These Are The Biggest Language Issues The BuzzFeed News Copy Desk Tackled In 2022

The language we use has implications for our readers and for society. Here's how we talked about abortion, climate change, and pronouns, to name a few.

How the hell is it December? We figured it’s the natural time to look back at what language topics have been quibbling our bits over the past year. While we literally started off the year by writing about our pet peeves (if the overuse of “literally” is your pet peeve, we can’t help you), there are so many more serious language issues that have implications for our readers and for society. Here are some of the topics we covered in this newsletter and continue to discuss in our newsroom.

On Crime

While we wish we could spend more time focusing on crimes against grammar, we do edit content with language that can have serious consequences. In a February issue of this newsletter, we gave a rundown of our guidelines for reporting on crime, including tips for avoiding language that could ascribe guilt to a person before they’ve had a chance to defend themself in court (e.g., don’t use “murderer” unless someone has been convicted of murder) and using terms that humanize incarcerated people. We recently added guidance about not including shooters in the death tolls of mass shootings. And, of course, don’t solely rely on police for how to spell people’s names.

As a side note, subscribe to BuzzFeed News’ true crime newsletter, Suspicious Circumstances, written by none other than our copy chief, Dru Moorhouse.

On Bodies

Physical descriptions can be a tricky area. Are we including descriptors because they are relevant, or do they invoke bias in a reader’s mind? The only thing we can really control is the words we use, and this year, we wrote about how “fat” is a neutral descriptor despite the baggage it carries for a lot of people. The societal centering and praise of thinness has made “fat” feel so negative that people opt for terms they believe are based in medicine, like “overweight” or “obese,” but, as we unpack in the newsletter, these have their own drawbacks.

On Climate Change

The news about climate change is often pretty bleak. And while there are some language choices we think about when writing about it (“climate change” versus “global warming”; “climate crisis” or “climate emergency”), what might be more important is how stories about the future of our planet are framed. We explored how solutions journalism can have a real-world impact on the climate, where doom-and-gloom narratives may fall short.

On Abortion

The right to abortion has been under constant attack this year. When it leaked that the Supreme Court was set to repeal the landmark ruling that protected reproductive rights, Roe v. Wade, we wrote about using straightforward language to discuss what has long been a highly politicized issue. That’s why we say “abortion rights” advocate rather than “pro-choice,” and conversely, “anti-abortion” instead of “pro-life.” We also use gender-neutral language to talk about pregnancy in general.

On Pronouns

We’re always talking about how inclusivity is essential to accuracy in reporting. That’s why it’s so important that reporters and editors make sure that the words we use reflect the identity of the person we’re writing about. We always defer to the pronouns someone uses for themself, and ask when we don’t know. We don’t call them “preferred pronouns,” and we respect if someone uses multiple pronouns for themself (like “she” and “they”). Here’s your reminder that people’s pronouns might change, and you shouldn’t make assumptions.

On Our Style Guide

And last but not least, we revamped our style guide to make it simpler to navigate! Our guide, which was first published in 2014, had gotten unwieldy, so we reorganized it into an alphabetical list — and added an updates section (since we’re constantly making changes). And most importantly, as the headline for this newsletter notes, it’s now even easier to find our style for “cum.” Sigh.

While we have you, don’t miss out on reading our end-of-the-year roundups of the best grammar memes and media corrections. ●

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