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 Being specific about the demographics of a neighborhood can be helpful to avoid outdated or stereotypical ideas about neighborhoods’ demographics.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 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.
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” 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 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.”
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.
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 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 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 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.
An incarcerated person is someone confined to a prison, mental hospital, or similar institution. In general, person-first language, or phrasing such as “X individual, who was convicted of a felony,” puts the focus on the individual rather than one aspect of their circumstances, especially contrasted with terms such as ex-con, felon, convict, and criminal, which risk defining someone solely by their experience with the criminal legal system. In headlines or in shorthand, the term “prisoner” may be more straightforward and humanizing than a term like “felon” or “convict,” since not all individuals housed in jails and prisons are convicted of crimes, and such terms often imply a sense of guilt to the general public.
Jail and prison are not interchangeable: Generally, jail is for those who have just been arrested or are awaiting trial or sentencing, though some serving shorter sentences will do so in jail. Prison is generally for those serving longer sentences.
Homelessness and houselessness are terms for the state of individuals currently lacking a regular nighttime residence. Person-first language such as “people without housing,” “people without homes,” or “person experiencing homelessness (or houselessness)” may read as less stigmatizing than a phrase like “the homeless,” as it reinforces that houselessness is one aspect of someone’s identity that doesn’t define them. “Houseless” or “unhoused” also decouples the concept from the more positive connotation of “home,” and encompasses more than “homeless,” as this could also refer to, for example, living in one’s vehicle.
Economic activity that centers on using freelance or temporary workers to perform jobs normally associated with the service sector such as food delivery, ride-hail driving, freelance tasks including manual labor (e.g., movers), pet and house sitting, and shopping. More euphemistic terms like “side hustle” are generally best reserved for direct quotes, as this may presented such activities in overly cheery terms that obscure the labor behind them.
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