Inclusive language for IT

This guide will enable technologists to communicate with each other and their constituents in ways that invite their participation and help them feel welcome and safe. Use this guide as a reference of terms to avoid and inclusive alternatives.

What is Inclusive Language?

Inclusive language values the importance of words and their impact.

Inclusive communication is:

  • Respectful
  • Accurate
  • Inclusive of all

Inclusive communication is free of language that expresses:

  • Stereotypes
  • Negative expectations
  • Limitations

Inclusive communication enables everyone to contribute diverse perspectives and feel like they belong.

Why it matters

Diversity is a source of strength, creativity, and innovation for UW–Madison. By adapting your language, you can involve your entire audience more fully and inspire them to contribute more confidently.

Examples of non-inclusive language and suggested alternatives

Here are some examples of jargon that obscure meaning and exclude people, along with their meanings and suggested alternatives. This list is only a start. There are many everyday words and phrases with discriminatory origins.

Discriminatory language

Term Alternative Definition
Black hat hacker Criminal, bad actor Criminal hackers that concentrate on malicious breaking cyber defenses for money or fame.
Black box testing functional testing, acceptance testing A method of software testing that examines the functionality of an application without peering into its internal structures or workings.
Blacklist Deny List Listings of known bad websites, IP addresses, usernames, etc.
Gray beard Mentor Older, more experienced IT or cybersecurity personality. One sought after for wisdom born from study and experience over a lifetime.
Gray hat hacker Hacktivist Hacker who exploits a weakness in cyber defense to bring the weakness to the attention of the owner, with the goal of improving security.
Low man on the totem pole Junior-level
Person of lower rank or status
Master Primary Primary record, file or recording of data.
Native feature built-in feature A feature or functionality of a product that comes directly from the vendor and works immediately when the product is placed in service.
Confab, huddle, chat, brainstorm
A short conversation
Red team Cyber offense Offensive security or “ethical hacking” of any type. This could include authorized penetration testing, physical hacks, black-box testing, web app scanning, compliance validation. This could also include use of social engineering techniques as part of phishing drills.
Slave Secondary Secondary record, file or recording of data.
White box testing Glass box testing, clear box testing A method of software testing that tests internal structures or workings of an application, as opposed to its functionality
White hat hacker Specific job title, e.g., Cyber Defense Analyst Ethical hackers who focus on testing cyber defenses as part of an organized corporate development process, cybersecurity plan or strategy.
White team Cyber exercise cell Cybersecurity exercise coordination cells. Those who act as referees during exercises, including tabletop events, limited objective experiments, or specific component testing in a real-world scenario.
Whitelist Allow list Listings of acceptable websites, IP addresses, usernames, etc.
Yellow team DevSecOps team Teams of developers, programmers, application designers, software engineers or architects.

Ableist language

Ableist language is conveys negative connotations with respect to various disabilities. Though often unintentional, ableist language conveys disrespect to people with disabilities.

Term Alternative Definition
Blind to, deaf to Ignore Unwilling or unable to heed a message
Blinding Anonymizing Removing irrelevant personal information from documents, as may be done prior to evaluating candidates for a position.
Crippled Deactivated A product or feature the functionality of which has been deliberately limited
Dummy value Placeholder value An arbitrary value used in place of an unknown one, or one to be supplied or defined later
Sanity check Smoke test, quick check, confidence check,
coherence check
A basic test to quickly evaluate whether a claim or the result of a calculation can possibly be true.
Tone deaf inconsiderate, thoughtless, careless An insensitivity to nuances or connotations

Gendered terms

Using gender neutral language means speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.

Term Alternative
Chairman Chair, moderator, chairperson
Grandfathered Legacy status, preexisting
Guys, gals Folks, team, y’all
Man, mankind Humanity, people, humankind
Manned Staffed
Man hours, manpower Capacity, person hours
Man-in-the-middle attacker-in-the-middle, or the specific type of attack, such as eavesdropping
Right-hand man Counterpart, indispensable
Sister school, sister campus Other UW-System campus

Violent terms

Terms with violent connotations are distressing to some and may distract from your message.

Term Alternative Definition
Demilitarized zone (DMZ) Perimeter network A physical or logical subnetwork that contains and exposes an organization’s external-facing services to an untrusted, usually larger, network such as the Internet.
Hang Freeze, stop responding When either a process or system ceases to respond to inputs
Kill (a process) Halt, stop  A command that is used in several popular operating systems to send signals to running processes
Kill two birds with one stone One fell swoop Complete two tasks or solve two problems with one action
Nuke Delete To intentionally delete the entire contents of a directory or folder, or of a storage volume such as a hard drive or partition

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