Is 'picnic' an oppressive word? Brandeis University cancels common words saying they’re ‘violent’

Terms like 'rule of thumb', 'you guys', 'killing it', 'trigger warning' etc were also included in the university's 'Oppressive Language List'

                            Is 'picnic' an oppressive word? Brandeis University cancels common words saying they’re ‘violent’
Picnic was deemed as a word historically associated with oppression (Representational Photo, Al Bello/Getty Images)

Brandeis University in Massachusetts has urged to replace common words and phrases like 'picnic', 'rule of thumb' and 'you guys' at their campus, urging students to use more culturally appropriate and gender-inclusive terminology instead. The university compiled a list of commonly used words which have been found to be historically associated with oppression. A compendium of such "potentially oppressive language" was shared on the university website by the Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center (PARC) at the institution. 

As part of PARC's 'Response to Anti-Blackness' program, the "Oppressive Language List" was designed to " remove language that may hurt those who have experienced violence from our everyday use." The words and phrases featured in the list so far include 'killing it', 'picnic', 'Rule of thumb', 'you guys', 'prostitute', 'go off the reservation', 'survivor', 'victim', 'spirit animal', 'powwow', 'mentally ill', 'addict', 'homeless person', 'tribe', 'disabled person', 'trigger warning', 'take a stab at', 'policeman', 'congressman', 'insane' etc. The list will continue to grow based on the suggestions from the community of students and faculty at the university. 


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PARC also elaborated on their reason behind the creation of such a list. "These recommendations for more-neutral language are brought forth by students who have been subject to violence or who have worked with others who are healing from violence, as well as students who have sought out advanced training in intervening in potentially violent situations," they wrote in a statement.

Why is 'picnic' and 'rule of thumb' oppressive? 

The word 'picnic' might give out pleasant summer vibes, but in America, it has a dark history associated with it. According to PARC, "picnic has been associated with lynchings of Black people in the United States, during which white spectators were said to have watched while eating.” The center has proposed the usage of 'outdoor eating' as an alternative to the common word. 

The phrase 'Rule of thumb' has a different but oppressive history connected with it. The word allegedly evolved from an old British law, that allowed men to beat their wives, but only with sticks not wider than their thumb. The alternative for the phrase suggested by PARC is 'general rule'.

Additionally, the term 'trigger warning' was listed because the word 'trigger' is connected to guns, so the university recommends the usage of a less violent alternative. 

However, the list was not met with enthusiasm by all, as GOP Representative Elise Stefanik branded the list as "an all-out assault on our First Amendment". She also added that it was an instance of Leftist cancel culture in the academia, stating, "The Far Left’s radical overhaul of education is un-American. They push so-called ‘safe spaces’ to eliminate diversity of thought, critical thinking, and intellectual curiosity and replace it with Socialist brainwashing, groupthink, and Marxist ideology like Critical Race Theory."

Citing that the university was named after Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, former CUNY trustee Jeff Wiesenfeld said, "Louis Brandeis was one of the first Jewish Supreme Court justices. He would be appalled by this." He also termed the list as 'idiocy, lunacy and a disgrace'.