Reference > Usage > American Heritage® Book of English Usage > 6. Names and Labels
The American Heritage® Book of English Usage.
A Practical and Authoritative Guide to Contemporary English.  1996.

6. Names and Labels

Social, Racial, and Ethnic Terms
ONE of the most basic ways of showing respect for others is to refer to them by the names with which they have chosen to identify themselves and to avoid using names that they consider offensive. This applies to ethnic groups and to other people who are identified according to their stage in life (such as older people), a condition with which they must live (such as people who have a disability), a category that society has placed them in (such as aboriginal peoples), or their sexual orientation.   1
  Of course the difficulty comes in knowing what terms a particular group has accepted and what terms that group finds offensive and why. Some groups, such as African Americans and Hispanics, refer to themselves by more than one name, and the opinions of insiders are mixed about which should be the term of choice. In some cases the linguistic situation is in flux. Over time traditional terms can accumulate a certain amount of historical and emotional baggage, and some groups have periodically changed their names as a means of reasserting their dignity. Some groups “reclaim” terms that they once considered offensive—Indian is an example—as a way of voicing ethnic pride.   2
  The notes listed below focus on accepted and in some cases controversial ways of referring to specific social groups. Blatantly offensive terms, whose usage is not a matter of debate, are not included. The notes have been written from the point of view of a neutral outsider, reviewing current usage, summarizing the arguments that have been made for and against specific terms, and giving advice about how to refer to groups you may not belong to and may know little about.   3
  As a general rule, it is good to remember that you should only refer to a person by category when it is relevant or necessary to the discussion at hand. That is, you should ordinarily view people as individuals and not mention their racial, ethnic, or other status, unless it is important to your larger purpose in communicating. But when reference to another’s status is appropriate, you can inform yourself about some of the current issues in American society by reading the notes that follow.   4

  1. aborigine / aboriginal
  2. African American / Afro-American
  3. Amerasian
  4. American Indian
  5. Amerindian
  6. Anglo
  7. Asian
  8. Asian American
  9. Asiatic
  10. Australoid
  11. black
  12. capitalization of black
  13. blind
  14. brown
  15. Caucasian / Caucasoid
  16. challenged
  17. Chicana
  18. Chicano
  19. color
  20. colored
  21. crippled
  22. deaf
  23. deaf and dumb
  24. deaf-mute
  25. differently abled
  26. disabled / disability
  27. dumb
  28. Dutch
  29. elder
  30. elderly
  31. ethnicity / ethnic
  32. Eurasian
  33. Euro-American / European American
  34. gay
  35. handicap / handicapped
  36. Hispanic
  37. homosexual
  38. hyphenated Americans
  39. impaired
  40. Indian
  41. Jew
  42. Latina
  43. Latino
  44. lesbian
  45. minority
  46. Mongoloid
  47. mute
  48. native
  49. Native American
  50. Negro
  51. Negroid
  52. nonwhite
  53. old
  54. older
  55. Oriental
  56. person of color
  57. race
  58. red
  59. Scottish
  60. senior
  61. senior citizen
  62. welsh
  63. white
  64. yellow

The American Heritage® Book of English Usage. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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