New UN Language Code Uses Slave-Era Word, Some People Must Be Referred to As 'Owners'


The best-laid plans of mice, men and international organizations oft go awry.

When it comes to mice and men, it’s pretty easy to spot how this happens. Mice get caught in mousetraps, for instance. Men set those mousetraps and then end up stepping on them and going to the emergency room with a broken toe. International organizations, however, generally don’t set mousetraps, so it’s a bit more difficult to spot the awry-ness.

Thankfully, we have the United Nations, so it’s not too difficult. After all, China just got selected for a place on the United Nations Human Rights Council, something that must have come as an unpleasant surprise to the people of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.

On a less serious note, however, we have the U.N.’s attempts to shape language to make it seem more gender-neutral. In doing so, the organization remade the perfectly acceptable term “landlord” into a slave-era colonialist term that absolutely no one with half a brain should have been happy with.

The occasion was a push by the global body to get the world to use “gender-neutral” language.

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“What you say matters. Help create a more equal world by using gender-neutral language if you’re unsure about someone’s gender or are referring to a group,” the Monday tweet read.

This sort of piffle is usually good for a laugh while changing absolutely nothing, so I was game to take a look.

However, the short primer on U.N. Newspeak went from hilarious piffle to relatively offensive piffle in a hurry.

You can probably guess a few of the terms without even looking at the list. “Mankind” is now “humankind.” “Policeman” is now “police officer.” “Fireman” is now “firefighter.

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Some of them are predictably clunky. “Maiden name” is now “family name” — which is actually something completely different, but whatever. “Businessman” is now “representative,” an interesting choice, considering no less than three thesauruses that I consulted — both in book form and online — didn’t even list that as a potential synonym.

And then there’s the one that stood out. See if you can guess what most people were aghast over:

A “landlord” is apparently an “owner.” Interesting.

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As Fox News pointed out, “owner” is “a term that has its own problematic connotations related to slavery and cannot typically be swapped for the former term without dramatically changing the meaning. (‘This is Bob. Bob is my owner.’)”

There is that, of course. Beyond the slavery issue, the two words don’t mean the same thing. I’m the owner of the MacBook I’m typing this on. I don’t rent it out to people who live in it. Almost everything that’s owned, in fact, isn’t rented out in such a fashion. That’s what makes this such a poor linguistic substitute

Beyond that, however, is the distinctly troubling slavery aspect, something that’s been brought about because the word “lord” apparently has sexist connotations to it.

Now, granted, nobody is under any compunction to use any of this garbage language. On the other hand, this is the United Nations, the world’s most powerful organization that technically has no real power.

If you don’t believe me, consider the World Health Organization, organized under the aegis of the United Nations. Look at how it’s conducted itself over the past few months and ask yourself whether or not you can espy the same organizing principle at play there.

That’s perhaps what’s most troubling here: This was tweeted out May 18, as the entire world remains paralyzed by a pandemic. What is the United Nations concerned about? Not using sexist language regarding your landlord. Sorry, your owner. Sounds so much better, doesn’t it?

This is what the United Nations is concerned about — controlling your language. In a world where the innocent are executed for their race, their creed, their tribe or inconsequential personal decisions they make with their lives, this is what a group of bureaucrats in some office somewhere upon this globe thought was worth spending time on.

One hopes there isn’t a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic around Christmastime. I don’t particularly want to hear the tin-eared talk about how we should really be talking about 11 genderless owners a-leaping as more people are dying.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture