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ISSUE 1843Sunday 11 June 2000

  College guide bans 'lady' and 'history' as offensive words
By Martin Bentham, Education Correspondent


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 A COLLEGE has banned the use of more than 40 "offensive" words and phrases, including "normal couple" and "slaving over a hot stove", under equal opportunities rules that staff and students must follow.

Stockport College, Greater Manchester, has also outlawed "taking the mickey", "history" and "lady", claiming that they are no longer appropriate in a new century. Among the groups that college officials claim could be offended by words on the proscribed list are women, homosexuals and ethnic minorities.

A policy document entitled Equal Opportunities - Policy into Practice also says students should not risk upsetting mentally ill people through the use of words such as "mad", "manic" and "crazy". The expression "slaving over a hot stove" is ruled to be inappropriate because it "minimises the horror and oppression of the slave trade".

To ensure that its rules on language are followed, the college, which has 15,000 students aged from 16, says that it "will make it a condition of service and admission that employees and students adhere to this policy". It insists that it is important for staff and students to be aware of the offence that seemingly innocent expressions might cause.

However, Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, condemned the guidelines. "It is amazing that academics are still indulging in this sort of nonsense. It is political correctness of the worst kind," he said. "They should be concentrating on teaching their students, instead of trying to ban words which any ordinary person would regard as an everyday part of the English language."

The row comes days after a Job Centre in Walsall refused to accept an advert in which an employer said he was seeking a "hard-working" recruit. Jonathan Stevenson, the centre's manager, claimed that the phrase could offend the disabled, but was forced to accept the advert after David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, intervened to halt what his aides described as "insulting nonsense".

The Stockport guidelines concede that concern over language can go "too far". However, they give a warning that it is easy to create offence and list "unacceptable language" that staff and students should avoid. This includes remarks which "insult or put down the other sex" and "comments which discriminate against or are insulting to lesbian, gay and bisexual people".

Also prohibited is "language which could offend black people", "words which imply that older people are not valued", and "remarks which disabled people may find offensive". The expression "taking the mickey" is described as "anti-Irish", while the use of "normal couple" is questioned, with the guidelines asking: "How do you define normal?"

"Lady" and "gentleman" are said to have "class implications". "History", "postman" and "chairman" are all deemed to be sexist. The list also bans the words "queer" and "cripple", except where gay and disabled people have "reclaimed" them.

References to "the blind" or "the deaf" are banned, with "visually-impaired" or "hearing-impaired" recommended as alternatives. The guidelines state: "The language we use gives other messages about our attitudes to people as groups and individuals."

Richard Tuson, a spokesman for the college, which offers about 15 degree courses in addition to vocational qualifications, insisted that the use of appropriate language was important. "We vigorously pursue an equal opportunities policy and we try to be as politically correct as possible, without being tedious."

7 June 2000: Hardworking job seeker? Do not apply within
1 October 1999: Judge attacks Irvine's politically correct rules on race
12 September 1999: Priest criticised over ban on white baptism shawls
23 June 1999: At the end of the day, English is in a sorry state
16 August 1996: PC terms can confuse, says dictionary


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