The Rival IQ Inclusive Language Guide

Content Marketing Social Media Best Practices

Rival IQ aims to be inclusive of all people and abilities, and one of the ways we strive to do that is through the intentional use of language. We created this guide to provide explanations and substitutions for words that are ableist and/or exclusionary.

We’ve sourced our list of words to avoid via research and from our own experiences, and plan to evolve this list over time as we continue to learn more. We’ve crawled our website and blog to remove these words wherever possible, and work to use inclusive and accurate language in our everyday conversations as well with each other, with our customers, and on our social media channels.

You can read more about how we conducted our inclusivity audit here at Rival IQ. If you’re interested in conducting an audit of your own, we list several resources at the bottom of this page that can help you get started.

Ableist/exclusive language to avoid

Bananas 

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to someone with mental or psychiatric disabilities.
Use it like this: Refers to fruit.

Consider instead: Wild, improbable, unexpected, confusing

Blind

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to not paying attention or being lazy.
Use it like this: Refers to blind, low-sight, or sight-limited people.
Common uses: “Turn a blind eye,” “Blinded by ___”

Consider instead: Willfully ignorant, deliberately ignored, feigned ignorance, thoughtless

Bonkers

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to someone with mental or psychiatric disabilities.

Consider instead: Wild, improbable, unexpected, confusing

Brown bag lunch

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to a gathering where every attendee brings their own lunch.

Consider instead: Meeting, lunch, lunch-and-learn, sack lunch
Further reading

Crazy

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to someone with mental or psychiatric disabilities. Often used as an exclamation.

Consider instead: Wild, improbable, unexpected, confusing, unbelievable, illogical

Crippled

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to people with physical or mobility disabilities.
Common uses: “Crippled by debt”

Consider instead: Frozen by, halted by

Deaf

Don’t use it to mean this: As a metaphor for not listening.
Use it like this: Refers to d/Deaf or hard of hearing people.
Common uses: “Falls on deaf ears,” “Deaf to their concerns”

Consider instead: Willfully ignorant, deliberately ignored, feigned ignorance, insensitive, thoughtless

Dumb

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to d/Deaf or hard of hearing people, people with speech-related disabilities, or people with linguistic or communication disorders or disabilities.

Consider instead: Dense, ignorant, lacks understanding, silly, goofy

Fat

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to someone with above-average weight.
Common uses (fat-shaming or sizeism): “He’s so fat,” “Fat chance”

Consider instead: People of all sizes
Further reading

Gals

Don’t use it to mean this: Often used to refer to a group of adult women.
Use it like this: Refers to adolescent females.

Consider instead: Women

Girls

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to a group of adult women.
Use it like this: Refers to adolescent females.

Consider instead: Women

Grandfathered

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to exempting someone from a new rule or requirement.

Consider instead: Legacied, inherited
Further reading

Guys

Don’t use it to mean this: Often used to refer to a multi-gendered group of people.
Use it like this: Refers to a group of men.

Consider instead: Folks, team, y’all, both, you two, you all

Gyp or Gypped/Jipped

Don’t use it to mean this: Cheated or get conned

Consider instead: Cheated
Further reading

He (as default when subject gender is unknown)

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to an individual when gender is unknown.
Use it like this: In cases where male gender is empirically known.
Common uses: “He said,” “Postman,” “Fireman”

Consider instead: They, letter carrier, firefighter
Further reading

Insane

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to someone with mental or psychiatric disabilities. Often used as an exclamation.

Consider instead: Wild, improbable, unexpected, confusing

Ladies

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to a group of adult women.

Consider instead: Women

Lame

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to someone with physical or mobility disabilities. Often used as an exclamation.
Common uses: “That’s so lame,” “Don’t be lame”

Consider instead: Uncool, boring, monotonous, uninteresting, lackluster

Long Time No See

Don’t use it to mean this: a greeting

Consider instead: “It’s been a while,” “Nice to see you”
Further reading

Mad 

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to someone with mental or psychiatric disabilities. Often used as an exclamation.
Use it like this: Refers to a feeling (“I’m so mad”)

Consider instead: Wild, improbable, unexpected, confusing

Manhandle

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to roughly holding someone with force.

Consider instead (to remove gender): Force, push, handle

Manpower

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to effort or people required to accomplish something.

Consider instead (to remove gender): Effort, people power, crew, team

Native

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to a non-indigenous person’s place of birth.
Use it to mean this: Refers to an individual indigenous to a place.

Acceptable uses: native technology, native channels/apps, native plants, Native Americans
Consider instead: From [this place], Was born in [this place]

Further reading

No Can Do

Don’t use it to mean this: I can’t, I don’t want to

Consider instead: I can’t, I don’t want to
Further reading

Nuts 

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to someone with mental or psychiatric disabilities. Often used as an exclamation.
Use it to mean this: Refers to food.

Consider instead: Wild, improbable, unexpected, confusing

Peanut gallery

Don’t use it to mean: hecklers, cheap seats, opinions from a group

Consider instead: hecklers, opinions from a group

Further reading 

Pow-wow 

Don’t use it to mean this: Often used to refer to a meeting of non-Indigenous people.
Use it to mean this: Refers to a social gathering of Native Americans.

Consider instead: Meeting, gathering, chat, talk, conversation
Further reading

Sanity check

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to people with mental or psychiatric disabilities. Often used as a metaphor for double-checking.

Consider instead: Audit, a second look, sense check
Further reading

Slave/slaved

Don’t use it to mean this: Refers to a metaphor for hard work.
Use it to mean this: Refers to a person who is the property of another person.
Common uses: “Slaved over a hot stove,” “I’m a slave to social media”

Consider instead: Toil, slog, work hard, grind

Sold Down the River

Don’t use it to mean this: Betrayed, lied to

Consider instead: betrayed, lied to, screwed over
Further reading

Shuck and Jive

Don’t use it to mean: Lying, misleading, joking

Further reading

Thug

Don’t use it to mean this: Violent criminal

Consider instead: Violent criminal
Further reading

Uppity

Don’t use it to mean this: arrogant, self-important

Consider instead: arrogant, self-important, conceited

Further reading

Welfare Queen

Don’t use it to mean: Someone in need of financial or programmatic assistance

Further reading

Inclusive language guide sources and more info

Autistic Hoya: https://www.autistichoya.com/p/ableist-words-and-terms-to-avoid.html

Conscious Style Guide: http://consciousstyleguide.com/ability-disability/

Helpscout: https://www.helpscout.com/blog/inclusive-language/

Buffer: https://open.buffer.com/inclusive-language-tech/

This guide was originally posted on December 4, 2019 and has since been updated.

Blair Feehan

Blair is a content marketer based in Seattle who relishes helping companies large and small do one thing: tell their stories. She specializes in content creation, messaging, branding, and community engagement to get the word out. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading her brains out and then running statistical analysis on what she's been reading.

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