Matteo: The attack on words continues

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Last week the Associated Press Style Book (AP) decided that the article, “the” could be potentially offensive.  On Monday, AP Style Book tweeted the following, “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated.”  This tweet went viral and was subsequently deleted.

The purpose of the part of speech known as an article, which includes “a” and “an” is to denote that the next word is a noun.  Vilifying a word such as “the” is the height of ridiculousness and indicates how once respected academic organizations have caved to left wing lunacy. What is next, an attack on vowels because they are necessary to create words and might offend consonants?  Perhaps B can identify as A and we can spell the word abnormal this way, “bbnormbl.”

The woke world is a manufacturer of offense, and each absurd claim makes it subject to ridicule.  Most journalists and anyone who has ever written a word have made the attack on “the” as an opportunity for ridicule at this kind of silliness.

As someone who teaches English as a Second Language (ESL), it is hard enough to teach the rules of grammar to non-English speaking students, and last week I had to discuss pronoun use with my students who didn’t understand how one person could be a “they.”

As a writer and teacher, I love words.  What offends me is the idea that words are offensive.  To quote George Carlin, “There are no bad words. Bad thoughts. Bad intentions, and wooooords.”  I definitely agree.  Words are merely modes of expression, and instead of running away from them, we need to employ them, but sadly those who advocate rigid censorship subscribe to the notion that hearing no evil is better than refuting it.  They shy away from debate, which requires thinking, and opt for suppression of language because it’s easier than formulating a rebuttal to something they find disagreeable.

In a recent report by The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) surveyed the written policies of 481 colleges and universities and did a report called “Spotlight on Speech Codes.” Schools were rated as red, yellow or green in terms of the amount of free speech on their campuses.  According to the report of speech codes in 2022, 18.5% earned a red light (meaning that the policy both clearly and substantially restricts protected speech.) (68%) earned an overall “yellow light” rating, meaning they maintained at least one yellow light policy, which are policies that involve clear restrictions on a narrower range of expression or policies that, by virtue of vague wording, could too easily be applied to restrict protected expression.  Only 12.1% of colleges and universities surveyed received a green rating which means that none of the school’s policies are threats to free speech. Spotlight on Speech Codes 2022 | The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (  The fact that institutions of higher learning, which are supposed to be dedicated to the free flow of ideas, which will impact the future, would employ methods that restrict ideas is unconscionable and un-American.

Harvard, Stanford and Yale, all prestigious universities with strong academic reputations were just a few of the universities that received yellow ratings by FIRE in 2022.  In a document titled: Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) Stanford created what they call a multi-year project to eliminate harmful language.  It was published by the Stanford CIO Council (CIOC) and People of Color in Technology (POC-IT).  The document is a dictionary of dysfunction that lists 13 pages of categories of offense that include ableism, ageism, colonialism, cultural appropriation etc. and list of words that students should not use under each categorical listing.  Some of the words included, and explanations of offense include the following:

Brave – This term perpetuates the stereotype of the “noble courageous savage,” equating the Indigenous male as being less than a man.

Preferred Pronoun – The word “preferred” suggests that non-binary gender identity is a choice and a preference.

Landlord/Landlady – Lumps a group of people using gender binary language, which doesn’t include everyone.

Mankind – This term reinforces male-dominated language.

American – This term often refers to people from the United States only, thereby insinuating that the US is the most important country in the Americas (which is actually made up of 42 countries). stanfordlanguage.pdf (

If these institutions, which are often lauded as the best places to attend a university would employ such rigid and ridiculous lists of “bad” words (See Carlin’s quote), I shudder to think what is being taught in their classrooms.  The fact that calling someone an “American” or calling someone “brave” could even be construed as offensive is an example of academia gone insane.

Should people speak respectfully to one another?  Of course they should, and the consequences of disrespect can take on many forms, but the overbearing vilification of simple, time-honored words is an abomination.  This sky is falling mentality combined with the boy who cried wolf application should make anyone and everyone considering attending a university that employs these tactics to reconsider it and find an institution that allows for the free expression of ideas.  No one should pay for the kind of “education” that stifles expression or imposes speech codes that rationalize what “could be” offensive to someone else.  There will always be those who find anything and everything offensive, but placating the perpetually offended is not a solution to the problem.   Those tasked with the preparation of future leaders of industry, politics and education bear a responsibility to educate; censorship has always been the antithesis of education and always will be exactly that.


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