World

Mum’s the word: British university scraps the word ‘mother’

12 March 2021

3:10 AM

12 March 2021

3:10 AM

Universities have traditionally played an important role in preparing young people for a life outside academia. These days, though, it appears that many institutions are more interested in lecturing their academics than teaching students — especially when it comes to using the right kind of language.

That perhaps explains why the University of Manchester in England released on Wednesday a new ‘Guide to inclusive language’ for its staff, made by its ‘equality, diversity and inclusion team’. The guide aims to tell those working at the university ‘how to use inclusive language to avoid biases, slang or expressions that can exclude certain groups’ and has been added to the uni’s house style page, which means academics will be told to follow the guidance when writing for the university.

And while you might hope that one of Britain’s red-brick institutions treats its staff like adults, instead it appears the university has taken a rather more hostile approach to the use of language on campus.


The guide begins with a fatwa against age, saying that it should not be brought up unless strictly relevant, and even then only objective terms can be used. So the words ‘elderly’, ‘OAPs’, ‘pensioners’, ‘youngsters’, and ‘mature workforce’ are now banned, to be replaced by ‘over-65s, 75s and so on’.

When it comes to illness and disability, for some reason using the word ‘diabetic’ is no longer allowed and staff are instead encouraged to use language that focuses on people’s ‘abilities, rather than limitations’. In the eyes of Manchester University, someone is no longer ‘suffering from cancer’ but are a person ‘living with cancer’. Similarly, the university no longer says that someone is a ‘victim of dementia’ — presumably because dementia is something to be appreciated in the eyes of the inclusivity team.

Arguably though it’s on gender where the most radical changes take place. From now on gender-neutral terms are in vogue in Manchester, which means that ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are no longer appropriate for use in university materials, to be replaced by ‘individuals’ and ‘guardians’. Cockburn imagines that things might become tricky this weekend when Brits celebrate Mother’s Day, which will presumably now have to be styled ‘Guardian’s Day’.

Amusingly, the logic also applies to other words too. Researchers will now be told to make the following updates to their vocabulary:

  • Artificial or synthetic, rather than man-made
  • Humankind, not mankind
  • Workforce, not manpower
  • We provide cover or staff, rather than to ‘man’

It’s been a tough few years for academics who don’t subscribe to this kind of nonsense. Cockburn can only hope that Manchester University employees will, err, staff the barricades against this latest attempt to police their language.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.


Show comments
Close