Quangos blackball ... oops, sorry ... veto âracistâ everyday phrases
It could be construed as a black day for the English language â but not if you work in the public sector.
Dozens of quangos and taxpayer-funded organisations have ordered a purge of common words and phrases so as not to cause offence.
Among the everyday sayings that have been quietly dropped in a bid to stamp out racism and sexism are âwhiter than whiteâ, âgentlemanâs agreementâ, âblack markâ and âright-hand manâ.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has advised staff to replace the phrase âblack dayâ with âmiserable dayâ, according to documents released under freedom of information rules.
It points out that certain words carry with them a âhierarchical valuation of skin colourâ. The commission even urges employees to be mindful of the term âethnic minorityâ because it can imply âsomething smaller and less importantâ.
The National Gallery in London believes that the phrase âgentlemanâs agreementâ is potentially offensive to women and suggests that staff should replace it with âunwritten agreementâ or âan agreement based on trustâ instead. The term âright-hand manâ is also considered taboo by the gallery, with âsecond in commandâ being deemed more suitable.
Many institutions have urged their workforce to be mindful of âgender biasâ in language. The Learning and Skills Council wants staff to âperfectâ their brief rather than âmasterâ it, while the Newcastle University has singled out the phrase âmaster bedroomâ as being problematic.
Advice issued by the South West Regional Development Agency states: âTerms such as âblack sheep of the familyâ, âblack looksâ and âblack markâ have no direct link to skin colour but potentially serve to reinforce a negative view of all things black. Equally, certain terms imply a negative image of âblackâ by reinforcing the positive aspects of white.
âFor example, in the context of being above suspicion, the phrase âwhiter than whiteâ is often used. Purer than pure or cleaner than clean are alternatives which do not infer that anything other than white should be regarded with suspicion.â
The clampdown in the public sector has angered some of the countryâs most popular writers.
Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider childrenâs spy books, said: âA great deal of our modern language is based on traditions which have now gone but it would be silly â and extremely inconvenient â to replace them all. A âwhite collar workerâ, for example, probably doesnât wear one. An âable seamanâ, under new regulations, could well be neither. âSpanish practicesâ can happen all over Europe. We know what these phrases mean and we can find out from where they were derived. Banning them is just unnecessary.â
Marie Clair, spokeswoman for the Plain English Campaign, said: âPolitical correctness has good intentions but things can be taken to an extreme. What is really needed is a bit of common sense.â