Exclusionary Words: They’re So Yesterday

“We must believe in the power and strength of our words. Our words can change the world.”

Malala Yousafzai

These powerful words, spoken by one powerful woman, Malala Yousafzai, sum up something not many think about regularly: the impact of our words. 

Daily we communicate via various means. Most of us likely have discourse with a myriad of individuals on many different platforms. How often do you pause to consider the kind of power that rests in your words during these interactions? 

One of the most important reasons to consider your word choice is to ensure that you practice inclusion. Part of the power words possess is the ability to make others feel uncomfortable or excluded; it’s time we all start considering how small shifts in our language can mean making all feel at ease.

It may seem like efforts to eliminate exclusionary language are just a fad, but times they are a-changin’, and actually, that’s a catalyst for linguistic change.


Language is Dynamic

Over time, it’s common for certain words to become obsolete or used for different purposes. Prompted by social norms, contact with other cultures, and individual language learning experiences, this phenomenon is nothing new.

Throughout history, we’ve seen language changes across geographical areas, social groups, and simply as the years pass. Pronunciations change, new words get borrowed or invented, and the meanings of words shift and evolve. 

Let’s all just accept inclusionary language as a social norm that is affecting language. Honestly, that’s really what it is.

Shakespeare is a fun example that illustrates how words that were once common tend to fade. For example, we don’t walk around calling people who’ve wronged us clouted fat-kidneyed coxcombs any longer, as much fun as that would be. We really should consider bringing back that one.

That term probably wouldn’t be offensive these days, you’d likely just get some strange looks, but Shakespeare’s audience would have found it an appalling insult, and you definitely didn’t want to use the words hobby horse together in a sentence in front of your mother.

We know you’re no Shakespeare, but you are using your words to communicate, and your audience can be affected just like his.

Let’s take a look at some more powerful words spoken (about words) to guide us through a closer examination of inclusive language and what it means in our daily lives.

“Words are free. It’s how you use them that may cost you.”


It’s just the reality of our current culture, cancel culture, that is. Some words and phrases will surely get you shunned. You may be using terms that are viewed as misogynistic, racist, or at the very least insensitive.

Terms like cakewalk, blacklist, sanity check, and tribe evoke connotations that could be viewed by some as biased language.

Using comments like, “Stop being such a girl about it,” or “That response was crippling to me,” inappropriately identify or offend certain individuals.

They may not get you canceled, but they may leave you avoided at the office, an outcast in the classroom, or skipped for social occasions, even if there’s no ill intention behind their use.

“Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don’t mean much to you may stick with someone else for a lifetime.”

Rachel Wolchin

Imagine using the word guys. It seems harmless, right? The use of guy as originally a term to refer to a man or fellow, and later to refer to a collective group of individuals, has been in our vernacular for ages. Still, for many, it’s exclusionary and can even be harmful.

At best, it alienates those who are female or nonbinary, and at worst, it causes pain to those who may have struggled with gender identity. 
Take, for example, Brad Ward, a member of the trans community and high school counselor from Atherton, California. When interviewed regarding the use of the term, she stated she’s tried to stop using the word entirely. She included her personal experience as the rationale remarking, “When I’m included with a group that is called guys, there’s some pain since it takes me back to my male days in a way that I’d rather not go.”

“Words have power. They impact others, but they also impact us.”

Michael Hyatt