Seattle Looks to Ban ‘Potentially Offensive’ Language

by Andrew Johnson

From now on, words and phrases such as “brown bag lunch” and “citizens” will be off-limits for Seattle government employees. The city’s Office of Civil Rights sent out a memo this week advising employees to refrain from using “potentially offensive” language in the workplace and in official government documents.

A representative with the Office of Civil Rights explained that the measures were being taken to accommodate for Seattle’s diverse population. “I would say in a community as large as ours in Seattle, we’re talking about a community of African American, white, Latino, and Asian people who all have a stake in using language that doesn’t bug other people,” he told a local radio station.

For example, the office told employees in the memo to use “lunch-and-learn” or “sack lunch” instead of a “brown bag lunch” to avoid potentially racial connotations to the phrase (though some of us might “brown” in that expression refers to the color of the paper bag.) In place of “citizen,” the city urges using ”resident” to be sensitive to those who reside in Seattle who might not be U.S. citizens.

Earlier this year, Washington state lawmakers voted to change 40,000 words in government documents to gender-neutral language, for example, replacing “penmanship” with “handwriting” and “freshman” with “first-years.”