language can shape our attitudes and actions and how we can make a positive change.
“Grandfathered-In” is a word commonly used in conferences and events to refer to policies, prices or processes exempted from new rules, regulations, or standards. However, the word has negative historical connotations because it originated from the Jim Crow era when African Americans were excluded from voting and other rights. The term originated from a clause that allowed whites to bypass voting restrictions if their grandfathers had voted before the Civil War. Using this term in today’s day and age is insensitive and offensive.
Consider: exempt, pre-existing, legacy, or vested instead.
It is high time that we discard the term “manhours” from our vocabulary. While it may have been an acceptable term in the past, it is now outdated and insensitive. Many event services are charged by the hour. By referring to work hours as “manhours,” we are perpetuating the notion that men are the only ones who contribute to the workforce. This is simply not true.
Consider: work hours, labor hours, or person hours instead.
No Can Do
This phrase may seem harmless and even a bit playful, but the origin of “no can do” is deeply rooted in the history of discrimination and exclusion towards Chinese immigrants in the United States during the 19th century. At the time, Chinese immigrants were subject to harsh working conditions and faced many obstacles when seeking time off or requesting accommodations. This phrase was often used by non-Chinese supervisors to dismiss the requests and concerns of those immigrants who were working on railroad projects during the California Gold Rush.
Consider: “Unfortunately, that’s not possible,” or “I’m unable to make that happen” instead.
The term “tone-deaf” is actually a condition that affects a person’s ability to identify and distinguish between musical tones. While the origins of “tone-deaf” may lie in a medical condition, the term has taken on a broader cultural meaning over time. It is now commonly used to describe someone who may unintentionally offend or hurt others with their lack of sensitivity or awareness towards social issues or cultural differences. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the medical condition of amusia is a separate issue from insensitivity and that the term “tone-deaf” should not be used to stigmatize or marginalize those with amusia.
Consider: insensitive, lacking empathy, or unaware instead.
Long Time, No See
With many events only happening once a year, it’s fascinating how seemingly harmless and warm greetings can often have roots in derogatory origins. “Long time, no see” is another perfect example of such a greeting. The phrase has its roots in Chinese pidgin English, which was used to mock and belittle Chinese immigrants in North America during the 19th century. During that time, as mentioned earlier, Chinese immigrants were often the victims of discrimination and faced a hostile environment in America. Their language and way of speaking were mocked, and many phrases and expressions from their language were co-opted into English for ridicule. “Long time, no see” was one such phrase that originated from the Chinese phrase “好久不见” (hǎo jiǔ bù jiàn).
Consider: ”It’s been a while,” “Nice to see you,” or “How have you been?”
Sometimes used in event registration forms as an easy way to differentiate people based on skin color, using the term “non-white” is problematic for several reasons. First, it implies that whiteness is the default or norm, which can alienate people of color. Second, it lumps all people who aren’t white into one category, ignoring the diversity and cultural differences within non-white communities. Instead of using this term, it’s better to be specific about someone’s racial or ethnic identity if necessary.
Consider: person of color, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), or diverse.
While this description may seem politically correct, it perpetuates negative stereotypes about people with disabilities. It implies that individuals with disabilities are “less than” or require special treatment rather than being seen as capable individuals who may have different needs.
Consider: ”people with disabilities” or “individuals with diverse abilities.”
Blindspot/Turn a Blind Eye
It is easy to see how event organizers can use these while discussing aspects of their event. However, it can also be a metaphor for a person’s inability to see their biases or prejudices. This term is considered offensive to individuals with physical impairments and may have a literal “blindspot” in their vision. Additionally, it perpetuates the harmful stereotype that individuals who are blind or visually impaired are less capable or intelligent.
Consider: hidden area, obscured zone, or narrow focus instead.
This word may seem safe, but it can be quite exclusionary. Using “normal” to describe something implies that anything different is abnormal or inferior, and this can be hurtful to those who don’t fit into societal norms or expectations. Moreover, the idea of a universal “normal” is a fallacy – diversity is the norm!
Consider: Common, typical, or standard instead.
Does that Make Sense?
As event professionals, we often use the phrase “Does that make sense?” to ensure everyone is on the same page. However, this phrase can be condescending or dismissive of someone’s intelligence. It is increasingly important to use language that is both inclusive and respectful.
Consider: ”Do you have any questions or thoughts on this?” or “Is there anything I can clarify for you?”
In conclusion, our words have the power to uplift and include or to marginalize and exclude. As event professionals, we must be conscious of the language we use and its impact on our colleagues, attendees, and guests. By choosing more inclusive and sensitive language, we can foster a culture of diversity, equality, and collaboration—at the events and beyond.