Language Choice Should Not Be Unnecessarily Exclusionary

Aspiring writers are admonished from using rote expression. Sometimes this triggers tricky questions even for experienced writers. Recently it was noticed our website described on-campus tours as “walking tours.” That word choice wasn’t made to belittle those who roll, but it was unnecessarily exclusionary. The fix was simple. Remove “walking.” No meaning sacrificed.

I encountered a tougher call when promoting The College Tour TV show (which I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out). Initially, I described it as “the most personal college tour you’ve ever seen.” A coworker suggested I change “seen” to “experienced” because that would be more inclusive. This seemingly innocuous suggestion unleashed a slew of follow-up questions in my mind. I had already used “experience” in an adjacent sentence and wanted to avoid repetition.

Must I sacrifice aesthetics? Find another synonym? Retool the paragraph to avoid the problem? Perhaps most crucially: one can fully experience a campus tour without walking, but you can’t fully experience a TV show as most people do without watching. Is it improper or unkind to unsighted people for me to acknowledge that watching happens? 

In this case, I decided the best compromise was not to banish sight-oriented words, but to incorporate a full range of experiences such as “hearing,” “thinking” and “feeling” in the piece. We can’t please everyone all the time, but I am proud to work among people who care deeply about getting it right, even when it gets complicated.


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