The Right Way to Write

The creation of this page was prompted by responses from two related pages: the serious differences between Islam and Christianity and their similarities. Misunderstanding or failure to be aware of these is a root cause of conflict between societies, which occasionally, yet far too often, sinks to war.

Since you've opened this page, the chances are you're fully aware of this, yet curious to know if there's anything to help alleviate this age-old problem.

Yes, there is.

Variety is the spice of life.

As explained by the two pages mentioned above, the world would be a lot poorer without diversity. The problem is, diversity often degenerates to discord. Fortunately the solution is as easy and as gentle as the flutter of a butterfly's wings.

In communication, whether spoken or written, we are fully responsible for what we say. And what we say cannot be un-said. It's especially important to remember this when we communicate in written form, which tends to linger and haunt us longer.

Despite our efforts, most of us are still unfair in the way we treat people who are different from ourselves. Writing safely is, fortunately, not too difficult and this page offers to guide you.

Firstly, don't worry about being politically correct; concentrate on being accurate.

A euphemism such as 'physically challenged' may be preferable to 'disabled', but since physical challenges afflict us all to some degree, 'uses a wheelchair', for example, is more helpful for a reader to understand what the challenge is. That can be more important than concentrating too much on avoiding unfair stigmatizing.

The right way to write

No!deaf aidUse synonymous words and phrases with care.Yes!hearing aid
No!"I followed the advice blindly" Yes!"I followed the advice implicitly"
No!"My suggestion fell on deaf ears" Yes!"My suggestion was ignored"
No!non-ChristianAvoid terms that include a negative ("non-", "un-", etc.). Instead, use words that describe what somebody is. If there are several, list them in alphabetical order, to avoid suggesting superiority. Yes!Buddhist, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, etc.
No!non-white Yes!black
No!coloured, negro Yes!black
No!black If a person's skin colour is irrelevant (often the case) then there's no need to mention it. Yes!
No!ethnics We are all ethnic. Say what you mean. Yes!ethnic minorities
No!Afro-American Afro is not only a 1970s hairstyle, but can also stereotype somebody as from that hippy era, black civil rights movements, etc. However, the prefix is still commonly used in some cases, for example Afro-Brazilian. If you're not sure, research. Yes!African-American
No!half-caste, mulatto Yes!mixed race
No!Moslem, Mohammedan Yes!Muslim
No!Koran Some Muslims prefer using the less-anglicised term than Koran. Both of the words Koran and Qur'an can be given more respect by prefixing with "Holy". Yes!Qur'an
No!jews Proper nouns and words that are based on proper nouns should be capitalised, especially when they relate to race, religion, etc. Yes!Jews
No!crucifixion, cross, bible Capitalise when refering to a specific and unique instance. Yes!the Crucifixion, the Cross, the Bible
MaybecountryBe wary of labelling places with a disputed or unclear status; for example, Taiwan, or for the heading of a list that includes such places. Yes!country/region
MaybeEngland Yes!The United Kingdom, Great Britain, England, as appropriate
MaybeAmerica Yes!The US, The USA, The United States of America
No!The country of Africa Yes!The continent of Africa, an African country, the countryside in Africa, as appropriate
No!North KoreaSince South Korea (DRK) has more international economic and social ties than North Korea (DPRK), some find it convenient to refer to South Korea as "Korea". The same applies to other places – South Africa is a country, Southern Africa is a region of several African countries. Yes!DPRK, or Democratic People's Republic of Korea
No!Seoul, north Korea Yes!Seoul, in the northern part of South Korea
MaybeBurma, Myanmar Some countries/regions have recognised the military government that assumed power in 1989, and use the name 'Myanmar'. The governments of Australia, the UK and the US have not, and use the former name 'Burma'. The EU uses 'Burma/Myanmar' Yes!Burma, Myanmar, or Burma/Myanmar
No!manageressA manager is a person, male or female, who manages. A manageress is specifically a female manager and unless the sex is important, there should be no need to emphasize it. Similarly with chairman, which describes the role, not the person. 'Chairperson' or 'chair' can put unnecessary focus on the person's sex. Yes!manager
No!cameraman Yes!camera operator, photographer
No!gender Many dictionaries say 'gender' and 'sex' are synonymous, but the distinction is quite clear, especially in medicine. As the World Health Organisation explains, sex is biological, male or female; gender is social, masculine or feminine. Usually males are masculine and females are feminine. However, some men may dress as women because of their gender preference, but shave because of their biological sex. It is gender that makes my wife buy lots of handbags – it is not biological (and certainly not logical!) Men are usually paid more than women, and that is a gender difference. Women live longer than men, and that is a sex difference. Yes!sex


Over the past few millennia civilisations have been built on a rich mix of different races, faiths and cultures. Those that haven't, for example monocultural tribal societies in South America and New Guinea, tend to die out.

Assimilation usually takes place peacefully – more or less unnoticed – over time. The result is that many people in a country might appear to be foreign, immigrants or visitors, but were in fact born in that country, hold that country's nationality, and consequently, despite a different heritage they are legally 100% native. Those in the US, for example, whose recent ancestors were from Africa or Asia, are as native as those Americans whose distant ancestors were from Europe.

Being 100% native does not mean that they conform 100% to the cultural style of their fellow countrymen, just as none of those countrymen conform 100% to the cultural style of their fellow countrymen. We are all different and if certain of these nonconformists are labelled as 'foreign', then their nonconformity can be seen as a deviance, a threat to mainstream values, or even a threat to security. Tension is raised.

Remember that just as the Christian Church has many (many!) different denominations, practically all other faiths have their own internal differences on the intensity and way in which they follow standard tenets. Local customs mean that a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices in a particular faith vary from region to region, from age to age and from person to person.

Sri Lankan Buddhists, for example, have very few rituals and reject Bardo, whereas Japanese Buddhists have many rituals and teach Bardo. Not all Christians believe that baptism with water or Holy Communion are essential or even desirable.

So take care not to stereotype somebody according to their professed faith.

Take care to be accurate. Take care to be fair.

Bardo roughly means the state of existence between two lives on earth


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