The United Nations is taking heat after posting a bizarre new dictionary of “gender-neutral” terms to replace more gendered words used in everyday life — with social media users expressing bewilderment and confusion at the language policing that in some cases appeared to backfire.
“Help create a more equal world by using gender-neutral language if you're unsure about someone's gender or are referring to a group,” the U.N. Twitter account said.
The dictionary, originally posted by U.N. Women, includes terms that have been in regular use for a while -- such as replacing “mankind” with “humankind” and “chairman” with "chair.”
Others, however, are a little more strained. The list suggests replacing “landlord” with “owner” — a term that has its own problematic connotations related to slavery and cannot typically be swapped for the former term without dramatically changing the meaning. (“This is Bob. Bob is my owner.”)
It also suggests using “family name” instead of “maiden name,” although many people would identify their family name as the one they married into. It also suggests using “representative” for “businessman,” even though the former is normally used for a spokesman rather than someone in business.
The tweet was quickly flooded with responses by people suggesting the U.N. take its advice elsewhere — quickly zipping up a ratio.
“Stop trying to control people's language. It's creepy and unnecessary,” former British Member of the European Parliament Lucy Harris tweeted.
"You know we're over the worst of the pandemic when these issues are back being discussed," another user wrote.
Others expressed their opposition in memes, while some noted that "U.N. Women" was itself not a particularly gender-neutral term.
U.N. Women has been a source of controversy before. Last year, countries with poor records on women’s rights – including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lebanon and Nigeria – were among those elected to U.N. Women’s Executive Board.