A common theme on English Stack Exchange is someone who has a certain well-known word in their vocabulary, who understands this word may have undesired negative undertones for certain groups of people, and this person seeks a neutral substitute word.

The question is not asking about politics, the question is not asking if it is "politically correct" (plus, who knows what that means anyway?).

Instead these people believe they are using what I call an unword, and they seek alternatives.

This is a subset of [single-word-requests], [phrase-requests], [idiom-requests], [expression-requests], [epithet-requests] and [proverb-requests].

I call this an unword based on Orwell's notion of an unperson:

an individual who usually for political or ideological reasons is removed completely from recognition or consideration
from m-w.com

And I think unword could be well understood on first glance. Some people may object to usage of a word not found in dictionaries yet. Another choice could be deanthropormorphize / deanthropormorphized. The same criticism applies, but maybe less so.

  • As a separate matter, I propose a policy that any question which asks about unwords should put that word in quotes for reasons of politeness. For example, the question "Politically correct term for someone who is Internet challenged?" could be offensive but "Politically correct term for someone who is 'Internet challenged'?" is neutral. Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 15:44
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    Who is the authority that keeps the list of “words that shall not be used without scare quotes”? And what is the process for requesting a review if somehow something stupid like “awoman” as a synonym for “amen” makes it on there?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 15:49
  • (My point is that no matter what you call this list of words, there is no agreement on what words are on that list, so labeling a question as an “unword replacement request” is not meaningful. It’s just a SWR. It would be better to have a tag about neutral terms than one focused on some arbitrary idea of “unwords” which implies a moral judgment. There’s already gender-neutral so maybe a generalization of that.)
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 16:01
  • Can you edit to clarify? What is the question here (or if it is instead a proposal, can you make the proposal explicit in the body)? Also your last sentence no verb.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 19:20
  • The Orwellian associations of the proposed term unword, make it suitable for use only by those who disagree with the patterns of thinking that make something into an 'unword'. 'Political correctness' is also a term that is usually used by those who object to the phenomena to which they apply it. Neither term is thus suitable for use as a neutral term to be used in classifying questions. Deanthropormorphize is neutral, but broader than what is intended.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jan 20, 2021 at 22:37
  • I think keeping a list of what some consider unwords is not a place ELU should go. SWR does seem to handle the issue well already. Commented Jan 25, 2021 at 18:38
  • @ColleenV the authority for words that shall not be used without quotes is the asker. When somebody asks "What is the politically correct word for X" the implication is that X is offensive and is okay to use in speech whereas "What is the politically correct word for 'X'" implies that X is offensive is not to be used directly in speech. Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 3:56
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    @WilliamEntriken If these words are completely arbitrary, what do we accomplish by making a tag for them? I think a tag that has a moral judgment baked into it is a bad idea.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 12:11

1 Answer 1


Unwords they are not, for even words that may have recently come to be perceived as taboo by certain groups or in certain contexts under the cyclic grind of the euphemism treadmill remain words nonetheless.

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