Style Guidance home

Class and Social Standing

neighborhood

A neighborhood refers to a localized district or section within a town, city, rural, or suburban area. Being specific about the demographics of a neighborhood can be helpful to avoid outdated or stereotypical ideas about neighborhoods’ demographics. In addition, being specific about a neighborhood’s location and the mean income level of residents can be useful in conversations about topics like gentrification. Historically racist connotations around terms like “hood” or “ghetto” may make them fraught to use outside of direct quotations. If including, some context of their loaded history is helpful for clarity.

NIMBY

NIMBY is an acronym (“not in my backyard”) for an individual known for opposition to local development, often housing development but also other projects such as renewable energy, while generally supporting such measures in the abstract. When discussing NIMBYism, it’s helpful to specify the policies in question and the influence racism and classism may have in objections to those policies.

nomad / van life / vandwelling

Avoid stereotyping who may have this type of lifestyle; while some may be unhoused or houseless, it also became popular among a subset of Silicon Valley tech workers. It also may be useful to note the risks associated with travel and living outside of a “standard home,” particularly for people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals who are more likely to have their presence questioned when, for example, sleeping in parking lots or gas stations.

old money / new money

“Old money” refers to established and inherited wealth, generally spanning generations. “New money” (or nouveau riche) refers to money gained during one’s own generation. Both are colloquial terms and benefit from explanation/interrogation.

older adults

Older adults may be a preferable term over “elderly” or “aging,” as not all those who could be described that way may identify with those terms. Specifying ages or ranges is clearer than more euphemistic terms like “aging,” “elder,” and “senior” or “senior citizen.”

opioid epidemic

Language, Please is a living resource that will be regularly updated. We’re working hard on an entry for this topic — please check back in soon.

opportunity gap

The circumstances in which people are born over which they have no control (e.g., race, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, zip code) that impact their opportunities in life. Using terms like “opportunity gap” instead of “achievement gap” can draw attention to the systemic disparities that underserved communities face, and shifts dialogue away from blaming children for their life circumstances.

poor / low-income

Poor or low-income refers to having little money or few possessions. In general, using terms like “poverty” or “lower income” (and explaining how those terms are being defined, for instance by the US Census) is clearer.

poverty

Poverty is a transient rather than a permanent state, and can be relative, as when comparing individuals or places (cities, states, countries). Common pitfalls when covering poverty include sensationalizing someone’s circumstances and stereotyping, such as referring to people experiencing poverty as victims or criminals, or as exceptions to these categories.

public housing

Public housing is owned or subsidized by government agencies and funding. Terms like “housing projects” or “projects” historically have been used in racist ways. If using these terms, mentioning their history adds important context.

Last updated 08/05/22

Honest discussions of money and social standing and the myriad factors that determine them are often complicated, and the language of US news coverage tends to reflect that. People may rely on established euphemisms or coded terms when more specific language would be more illuminating.

This section of the Language, Please style guidance aims to help journalists recognize language that’s weighed down in subtext and navigate subjects of socioeconomic status and social standing in a nuanced way.

This resource was informed by questions and discussions from our own newsrooms. It is a living document that will update and expand over time. It is not meant to be comprehensive or the definitive arbiter of language “rules” but instead aims to give context and inform thoughtful decision-making. Have a suggestion for an update, change, or addition? Please get in touch.

How to use: Browse the whole section or search for the term you need guidance on; click into any term for in-depth context, additional resources, and related terms. 

Get in Touch

Language, Please is a living resource and will be updated regularly. Have a question, suggestion, or addition? We’d love to hear from you.

Find an Inclusivity Reader

Access our inclusivity reader directory here.