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Purdue Online Writing Lab quietly changes guidelines around 'sexist' language, again

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Purdue's University's Online Writing Lab has changed its language, removing the word "sexist" and stating more simply that "Writing without gender bias is sound and effective." (iStock photo)

Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab quietly, but substantially, changed its recommendations about “sexist language” several days after coming under fire for the fact that they were telling the general public to refrain from using the word “man” when writing.

As the Washington Examiner’s Red Alert Politics reported, Purdue OWL first changed the guidelines in early February to state that “although man in its original sense carried the dual meaning of adult human and adult male, its meaning has come to be so closely identified with adult male that the generic use of MAN and other words with masculine markers should be avoided.”

Purdue OWL recommended that writers replace “mankind” with “humanity,” “man-made” with “synthetic or machine-made,” and avoid using occupational terms that include the suffix "-man," such as mailman, congressman, policeman, and fireman. Notably, the website also cautioned at that time that “writing in a non-sexist, non-biased way is both ethically sound and effective.”

This language has since been revised to remove the word “sexist” and states more simply that “writing without gender bias is sound and effective.”

There will be no official statement about the website’s revisions, according to Brian Zink, Purdue University’s senior director of news and information, but the changes to the introductory language were made to make it “less judgmental and prescriptive.”

Purdue OWL also added the recommendation in its recent revision that writers “consult their professional or disciplinary community standards” to assure that they avoid gendered language.

Referencing the National Council of Teaching English and other style manuals, Purdue OWL also noted that these guides include “similar recommendations about inclusive language use in writing,” but that this is “detailed behind paywalls.”

The Purdue OWL site surpassed 410 million page views in 2016 — a 30 percent increase in traffic. Typically considered an authoritative, free, nonpoliticized source of information for writing and citation guidelines, Purdue OWL is frequented by college and graduate students, professionals, and anyone who seeks writing advice.

Kate Hardiman is pursuing a master's in education from Notre Dame University and teaches English and religion at a high school in Chicago.