The European Commission is attempting to put an end to gendered words such as “man-made” and “ladies and gentlemen” and replace them with neutral phrases like “human-induced” and “dear colleagues”.
In an internal guidebook for inclusive communication, EU officials are encouraged to “update their language” and avoid expressions considered stigmatising according to gender, sexual identities, ethic backgrounds and culture.
“We must always offer inclusive communication, ensuring that everyone is valued and recognised in all our material regardless of gender, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation,” Helena Dalli, the European Commissioner responsible for equality, writes in the foreword.
They are asked to avoid gender-specific language, urged to use “chair”, “colleagues” and “human-induced” instead of “chairman”, “ladies and gentlemen” or “man-made”.
In a further push for gender-neutral language, it is suggested that expressions such as “fire is man’s greatest invention” should be replaced with “fire is mankind’s greatest invention”.
Under the guidance, officials are prohibited from the use of masculine terms as a “default”, with a ban on phrases such as workmen and “Miss or Mrs” is forbidden unless the recipient of a communication makes it explicit.
The recommendations are said to “reflect diversity” and tackle “stereotypes deeply rooted in individual and collective behaviour”, according to the guidebook.
Mind your language
Commission officials have previously been issued “reminders” to watch their language but this is the first time a full guidebook has been provided to them.
Staff at the EU’s Brussels-based executive are told not to assume that everyone is Christian, white and married, and encouraged to use examples and images of people from a diverse range of ethnic, religious or cultural backgrounds.
When publishing content, officials are told to “make sure that women and girls are not depicted in domestic settings or in passive roles while men are active and adventurous”.
Working groups should not be convened where only one sex is represented and people from different backgrounds should be invited, according to the guidelines.
Ms Dalli recommends refraining from referring to Christmas, instead using the phrase “holiday season”.
“Not everyone celebrates the Christmas holidays… we need to be sensitive to the fact that people have different religious traditions,” her guidance reads.
The Virgin Malika?
Christian names, such as “Mary” and “John”, have also been banned in Commission publications. Instead they should use “Malika and Julius” as examples.
The guidebook notes that officials should never “presume” a person’s sexual orientation, or even their gender identity. Staff are urged to simply ask what a person’s pronouns are, rather than which they prefer.
They are warned against using words including “gay” and “lesbians” as nouns because it may be inappropriate. The term “homosexual” is also prohibited because it can be considered offensive.
“Transgender, bi or interred are not nouns,” the guidebook says. “Say trans people, gay person, etc or refer to the person explicitly.”
In a separate section of the manual, the issue of colonialism is tackled. The expression “colonisation of Mars” is considered negative and inappropriate under this heading. Instead “the sending of humans to Mars” should be used.
Ms Dalli was forced to withdraw the guidebook after failing to secure the backing of Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission’s president, for it.
“My initiative to draft guidelines as an internal document for communication by Commission staff in their duties, was intended to achieve an important aim: to illustrate the diversity of European culture and showcase the inclusive nature of the European Commission towards all walks of life and beliefs of European citizens,” Ms Dalli said.
“However, the version of the guidelines published does not adequately serve this purpose. It is not a mature document and does not meet all Commission quality standards.
“The guidelines clearly need more work. I therefore withdraw the guidelines and will work further on this document.”
The Commission said the document would be “fully revised”.
In September, Ofcom unveiled a list of ‘offensive’ words. “Gammon” and “Karen” were added to a list of offensive words by the watchdog, with political labels ranked by them for the first time.
Terms including “Remoaner”, “Snowflake”, and “Boomer” have now been included by the media regulator in a survey of swear words and offensive terms which could upset TV and radio audiences.