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Episode 28 - Transcript

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Hello, I'm Jacek Olender, and this is PoLoop Angielski Podcast. For more materials for learners of English and the transcript of this episode, go to my website,


Have you heard that the road to hell is paved with good intentions? It means that people who have good intentions sometimes make poor choices and take misguided actions. So instead of doing something positive, they might actually cause harm, or bring about some negative consequences. This proverbial saying always comes to my mind when I hear the news that yet another word in English has ended up on the list of words we shouldn't use.


As a learner of English, you know how hard it is to learn new vocabulary. And you probably feel satisfaction every time you succeed in learning a new word or phrase. So it is extremely painful when you realise that you should stop using a word because it no longer feels right to some people who are on the mission to make the world a better place by changing the language we speak. So, if you've learned words like "housekeeping", "blackmail", "victim", you might want to think before you use them again. Why? Well, you may have heard about woke language, but if not, let me explain. Woke language is about using vocabulary that is inclusive, and respectful of all people. So it involves being aware of the impact of our words on others and being mindful of the historical and cultural context behind certain terms. Some universities and individuals have taken extreme measures to avoid certain words, and they create lists of banned words because they are gendered, sexist, ableist, racist. Okay, let me explain these terms. When the word is gendered, it means that it is associated with a particular gender only often in a way that reinforces traditional gender roles and stereotypes. When the term is sexist, it shows discrimination against someone based on their sex. When the word is ablest, it means that it stigmatises people with disabilities. And when the term is racist, it means that it shows racist attitudes and beliefs. On top of that, we have all kinds of words and phrases that are culturally appropriated. This means they have been taken from one culture and are used in another as their own, often without understanding their original cultural significance. And finally, we have expressions whose origins could be traced and could be connected with the period of slavery.


I know it all might sound rather confusing, so I've prepared for you a short guide about words that you might want to avoid. So I'm going to give you this list and I'm going to explain what is wrong with them, of course, on the basis what I've managed to find out. So let's start our anti-woke list, the glossary of offensive language. The first item on my list is "ballsy". "Ballsy" means brave, and determined and not afraid of other people's disapproval. And you might ask me, "What's wrong with the word ballsy?" Well, who has balls? I think you get it. The term can be seen as gendered as it reinforces the idea that bravery and courage are masculine traits. So they exclude women and non-binary individuals, using words such as "courageous" or "brave" instead of "ballsy" could be more inclusive. Okay, the next word on our list is crazy. The term crazy has long been used as a casual word for describing anything from an exciting experience to mental illness. However, using this term now, in a casual manner, can be seen as stigmatising towards individuals with mental illnesses. Okay, the next word is "fieldwork". While fieldwork is a commonly used term to describe research or work that is done outside of a traditional office or laboratory setting, a few weeks ago, the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California said it would drop the term "fieldwork" because it could be considered anti-black or anti-immigrant, especially for descendants of slaves. The next word is "freshman". Why the term "freshman" has been used for many years to refer to first-year students in high school or college, it can be seen as gendered. Some institutions have moved towards using more inclusive language such as "first-year", or "new student"."Guru". The term guru has its origins in Hinduism, and refers to a spiritual teacher or a guide. Using this term casually to describe someone who is an expert in a particular field can be now seen as disrespectful towards the cultural and religious significance of the term. The next word is housekeeping. While housekeeping may seem like a harmless term to describe cleaning and maintaining a household or workspace, it can be seen as gendered. Because, apparently, it reinforces traditional gender roles, where women are expected to perform these tasks. So more gender-neutral alternatives are now preferred, and they include words like "cleaning", or "maintenance". The next phrase is "Indian summer". The term "Indian summer" is commonly used to describe a period of warm weather in the autumn, but it can be seen as insensitive towards indigenous peoples in North America, because this term has its origins in colonialism. Next phrase is "killing it". This phrase is generally considered a positive expression to describe someone who is doing exceptionally well. I can say, for example, to someone, "you're killing it". Well, I shouldn't because it has violent connotations, and is therefore inappropriate. The next word on my list is "lame". This word has historically been used as a derogatory term to describe someone with a physical disability. In recent years, it has also been used as a derogatory term to describe something that is uncool or undesirable. Using this word in either context now can be considered politically incorrect and offensive. "Manpower". The term "manpower" excludes women and non-binary individuals, as it implies that we are talking only about men. "Ninja" is on my list too. While "ninja" may seem like a harmless word, it is actually a cultural appropriation of a Japanese term used to describe a specific group of people with a particular skill set. Using this term to describe anyone who is skilled or sneaky can be seen as disrespectful to Japanese culture. The next word is "seminal". While "seminal" is a legitimate word that means influential or important. It is also a term that can be considered politically incorrect because of its association with male fluid containing sperm. It can be seen as vulgar, offensive and gendered. "Victim". While "victim" may seem like a neutral term to describe someone who has experienced harm or trauma, it can be seen as stigmatising towards individuals who have experienced such situations. So using the word "survivor" might be more respectful. But hold on a second, the last word on my list is actually the word "survivor". Why? Because some people argue that using this term in contexts where someone hasn't actually survived a life-threatening situation, but let's say, less severe experience, can be inappropriate and diminish the experience of those who have truly survived traumatic events.


I know it's rather confusing, and the list goes on and on. I don't know about you, but it all sounds a bit crazy. I'm sorry. I wanted to say "strange". It's all very well for people to try to be more inclusive and respectful, but if language is harshly policed, we find ourselves tongue-tight and unable to communicate effectively. I believe it's important to always consider someone's intentions rather than simply focus on the potential of the word to offend others. I would love to hear what you think about this topic. Drop me a line if you have an opinion. And that's all that I've got for you today. Hope to speak to you next week. Bye

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