Transitional housing is temporary housing, particularly associated and designed for very low-income and/or houseless individuals or families, sometimes referred to as low-income or subsidized housing. Using specific terminology, such as naming a particular housing program, is helpful for clarity.
Urban is an adjective related to a city, town, or other metropolitan area. It’s often used as a coded term for the racial demographics of a city, including by politicians. Identifying people as “urban” is fraught with subtext, similar to a term like “inner city.” Substituting a term like “city dwellers” can avoid unintended negative connotations.
Vocational is a broad term relating to employment or a specific occupation. When discussing vocational education, it’s important to remember that it is not intrinsically inferior to a more “traditional” four-year undergraduate education.
Welfare is an increasingly outdated blanket term for a variety of government-funded programs intended to provide financial and/or other types of aid to individuals and families. It may be helpful to be specific about the benefits being discussed, or use terms like “public assistance” or “government assistance” if a specific program can’t be named.
White working class refers to non-Hispanic white workers or laborers, particularly associated with manual labor jobs or occupations. The term was heavily associated with the 2016 US presidential election and in some contexts now connotes a particular political stance that may not in fact be accurate.
When contrasted with blue-collar, white-collar typically implies a greater degree of educational attainment, a more specialized skill set, and higher, generally salaried, compensation. Specifying an individual’s profession or giving an explanation of how the term is being defined if used in a broader sense is helpful for clarity.
Working class refers to a subsection of workers or laborers, defined in various ways by researchers and organizations, with a general association including manual labor and blue/pink-collar work. When using the term, it may be helpful to be as specific as possible and ensure that any broad discussion of labor considered “working class” does not present it as racially homogeneous (or overly associated with men).
An acronym for “yes in my backyard.” It refers to an individual known for support of local development, particularly housing development. When discussing YIMBYism, it’s useful to note the specifics of the policies in question.
Self-made refers to someone who purportedly established a business or amassed a fortune on their own. However, stories about “self-made people” or “rags to riches” may be an opportunity to portray how an individual’s background and systemic factors played a role in their present success and/or wealth. The bootstraps euphemism in particular is often leveraged against lower-income, nonwhite individuals.
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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