‘Picnic’ Among Words on Massachusetts College’s ‘Oppressive Language’ List

'Picnic' Among Words on Massachusetts College's 'Oppressive Language' List brandeis university entrance sign (Dreamstime.com)

By Charlie McCarthy | Thursday, 24 June 2021 11:23 AM

A Massachusetts liberal arts college has comprised an "oppressive language" list of common words and phrases that includes "picnic" and "rule of thumb."

Brandeis University grouped words into five categories – violent language, identity-based language, language that doesn’t say what we mean, culturally appropriate language, and person-first alternatives.

The list includes an explanation for each word or phrase, and suggests replacements.

The school's website says "picnic" is a word associated with lynchings of Black people in the U.S. White spectators were said to have watched the executions while eating. The school says the term "outdoor eating" should be used instead.

The Daily Mail, however, said "picnic" is derived from the French 'pique-nique,' originally used to describe the taking of one's own wine to a meal. It later evolved to encompass the sharing of food outdoors and started being used in England in the 18th century.

The phrase "rule of thumb" allegedly comes from an old British law allowing men to to beat their wives with sticks no wider than their thumbs. The term 'general rule' is offered as an alternative.

"This is another spurious etymological interpretation which has been wrongly attached to the phrase by myth and rumor," the Daily Mail said.

"The precise origins of the phrase are unclear but it is meant in the sense of approximating something using the thumb rather than a specific tool — there is no evidence of a legal application to wife beating."

"Killing it," commonly understood to mean someone is doing a "great job," can be communicated in a less oppressive way without referring to murder, the guide says, according to Daily Caller.

"Trigger warning," commonly used in schools to help those who might be offended by language, is on the list because "trigger" relates to guns.

"We can give the same head's up using language less connected to violence," says the website, which offers "content note" and "drop-in" as replacements.

Under "person-first language," a homeless person instead should be described as "a person experiencing housing insecurity." and a prostitute as a "person who engages in sex work."

Under "language that doesn’t say what we mean," the words "survivor" and "victim" are considered oppressive.

"These labels can make a person feel reduced to an experience," the school’s list says. "Person-first language is great here, unless the person identifies with either word. If they do, honor them by using that word!"

Instead, "person who has experienced" and "person who has been impacted by" are suggested.

The term "abusive relationships” should be replaced by "relationship with an abuser."

"Relationships don’t perpetrate abuse; abusers do," the website says. "It is important to name that someone is responsible."

The university’s Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center comprised the list.

"These recommendations for more-neutral language are brought forth by students who have been subject to violence or who have worked with others who are healing from violence," PARC said, "as well as students who have sought out advanced training in intervening in potentially violent situations."