Quangos blackball ... oops, sorry ... veto ‘racist’ everyday phrases
It could be construed as a black day for the English language — but not if you work in the public sector.
Dozens of quangos and taxpayer-funded organisations have ordered a purge of common words and phrases so as not to cause offence.
Among the everyday sayings that have been quietly dropped in a bid to stamp out racism and sexism are “whiter than white”, “gentleman’s agreement”, “black mark” and “right-hand man”.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has advised staff to replace the phrase “black day” with “miserable day”, according to documents released under freedom of information rules.
It points out that certain words carry with them a “hierarchical valuation of skin colour”. The commission even urges employees to be mindful of the term “ethnic minority” because it can imply “something smaller and less important”.
The National Gallery in London believes that the phrase “gentleman’s agreement” is potentially offensive to women and suggests that staff should replace it with “unwritten agreement” or “an agreement based on trust” instead. The term “right-hand man” is also considered taboo by the gallery, with “second in command” being deemed more suitable.
Many institutions have urged their workforce to be mindful of “gender bias” in language. The Learning and Skills Council wants staff to “perfect” their brief rather than “master” it, while the Newcastle University has singled out the phrase “master bedroom” as being problematic.
Advice issued by the South West Regional Development Agency states: “Terms such as ‘black sheep of the family’, ‘black looks’ and ‘black mark’ have no direct link to skin colour but potentially serve to reinforce a negative view of all things black. Equally, certain terms imply a negative image of ‘black’ by reinforcing the positive aspects of white.