The term ‘man’ has in the past been understood to refer to both men and women yet the meanings of words change as society changes. Research has indicated that the term ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ “to a statistically significant degree evokes images of men only.” (Adey D et al 2001:258). Using terms such as ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ when meaning human beings in general therefore leads to misconceptions and making women feel excluded. We should therefore strive to avoid the term ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ when referring to human beings in general.

1. Instead of using ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ use ‘humankind’, ‘humanity, ‘people’ etc.

  • Rather than “man is invited to converse with God” write “the human person is (or human beings are) invited to converse with God.
  • Rather than, “the Christian man, conformed to the likeness of Christ” write, “the Christian, conformed to the likeness of Christ”.
  • Rather than, “we find among the men of this country” write, “we find among the people of this country”.

2. Try to reword the following:
Man-hours to working hours; manned to staffed; ‘the man in the street’ to “the ordinary person’ or ‘the average person’ etc.

3. Terms ending with ‘man’ can be reworded as follows:

Chairman – chairperson; lay-man/men to laity, layperson; Forefathers – ancestors
Sons of God – children of God; Family of man – the human family


The exclusive use of masculine pronouns (he or his) is the most obvious manifestations of sexist language e.g., ‘‘A Christian shows his faith in God by . . .’ can be changed in one of the following ways:

  1. use the plural: Christians show their faith
  2. use the passive voice: Faith in God is shown by
  3. eliminate the pronoun: A Christian shows faith in God (ESSA,

Use the word ‘one’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ when referring to both women and men.

The use of the plural (colleagues, students, leadership) allows us to use ‘they’ or ‘their’ and thus avoid the need for singular pronouns, which are often gender loaded. It has become increasingly acceptable to use words like ‘anyone’, ‘no-one’ and ‘everyone’ in preference to the masculine pronouns ‘he’ and ‘his’.
Example: In case of fire, everyone must take their belongings and leave their rooms as soon as possible.
Example: “Pray, brothers and sisters” rather than “pray, brethren”.


Traditionally we have used the male pronoun when speaking about God, e.g., “God cannot be God if he is male”. The exclusive use of male pronouns for God raises serious theological difficulties, for God is neither male nor female (Catechism of the Catholic Church #370).

Those leading liturgical worship are encouraged to prepare the given texts (Scripture readings, prayers, hymns) so as to be inclusive.

“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on

“It is right to give God thanks and praise.


Seeking to open ourselves to the full riches of the Judeo-Christian scriptural tradition, it is not inappropriate to use both male and female images in prayer, liturgical worship and theological discourse (cf. Is 49:15;Hos 10:3-4; Lk 13:34-35, 15:8-9).


We seek to use language that is charitable and respectful of persons. When referring to persons or human beings in general, they should never be referred to by the pronoun “it” or the derogatory “whatever”. Following the usage of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2358, 2359) our language should refer to persons: “homosexual person(s)”, “gay person(s)”, “lesbian person(s)” or “bisexual person(s)”.

The use of “persons” upholds the basic Catholic moral principle of the distinction between persons and their actions.


Racist language is the use of terms that reflect and encourage stereotypes and prejudiced thinking about the issue of race. Due to our history in South Africa this is an area of great sensitivity. Mention of race is to be avoided unless it has direct relevance to the discussion.

Using racial terms as nouns ‘the Blacks’, ‘the Whites’ ‘the Coloureds’ or ‘the Zulu’s’ are generally found to be offensive for it inevitably contains some stereotype. An alternative might be the use of ‘black people’ or ‘white people’.

Terms such as ‘black’, ‘white’ and ‘coloured’ should not be capitalized, and may be used within quotation marks if one wishes to emphasise their imprecision and/or their loaded term.

Just as the use of expressions such as ‘woman lecturer’ is considered sexist, so the deliberate indication of race when it is not of material difference is seen as racist. We should therefore avoid terms such as ‘a black lecturer’ or ‘a white economist’ for this implies that either black or white is to be considered the norm. (Adey : 242).


  1. The use of the term ‘girls’ when referring to adult women or ‘babes’ when referring to women in general and ‘boy’ when referring to adult men.
  2. Differentiating between women and men when referring to their occupations, status or role. E.g., a female doctor should be a doctor; a female actor could be ‘an actor’.
  3. Men should not always be portrayed as the breadwinners, the head of the household; nor should women be portrayed exclusively as wife, mother, shopper, cook etc. For this reason, instead of saying: “The housewives shopping at the . . .” we could say: “The consumers shopping at the . . .”
  4. Reference to a woman’s appearance, charm, or intuition should be avoided when not relevant to the discussion.
  5. Sexual jokes or innuendos.


When quoting from a book or text in which a word or phrase could be considered offensive in terms of race or gender then the word ‘sic’ should be inserted in brackets after the quotation. This will indicate that this was the way in which the word or phrase was used by the author of the book or text.


The purpose of this policy is to encourage staff and students to use language in a manner that will not exclude or offend. While the use of inclusive and non-racial language might provide us with difficulty initially we should approach it as an opportunity to express ourselves in a manner that seeks to include and affirm the dignity of all persons.


Adey, D., Orr, M & Swemmer, D 2001. The New Word Power: The South African Handbook of Grammar, Style and Usage. AD Donker Publisher: Jeppestown.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1994. Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa.
Evangelical Seminary of Southern Africa, Guideline for the Use of Inclusive Language.
University of South Africa, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, FAKTLG-C/301/4/2001.