If you create newsletter articles, HR policies, forms, reports, or other pieces that touch on current topics and data, you may catch yourself wondering about word choice: transgender or transgendered? Eskimo or Inuit? Survivor or victim? The latest AP Stylebook (The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 2018), which came out last month, features new entries to help you with those sensitive language issues.
Do you know the answers to the questions below? Test yourself before reading the AP’s advice.
1. Should LGBT be spelled out on first use, or can the acronym stand alone?
2. Which is preferable for Alaska natives, Eskimo or Inuit?
3. When writing about new arrivals to the U.S., is refugee or immigrant preferable?
4. The term illegal immigrant sounds harsh, but is its use correct?
5. When people’s mixed racial heritage is relevant to a story, is biracial or mixed race preferable?
6. At what age should high schoolers be referred to as women and men rather than girls and boys?
7. What are the appropriate circumstances for use of the terms fetus and unborn baby? When is each one proper?
8. Are transgender and gender nonconforming synonyms? And is the correct term transgender or transgendered?
9. When writing about someone who has experienced a serious crime, is survivor or victim the preferred term?
10. Which of these terms–Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Progressive–should actually be capitalized?
AP 2018 offers the following guidance.
1. Should LGBT be spelled out on first use, or can the acronym stand alone? It’s acceptable to use LGBT and LGBTQ without spelling out the acronyms.
2. Which is preferable for Alaska natives, Eskimo or Inuit? Follow the preference of the people you are writing about. According to AP:
In general, avoid the term Eskimo for the native peoples of northern North America except when paired with a group’s ethnic name in Alaska: Inupiat Eskimos, a Yup’ik Eskimo community…. The term Eskimo was assigned by non-native people and in some cultures has since taken on offensive connotations. The term Inuit is used in Canada, Greenland and by some groups in northern Alaska.
3. When writing about new arrivals to the U.S., is refugees or immigrants preferable? It depends. According to AP 2018, “Refugees are people forced to leave their home or country to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.” An immigrant is a person who comes into a country. Some immigrants will be refugees, but certainly not all of them.
4. The term illegal immigrant sounds harsh, but is its use correct? AP advises:
Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.
5. When people’s race is relevant to a story, is biracial or mixed race preferable? AP says the terms biracial and multiracial are:
Acceptable, when clearly relevant, to describe people with more than one racial heritage. [The terms are] usually more useful when describing large, diverse groups of people than individuals. Avoid mixed race, which can carry negative connotations, unless a story subject prefers the term…. Be specific [about the races] if possible, and then use biracial for people of two heritages or multiracial for those of two or more on subsequent references if needed.
6. At what age should high schoolers be referred to as women and men rather than girls and boys? AP says that boy and girl are:
Generally acceptable to describe males or females younger than 18. While it is always inaccurate to call people under 18 men or women and people 18 or older boys and girls, be aware of nuances and unintentional implications. Referring to black males of any age and in any context as boys, for example, can be perceived as demeaning and call to mind historical language used by some to address black men. Be specific about ages if possible, or refer to black youths, child, teen or similar.
7. What are the appropriate circumstances for use of the terms fetus and unborn baby? When is each one proper? As AP explains:
While the terms are essentially interchangeable in many common uses, each has become politicized by the abortion debate even in uses not involving abortion….
Fetus, which refers to the stage in human development from the eighth week of pregnancy to birth, is preferred in many cases, including almost all scientific and medical uses….
In scientific uses referring to the first seven weeks of human development after conception, use embryo.
The context or tone of a story can allow for unborn baby or child in cases where fetus could seem clinical or cold: Weiss said her love for her unborn baby was the strongest feeling she had ever felt.
8. Are transgender and gender nonconforming synonyms? And is the correct term transgender or transgendered? AP has an excellent section on proper use of the terms gender, sex, cisgender, gender nonconforming, intersex, sex reassignment, gender confirmation, transgender, and gender transition. Those two pages are worth the price of the book.
First off, the correct term is transgender–not transgendered. According to AP, transgender is “an adjective that describes people whose gender identity does not match the sex or gender they were identified as having at birth.”
Regarding gender nonconforming (as a noun the expression has no hyphen, but as an adjective it does), it is not the same as transgender. AP says the expression is:
Acceptable in broad references as a term for people who do not conform to the traditional view of two genders…. When talking about individuals, be specific about how a person describes or expresses gender identity and behavior. Roberta identifies as being both male and female.
9. When writing about someone who has experienced a serious crime, is survivor or victim the preferred term? AP 2018 devotes several paragraphs to this topic. In brief, it explains:
Survivor can denote someone who has lived through an injury or disease, but also can apply to someone who endured a threat but escaped injury altogether. Example: a mass shooting survivor. Likewise, victim can create confusion because it can variously mean someone killed, injured or subjected to mistreatment such as sexual misconduct.
Be specific if there is room for confusion: The ceremony honored people wounded in the mass shooting…. The play told the stories of those killed in the hurricane.
10. Which of these terms--Republican, Democrat, Conservative, Liberal, Progressive–should actually be capitalized? According to AP, capitalize only the names of political parties and the word party if it is part of the party’s proper name. So if Conservative, Liberal, or Progressive is part of a party name, capitalize it. Otherwise, don’t. In AP’s words, “Lowercase these words when they refer to political philosophy.” AP also recommends avoiding the term progressive, “which can imply improvement.”
I buy the new spiral-bound AP Stylebook every year. With this year’s new guidance on highly charged topics, it’s definitely worth it. There’s also a long-awaited entry on bulleted lists. Thank you, Associated Press! Get the AP Stylebook printed ($22.95) or online version (about $26 annually) at the AP Stylebook website. Or order it from Amazon (about $39) or your favorite bookseller.
Do you struggle with appropriate language when writing about sensitive topics? Please share your questions and comments.