The words “felon,” “offender,” “convict,” “addict” and “juvenile delinquent” would be part of the past in official San Francisco parlance under new “person first” language guidelines adopted by the Board of Supervisors.
Going forward, what was once called a convicted felon or an offender released from jail will be a “formerly incarcerated person,” or a “justice-involved” person or simply a “returning resident.”
Parolees and people on criminal probation will be referred to as a “person on parole,” or “person under supervision.”
A juvenile “delinquent” will become a “young person with justice system involvement,” or a “young person impacted by the juvenile justice system.”
And drug addicts or substance abusers will become “a person with a history of substance use.”
“We don’t want people to be forever labeled for the worst things that they have done,” Supervisor Matt Haney said.
The resolution is non-binding, was not signed by the mayor, and it is not clear it will be implemented. Here is the full article.
Some of those terms seem quite reasonable to me, such as “person on parole,” which for many people would be the natural term in any case. But here is my worry. It is we who decide how powerful language is going to be. The more we regulate language, the more we communicate a social consensus that it has great power. And in return the more actual power we grant to those linguistic “slips” and infelicities which remain. It is better to use norms to regulate the very worst speech terms, but not all of them. By regulating too many parts of speech, and injecting speech with too much power, we actually grant more influence to the people and ideas we are trying to stop.