Because Words Matter


How all organisations should be proactively advising staff on the importance of wording

In the wake of a global discussion around Black Live Matter, Sky Sports have reportedly banned a number of words linked to racism and slavery – and so they should. In fact, it’s a wonder that this is ‘news’ at all in some respects, that a broadcaster isn’t proactively listing phrases and words that are deemed out of date, offensive or at worst have racist undertones, is perhaps indicative of the work that’s needed.

Looking back at old media or entertainment content, you’d soon see words and phrases that would not commonly feature in today’s world. And this is why it’s important that learning about words and the meaning and origin of phrases should be part of an organisations’ culture, whether they’re a media outlet or not.

Undoubtedly, the majority of people who use certain words and phrases aren’t doing so from a negative position – but not understanding the meaning of something you say is ignorance… and therefore to say something is ‘harmless’ or reject calls for change as ‘political correctness’ seem obscene.

So, as well as ‘brand guidelines’ and ‘tone of voice’ documents, wouldn’t it be great if more organisations talked about language, words, phrases –  educating its people and helping them to make interactions more inclusive for a better working culture?

Does this sit purely with communications teams though? Whilst it could form part of media training, you could also look at the overall employment process; how staff are inducted, how they are trained and supported with their professional development. More conversations are needed and I’d be interested in seeing what organisations are already doing on this (maybe not in a public relations sense, but what best practice really looks like). Please email me at if you have anything you can share.

Let’s keep the conversation going on this. Because words really do matter.

Some stuff that may be interesting/helpful….

  • Business Insider share 12 terms to avoid and explain their associations
  • The Best of Life Online shares a longer list here
  • Hubspot blogs about how to talk inclusively at work and provides some useful templates and ideas, from job descriptions to how an organisation writes.
  • Harvard Business Review say that the key to an inclusive culture is by having inclusive meetings; from ensuring everyone has a seat at the table, to allowing everyone to speak.