Alternatives and Substitutes for Appropriative or Problematic Language

Table of Contents:

  1. Black English (AAVE)
  2. Ableist Language
  3. Gendered and Trans-Antagonistic Language
  4. Other Terms

Context for this document:

This document was originally created for a Facebook group where non-Black people consistently appropriated Black English, also known as AAVE (African American Vernacular English), and used casual ableism and gendered terms. This resource was intended to reduce the amount of labor that the group admins had to engage in, especially those who were affected by the use or misuse of these terms.

This list is co-created and heavily contributed to by Black people, non-Black people of color, disabled people, neurodivergent people, and trans, gnc (gender non-conforming), and gender non-binary people.

This is not an exhaustive list.

If you would like to add a term or change something, please add a comment on the doc and we will try to approve it as soon as we can. However, this doc is not regularly monitored. If something needs to be changed/added right away, please contact the current active mod at facebook.com/tuesdayvilla.

On claiming and reclaiming words.

If you are part of a marginalized group, feel free to reclaim and use terms targeted or applicable to you. For example, if you are neurodivergent, specifically bipolar, feel free to reclaim “cr*zy.” If you are Black, feel free to learn/use Black English if you don’t already.

When in doubt, don’t.

If you are unsure of how to substitute a word, or if you don’t know if the word is problematic (e.g., appropriating AAVE or is casually ableist), err on the side of caution and perhaps try not to use it. When in doubt, don’t.

  1. Black English (AAVE)

On the term AAVE.

The term AAVE (African American Vernacular English) uses a colonial term (African American) to refer to Black people, which many Black people do not identify with for varying reasons. However, this dialect is most commonly recognized by the term AAVE, so we have included both terms.

Probably should mention Ebonics. Ebonics is a community-coined term [ebony + phonics] that was meant to refer specifically to the study of the linguistic consequences of the slave trade. So Black English and Ebonics don’t mean the same thing, but the study of slave-descended Englishes [Black English, Jamaican English, etc] is Ebonics.

Coined by Dr. Robert Williams: “[ebonics is the] …linguistic and paralinguistic features which on a concentric continuum represent the communicative competence of the West African, Caribbean, and United States slave descendant of African origin. (Williams, 1975)”

What is “performing AAVE”?

Please note that AAVE (African American Vernacular English) is a dialect that includes more than just terms, but also phrases, tone, and context. Some terms, like “petty” or “y’all” may be used in certain contexts, but be mindful of the context in which you normally use these terms. Think about why you feel compelled to use this term instead of a substitute and what image you are trying to convey.

“People should be mindful of appropriating the rhythm of AAVE. It has a rhythm that differs significantly from that of other Englishes, and people tend to use the rhythm as a punchline or to seem more street savvy. Everyone knows the rhythm because everyone associates it with Blackness.” -JR Littlejohn

See this link regarding performing AAVE.

Many of these terms come from the following links: here and here.

Word/Phrase

Alternatives

Context

Examples

👏 clapping 👏emojis 👏 between 👏 words 👏 is 👏 appropriative👏

Just say what you are trying to say.

Exclamation points!!

Capitalizing Every Single First Letter

Link

Link

Visual representation of AAVE performance (i.e. clapping between words to emphasize a point)

____ game on point, on point, on fleek, fleek

Perfect, perf, perfection,  well done, amazing, without flaw, flawless

Term used by African American women, popularized by Peaches Monroee

“Wow Stephanie, your eyeliner is perf like so perf like omg STEPHANIE!”

100, keepin’ it 100, one hunnit, one hunned, 💯 emoji (depending on the intended meaning), etc., 10s

Honest, completely honest, sincere, straightforward, speaking one’s mind, real

Shortening of “one hundred percent real” or “honest”, spoken with a Southern American or AAVE accent.

The 💯 emoji is also AAVE if you mean it in the way discussed here. But if you mean it as “good job!” or something similar, that is fine.

Also Tweet by @RMDavison

“I’m just being honest.”

“I want to address this issues as straightforwardly as possible.”

“Let’s be real for a sec…”

-ass (at the end of an adjective)

Super ___, very____, extremely ____

These kinds of suffixes used to emphasize emotion are usually derived from AAVE.

Just drop the -ass and continue with your sentence.

Used when emphasizing emotion, e.g. “This is a cool-ass song!” or “It’s a hot-ass day outside.”

“This is a very cool song!”

“It’s a super hot day outside.”

Ain’t

(depends on the context and the persona trying to be portrayed -- are you imitating a Black woman/person?)

In AAVE, ain’t can replace a lot more than just isn’t, are not, or am not.

Example: “I ain’t done that shit.” (Ain’t replaced didn’t)

About that, here for this/that

Support, enjoy, or any variation

Used when expressing immense joy or support

“I support ____’s work.”

“I really enjoy _____’s art.”

AF, af, as fuck

Super ___, really ____, extremely ____, so, beyond

Used for emphasis, similarly to “-ass”.

E.g., “I’m tired af right now.”

“I’m hungry as fuck right now.”

“I’m so tired right now.”

“I’m beyond hungry right now.”

Bae, boo

Other endearment terms, such as: babe, beb, sweetie, love, honey, etc.

Used as a term of endearment

“They are my beb!”

“I love my sweetie!”

Basic

Boring, unoriginal, bland

Often used as an insult, to describe how unoriginal or boring the other person is

“Your shirt’s as bland as a glass of unseasoned evaporated water.”

Bawdy

body

Tweet by @RMDavison

Be (habitual use, e.g. “They be killin’ it!”)

Is, are, am, are always, have been

“Wow, they are amazing.”

“Wow, you rocked!”

Been (“I been knew that!”)

Used to indicate knowledge/skills/whatever condition has existed for a long ass time.

Beat, beat your face, beat for the gods

Glammed up

Tweet by @RMDavison

Biiiiiitch

Tweet by @RMDavison

Boi, gurl, etc.

See 3. Gendered/Transantagonistic Terms

Tweet by @RMDavison

Bomb

Cool, great, other related variations

Used to emphasize something positively. E.g., “The food was bomb!”

“The music festival was so great!”

Boss

Cool, great, other related variations

Used to emphasize something positively

“The music festival was so great!”

Bruh

Friend, buddy, bud, etc.

See 3. Gendered/Transantagonistic Terms

Used to refer to someone (usually a friend), often regardless of gender, but is androcentric

Bruh refers to a situation almost more than a person. When something wild happens, we'll say 'bruh,' more to ourselves than to another person.

Catch these hands

Fight me

Used to threaten someone, sometimes playfully or seriously

Chill (E.g., “Got no chill!”)

Can’t relax

“Got no chill” is used to refer to someone who cannot calm down or relax, or is overreacting

No chill more often has a similar definition to extra, or refers to someone with no filter or generally low inhibitions

“This person can’t seem to calm down…”

Coins

Tweet by @RMDavison

Come for (someone)

Attack, judge, criticize

Tweet by @RMDavison

“Don’t attack me but…”

Cool*

*Okay to use, but...

… acknowledge that it has its roots in AAVE

Cop (E.g., “Let me cop that!”)

Get, buy

Used to say that you got or bought something

“I need to know where to buy this!”

Cray cray

See 2. Ableist Language - Cr*zy

Cunty

Tweet by @RMDavison

Def

Great, totally, awesome, excellent, super, definitely

Dig, dig it, ya dig, you dig, you feel, you feel me

You know? You get it? You understand?

Dip

Leave

Used to refer to when people are leaving an area or situation

“____ and I were planning on leaving after the food was served.”

Dope

Cool, great, other related variations

Used to emphasize something positively

“The music festival was so great!”

Drag, dragging, get dragged, etc.

Told off, call or called out

Used to criticize others extensively for something problematic that they did

“This person needs to be called out for their use of ableist language.”

Extra

Excessive, too much, over the top, trying too hard

Often used negatively, to describe someone who is doing too much to be accepted or liked.

Also playfully, especially to describe how someone dresses e.g. shorthand for “that is completely excessive and I love everything about it”.

“Their wardrobe was kind of excessive.”

“They’re trying too hard to be cool.”

Fam

Folks, friends, family, loved ones

Often used to refer to a group in an endearing manner

“Hey folks.”

Feeling some type of way

Makes me feel, or any variation of that phrase

Used to emphasize a feeling that someone has

“This makes me feel so happy!”

“This has me feeling extremely sad.”

“This feels strange.”

Fierce

Notably excellent, superior quality

Used as a compliment, often in appearance

Also Tweet by @RMDavison

“You look amazing!”

“She looks fantastic!”

Finna

Trying to, about to

“I’m about to go to a party tonight.”

Fo sho, fo real

Absolutely, I agree, of course, you’re welcome, not a problem

Fuckboy, fuckboi, fuccboi, etc.

Asshole, douchebag

Used to describe a specific kind of guy who is often creepy, predatory, or annoying

“He was being a really creepy asshole.”

Gag, gagged (to mean amazed or taken aback)

Tweet by @RMDavison

Giving me life, giving me all, giving you (a look/mood/aesthetic)

I am inspired by this, I am moved by this, I feel validated

Often used to refer to something positively, usually as inspiring

Tweet by @RMDavison

“This TV show moves me.”

“I love this musical.”

Go off, but go off

But ok, go ahead, i guess, cool

Tweet by @RMDavison

“That’s not how it works at all but ok”

The gawds, beat for the gods/gawds

Tweet by @RMDavison

Have several seats

Mind your own business; don’t get involved

Tweet by @RMDavison

Hella

Very, really, extremely, or any

other variant

“They’re a really cool person.”

Homies, squad

Friends, group of friends

“I’m going to hang out with my friends tomorrow.”

-the house, the house down boots, etc

Tweet reply by @tiwadidthat

Hunty

Tweet by @RMDavison

Hype, get hyped

Excitement, or any related variation

“I’m so excited for the concert this weekend!”

“I’m so ready for the party tomorrow.”

I feel you

I relate, I relate to this, or other related phrases

“I can relate to you because I suffer from depression, too.”

Killin’ it

Outstanding, you’re amazing, or any related variation

“You’re doing great!”

Laid, laying your edges

Tweet by @RMDavison

“I brushed/gelled down my baby hairs”

Lit

Awesome, rad, wild, wonderful, adventurous, etc.

Lowkey, and other -key terms
(Variant one: How you really feel about something)

(Variant two: Subtle, small, quiet)

V1: Honestly, personally, truthfully, or other related variations

V2: Subtle, small, quiet

V1: “Honestly, it made me think of this.”

V1: “Personally, I don’t think that’s true.”

V2: “We’re having a small get-together.”

Mad

Really, extremely, unbelievably

“It’s really hot outside!”

Mean (e.g., That’s a mean beat!”)

Awesome, amazing, cool, nice, sweet

“That’s an awesome song!”

Petty

Spiteful, evil, bitter, flippant

Pressed

Stressed, under pressure

Tweet by @RMDavison

Ratchet

Messy, a mess, not put together

“Damn, you’re a mess today.”

Read (someone), reading

Roasted

To “read” someone is to point out their flaws and everything that’s wrong with them as if they’re a book

Also Tweet by @RMDavison

“My professor just roasted me for being late.”

Real (E.g., “The struggle is real.”)

Difficult, unpleasant, enduring, I’m having a difficult time

“Finals are kicking my ass, I’m having a difficult time.”

School, schooling

Educate, teach, show, remind

Schooling often means one-upping or telling someone off

“They were educating us about colonialism.”

“Let me remind you all of something very important.”

Serve, serving, serving up looks/aesthetics

Look good, or any related variation

Tweet by @RMDavison

“You look so good!”

“You look amazing!”

Shade (see “throwing shade”)

Shook

Shocked, rattled, caught off guard, in tears, dead, surprised, amazed, appalled

“Omg i’m dead”

Sickening

Amazing, beautiful, breathtaking

Tweet reply by @tiwadidthat

Side-eye (E.g., “I was side-eying them when they said that.”)

I rolled my eyes at them, skeptical, suspicious, did not fully believe or take seriously, etc.

“I couldn’t believe them when they said that.”

“I was skeptical about what they were doing.”

Sis

Friend, honey, babe, darling, sweetie

Tweet by @RMDavison

Slay

Perfected, dominated, honed, refined, made it their own

Tweet by @RMDavison

“Your makeup is perfect!”

“Your outfit looks so refined!”

Snatch,

looking snatched,

snatch someone’s wig/weave

Looking amazing, looking cute, looking hot, (also see “shook”)

Tweet by @RMDavison

“I’m looking hot today!”

Spillin’ tea

Gossip

Stan

Adore, are a fan of, obsessed with

Tweet by @RMDavison

Stank face

Disapproving look on your face, frown, looking upset

“They gave me a really big frown after I said something wrong.”

Stay woke, woke

Socially aware, critically conscious, or any related variation

“I appreciate ____’s work, I consider them to be very socially aware.”

Stay, steady (habitual use, e.g., “She stay working,” and “They steady working.”)

Is always, keeps

“She keeps working.”

“They’re always working.”

Straight up

Just, really

“The situation was  just fucked up.”

“It was really frustrating.”

Swag

See “Dope”.

Tea, T

The truth, the deal, etc

Tweet by @RMDavison

“Ok here’s the deal”

The struggle

The difficulty, the dangers, the situation, the conditions

Thirst, thirsty

Desperate

“They seem so desperate for attention, can’t they relax?”

Thot

See 4. Other Terms - Slut.

Throwing shade

Disrespect, insult, gossip

Tried it

Tweet by @RMDavison

Trip, be trippin’

Worry

Trippin often means actin a fool

“Don’t even worry about it.”

“They seem pretty distraught about it.”

Turn up, turnt

Excited, wild, so much fun

Werk

Tweet by @RMDavison

Wypipo, whypipo, YT(s), etc.

White people, or any variant in a different language

Wig (see “snatch”)

Tweet reply by @tiwadidthat

Y’all*
(depends on how it is performed--used in  way that seems like “acting Black”)

Everyone, you all, or any other variation

Yas, Yaaaaaas, etc.

Yes, yay, yeah!, wow!, omgggg

Tweet by @RMDavison


  1. Ableist Language

Ableist language harms people with disabilities.

Disabilities can be bodily/physical, mental, visible, invisible, etc.

> Please bear in mind that while neurodivergence and physical disability are under the same umbrella, you should only reclaim words that apply to your identity. For example, a bipolar person who is not deaf should still avoid the use of “tone-deaf,” just as a blind person who is neurotypical should still not use “cr*zy.”

Word/Phrase

Alternatives

Context

Examples

Autistic (as an insult or descriptor)

“Autistic screeching” memes, etc

**avoid altogether**

Bipolar
(as an insult or descriptor, e.g. “This weather is so bipolar!”)

Finicky, indecisive, mercurial, wishy-washy

Bipolar disorder is not something to make light of; it is often difficult to live with.

+ Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

“This weather is rather finicky today!”

“____ is so indecisive, they can’t seem to make up their mind.”

Blind
(as an insult or descriptor, e.g. “Blind to the facts”)

Unaware, uninformed, ignorant, oblivious

Negatively implies that people who are blind are inferior

+ Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

(Instead of “Blind to the facts”) “____ refuses to accept the facts.”

Cr*zy, ps*cho, mental, cray/cray cray (AAVE)

Absurd, wacky, weird, surprising, ridiculous, outrageous, wild

Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

“I can’t believe we’re in the same class again, that’s surprising!”

Deaf
(as an insult or descriptor of something, e.g. “Are you deaf? Hello?”)

Not listening, not paying attention

Negatively implies that people who are deaf are inferior

+ Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

“Are you listening at all?”

“Are you paying attention to what I am saying?”

Insane

Intense, amazing, unbelievable

Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

“That work-out was intense!”

“The way the soccer player scored was amazing!”

Insanely

Really, particularly, especially, extremely

Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

“That class was especially difficult!”

Lame
(as an insult or descriptor, e.g. “That evening was so lame.”)

Boring, disappointing, bummer, lousy, shitty, unfortunate, bad, not okay, awful

Negatively implies that physically disabled people are inferior

+ Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

“That movie was so boring. I can’t believe we sat through the whole thing.”

“This party is really disappointing. Why did we come out again?”

OCD
(as an insult or descriptor of something, e.g. “I’m so OCD about this!”)

Picky, particular, perfectionist

OCD is not something to make light of; it is often difficult to live with

+ Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

“I’m so picky about cleaning.”

“I’m such a perfectionist.”

 Person with autism / autistic person (Do not assume either way, please see the comments to the right).

Autistic person, [a]they’re autistic

Lydia X. Z. Brown, queer autistic activist: “I’m not a person with Asian-ness, I’m not a person with trans-ness, so why am I a person with autism?”

“They are autistic.”

“They are an autistic person.”

Schizo, schizoid
(as adjective for something surprising, absurd, bizarre)

Just don’t. This comes from confusing schizophrenia, schizoid personality, and various dissociative conditions and can be offensive to a person with any/all of them.

Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

St*pid, r*t*rded, d*mb, m*r*nic

Ridiculous, outrageous, silly

“Their arguments were lacking and ridiculous.”

Tone-deaf

Unaware, insensitive, ignorant

Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

“Pepsi’s advertisements were insensitive to the Black Lives Matter Movement.”

Triggered

“Triggered” memes

Offended, upset, gave you a difficult/hard time, bothered, annoyed, irritated

Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness

“That class gave me such a hard time.”

“Casual ableism bothers me.”

“Yikes” is a pretty good replacement too

Traumatized

(used illegitimately, like “that class traumatized me”)

(see “triggered”)

Illegitimate use stigmatizes mental illness


  1. Gendered and Trans-Antagonistic Language

GENDER IS NOT SEX

Please be aware of when you are conflating gender with sex. If you are talking about “women,” but you really only mean to refer to cis women OR uterus-possessing people, be mindful of that and use more specific language. Yes, the word “women” includes trans women and the word “men” includes trans men. Men can have vaginas and women can have penises and any gender can have any/no genitalia, because genitalia and sex characteristics are entirely separate from gender.

WHY NOT “TRANSPHOBIC”?  

We use the word “trans-antagonistic” here instead of “transphobic” because “transphobic” has ableist implications and is not being used correctly in common speech. People who offend, marginalize or hate trans people do not have a phobia of trans people, they are just being trans-antagonistic.

Another term available to use is “transmisic,” which uses the “misic/misia” suffix, which literally means “hate.” In this case, the words would be transmisia and transmisic. However, this type of term isn’t as well known, and some people critique the -misia suffix as being inaccessible, so we prefer to use the -antagonistic ending since it’s more widely understood and recognizable.

WHAT ARE PRONOUNS?  

Gender pronouns are words used to refer to someone in place of their name, like she/her, they/them, he/him, etc. In the sentence “She is walking to her class,” the words “she” and “her” are gender pronouns. Never assume someone’s pronouns when you first meet them. Assuming someone’s pronouns or gender based on their appearance reinforces harmful trans-antagonistic and gender binarist* social norms and oppressive dynamics. Familiarize yourself with the use of singular they/them pronouns (“their name is kevin” / “they have a job”), and use this as your default pronouns for anyone who has not told you otherwise. Ask for someone’s pronouns privately. Normalize giving your pronouns when introducing yourself, if you are comfortable.

* a “gender binarist” is someone who believes in and enforces the gender binary, a social construct that enforces the “2 genders” idea, which of course erases trans and non-binary people.

See this resource for more alternative terms.

Word/Phrase

Alternatives

Context

Examples

Bitch
(as an insult or inconvenience, e.g. “That assignment was a bitch!”)

A pain, inconveniencing, annoying, irritating, upsetting, etc.

“That assignment was a pain to do.”

Brother/sister
Bro/sis

(when the person uses gender neutral pronouns)

Sibling, sib

Tweet by @RMDavison

“My sibling is nonbinary!”

“Hey, sib! How’s it going?”

Guys, you guys, dude(s), ladies, girls, etc.

Everyone, folks, y’all (depends on tone/context--see AAVE), you all, everybody, friends, all, pals

“Hello, everyone!”

“Hey, friends!”

“What do you all suggest?”

He/him/his, she/her/hers
(in assuming one’s gender, or when the person uses gender neutral pronouns)

They/them/their/theirs

“I don’t know their gender.”

Husband/wife

Spouse, partner, significant other

L*dyboy

**avoid altogether**

Slur

Male/female

Man/woman

Man/woman

(when you are really referring to their genitals)

Person who possesses a penis/testicular system/penile system

Person with a penis/testicular system/penile system

Penis-having/possessing person

Person who possesses a vagina/uterus/uterine system

Person with a vagina/uterus/uterine system

Uterus-having/possessing person

Mom/dad, mama/papa, etc.

Parent, guardian

“My parent is non-binary!”

Shem*le

(or generally any term that combines “male” and “female”)

**avoid altogether**

Slur

Son/daughter

Child, kid, baby, infant, kiddo

“My kid just joined band!”

Tr*nny

**avoid altogether**

Slur

Transgendered

Transgender, trans

Don’t use the past tense. Transness is not something done to you.

“My friend is trans”

“They are a transgender student”

Transsexual

Note: some people prefer this term

(see transgendered)

Note:

In general, if a trans person prefers one of these words be used for them, then by all means use them. But otherwise don’t!

        

See this link for more gendered/transantagonistic terms to avoid.


  1. Other Terms

Word/Phrase

Alternatives

Context

Examples

Ancient, decrepit, senile, etc (to refer to an older person)

**avoid altogether**

Ageist

G*psy (and g*p)

Romani, Romani person

Slur

“She is Romani”

Illegal, illegal alien

Undocumented, undocumented person

No person is illegal.

“Don’t mention that someone is undocumented unless they specifically say it’s ok”

Prostitute, whore, slut

Sex worker

Terms like these stigmatize sex workers and justify violence directed at sex workers

However, many sex workers have reclaimed these terms and use them to describe themselves.

“_____ performs sexual favors in exchange for money. ____ is a sex worker.”

Stalking

Lurking, browsing, following, going through/went through (someone’s profile/stuff)

Being stalked can be a very traumatizing experience

“I was going through ____’s profile and saw this one post…”

“I was browsing ____’s website and…”

Sucks

Boring, disappointing, unfortunate, bad, not okay, awful

Term has roots in homoantagonism and rape culture

”I’m sorry that you went through that, that’s very unfortunate.”

Somalian, Somalians

Somali, Somalis

Nb (to refer to a non-binary person)

Enby, non-binary person

(some non-binary people also find “enby” infantilizing or otherwise don’t prefer it, so make sure they’re ok with this term)

Nb means non-Black

Tweet by @SoyEsperanz

“She’s an enby!”

“They’re a non-binary person!”

Poly (to refer to a polyamorous, polyromantic, or polysexual person)

Polya, polyam, polyamorous person

Poly already means Polynesian

Tweet by @nonbinarymoon 

[a]Yo I have autism AND I work at Metro Parks, so I've gone through disability trainings and worked with lots of autistic people. People are usually trained to use person-first language with autism because it's historically been the preference with a lot of physical disabilities and mental illnesses. Which is a preference that exists because historical tendencies towards people, and especially the law, to see 'conditions' and not people at all. So at work, I've seen a lot of people, children especially, get anxious when someone they aren't super familiar with uses autism-first language because many people (again, children especially) have been exposed to a lot of environments where other people try to let the autistic label own them, instead of viewing it as just a part of them. So for this one I would actually say to completely defer to individuals on their preference. Don't assume one way or the other and always ask/look for what they say. Either can be problematic/anxiety causing depending on context.