For current political commentary, see the daily political notes.
RMS' Bio | The GNU Project
These are some terms I avoid using, with explanations of why I reject them.
There is another similar list in gnu.org containing software-related terms that we should avoid using.
Age of Trump: Let's not magnify the troll/cheater/bully by designating this age as being entirely about him.
Bicycle sharing system: This refers to local systems for bicycle rental. To call rental "sharing" is a misleading PR campaign.
There is nothing inherently wrong with bicycle rental systems, but the ones that actually exist are unjust and inexcusable because they track their users.
Children: Humans up to age 12 or 13 are children. After that, they become adolescents or teenagers. Let's resist the practice of infantilizing teenagers by not calling them "children".
Custody: refers primarily to the legal relationship parents have to their children. To apply the same word to the relationship between prison guards and prisoners is a euphemistis cover for cruelty.
Detained: I am frequently detained on the street, in train stations, and in airports. The people that detain me typically ask, "Are you Richard Stallman?" Then they say they appreciate my work, though often they are misinformed about what the Free Software Movement really stands for.
Being thus detained is not a painful experience. When people call the GNU system "Linux" and think I advocate "open source", that disappoints me, but there is a positive side: it gives me a chance to educate them about those differences, and ask them to help GNU and free software.
By contrast, being taken away by thugs who might hold you prisoner for a short time or a long time is a pain in the neck, or worse. It can be stressful, harmful, and even dangerous.
To describe that occurrence by a passionless word such as "detained", which is used for events far less grave and perhaps even pleasant, is to deny the essence of what is happening. For those occurrences, I say "arrested" or "jailed", according to the specifics.
Dreamers: I support the DREAM Act, which would allow unauthorized childhood immigrants, those who have been in the US for many years, to remain and apply for citizenship. However, I do not call them "dreamers", because the term seems corny to me.
First daughter: This silly and pointless term promotes treating the president's family as a royal family. The founders of the US decided to address the president as "Mr President" precisely to avoid this danger.
First nations: I don't use the term "First Nations" to refer to indigenous peoples of the Americas.
The first problem with "First Nations" is that it presumes that the concept of "nation" was applicable to all peoples in the Americas ever since the humans first migrated there. The concept of "nation" is a bad fit for some places and times. The concept is European, and refers to a kind of self-conception that in the past was not found everywhere. (Not today either.)
Ancient Greeks thought of themselves as a nation (though they had never been politically united). Ancient Egypt seems to fit the concept of nationhood. But can we describe the Etruscans as a nation? Did they ever think of themselves in such a way?
Mesopotamia, Syria or Anatolia had empires that conquered various ethnic groups, some of the time. Does it make sense to call those ethnic groups "nations"?
In some places, where ethnic groups blend into neighboring ones and boundaries of states keep changing, it is hard to claim that any specific nations exist. In Europe in 1600, England was a nation; so were France, Spain, and Poland. But what nations existed in what we now call Germany and Italy? It is imponderable.
Turning to the Americas, the classic Maya's warring city-states resembled the earlier Greek warring city-states, and had a common mythology and writing, so maybe they were one nation. At the same period, Teotihuacan was the seat of an empire that dominated various ethnic groups; later the Aztecs did likewise. I'm not sure how to apply the concept of "nations" there.
Elsewhere there were hunter-gatherer bands that intermarried with other nearby bands. They could be classified into ethnic groups, but were those "nations"?
The word "first" is also problematical. If we stretch the word "nation" enough to fit all the peoples of 6,000 years ago in the Americas, it would fit equally well for the peoples of the other continents. None of those putative nations was "first".
I think the term "first immigrants" would fit better fit the indigenous peoples of the Americans, since their ancestors made up the first wave of immigration to the American continents.
However, what bothers me most about "First Nations" is visible in the capital letters habitually used for the expression. It is the slogan of a PR campaign to which I have not decided to give blanket support.
So I generally call those peoples "indigenous peoples" (of the Americas).
Honor killing: Patriarchal murder.
Inappropriate: The vaguest possible word for criticizing a action. It means "not suitable under the circumstances." That is a judgment call, not a clear rule that people would agree on.
Such vague criticism can never justify the conclusion that the person criticized has done wrong. After all, any act might be frowned upon by someone.
If you want to demand that someone be fired or prosecuted for some action, or punished or censured in any way, it behooves you to make an accusation that is concrete, not vague like "inappropriate". You need to say what the alleged wrong was, so we can judge how wrong it was. If you can't allege something more specific than "inappropriateness", we must presume it wasn't bad enough to take action about — except discuss what is the right judgment.
Men now face being fired for vaguely sexual conversations that were not sexual harassment and that no one complained about -- using the term "inappropriate", because no concrete criticism applies.
See also this example.
Once there is a concrete criticism about a person's actions, we have a concrete issue to consider.
Latinx: Please don't write that pseudo-word unless you are prepared to pronounce it as well.
If you want a gender-neutral English word to refer to people from Hispanic America, how about "Latin"? As an adjective, it works for both singular and plural.
Using the convention I proposed for gender-neutraity in Spanish, the word would be "latinis", but my proposal has not been adopted much yet.
Native Americans: Anyone who was born in America is a native American. That includes me.
As regards the indigenous peoples of the US, I call them "indigenous peoples", the same term I use for all the rest of the world.
Obamacare: I don't use this term because it treats Obama's medical insurance law with a certain amount of derision. While that system doesn't go far enough — the main flaw being that it is based on private insurance companies — it was a substantial advance. I don't want to promote derision towards it.
Partner: This word means someone you are business with. To use it in regard to a love relationship is, in effect, to model your idea of love on the idea of business. I think it is misguided to model important areas of life in terms of mere business.
People of color: The term "people of color" endorses a racist outlook towards humanity by treating "color" as as a matter of essence, of the substance a person is made of, rather than as the superficial detail it really is.
The distinctions we call "racial" are grab-bags of various details of appearance, which may correlate more or less with certain ancestral groups. They are real differences, but not inherently significant; they have no importance except to the extent that racism gives it to them. Let's avoid using essentialist language to refer to them.
Aside from that, it twists the English language. What next? Will we be asked to say "people of whiteness", "people of tallness", "people of shortness", "people of brownness of hair"?
Pro-choice: A way to support the right to an abortion while failing to challenge condemnation of abortion.
I support abortion rights, not "choice".
Pro-life: People who assert that fetuses are human beings, and that their lives are sacred but only until they are born, use the term "pro-life" to pass themselves off as supporters of human rights. Let's not promote their pretense.
Giving birth kills some women. The US now has the highest rate of maternal death among wealthy countries, partly due to abortion-resticting policies that force some women to give birth. So we could call this movement "pro-death".
Rendition: I've often enjoyed renditions of music that I hear at concerts. Not all of them are good, however. Sometimes I have the impression of hearing notes that are out of tune.
Snooty music fans sometimes say that listening to a bad musical rendition is torture, but they exaggerate. The worst rendition is nothing like kidnaping people and handing them over to states that will torture them. Calling that "rendition" is propaganda designed to disconnect our feelings from the crimes it describes.
Let's refuse to use that word.
Sexual assault: this term is so broad that using it is misleading. The term includes rape, groping, sexual harassment, and other acts.
These acts are not merely different in degree. They are different in kind. Rape is a grave crime. Being groped is unpleasant but not as grave as robbery. Sexual harassment is a not an action at all, but rather a pattern of actions that constitutes economic unfairness. How can it make sense to group these behaviors things together?
It never makes sense. News articles, studies, and laws should avoid that term.
Sex trafficking: This term is gravely ambiguous. It usually means trafficking people for sex (enslavement of people as prostitutes), but I've seen it apparently used to mean trafficking in sex (all prostitution, including voluntary prostitution). Such an ambiguous term is an invitation to bad thinking.
STEM: I think it is fun to learn math, science, and technology, and good to teach them—to students that want to learn them.
I think it is sad when someone feels compelled to study those fields.
In any case, I won't call them by the chic buzzword "STEM". We already have perfectly fine names for those fields.
Water protectors: I support the movement that tries to block construction of new pipelines for fossil fuels, but calling the protesters "water protectors" focuses attention on the local danger of the pipeline (spills might contaminate water supplies) rather than the global danger of global heating, that threatens the survival of civilization.
Let's call them "climate protectors".
Copyright (c) 2017, 2018 Richard Stallman Verbatim copying and redistribution of this entire page are permitted provided this notice is preserved.