November 8th, 2018 – April showers bring may flowers, but what do brainstorm sessions bring? Organizations in the UK have the answer: offended reactions. Cities in both England and Ireland have banned the word “brainstorming” from use at various government agencies, asking their employees instead to use the term “thought showers.”
Back in 2005, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in Belfast made the change after determining that the word could be offensive to people with epilepsy or other brain injuries.
“The DETI does not use the term brainstorming on its training courses on the grounds that it may be deemed pejorative,” a spokesperson said at the time.
The dictionary defines “brainstorm” as “a spontaneous group discussion to produce ideas and ways of solving problems.” John Wild, spokesperson for the Campaign for Plain English, believes that everyone understands that meaning and that making employees use a different word “reached the point of real ridicule.”
“You do sometimes wonder if some people haven’t got anything better to do with their time,” he told The Guardian. “Do they just sit down and search out enough words until eventually they can say, ‘I can make that out to be politically incorrect’? Of course there are certain terms that should be deemed out of bounds but then sometimes things go too far.”
Things went too far, in Wild’s eyes, again in 2008 when the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council in Kent re-thought its thinking terms. Members of the council also thought “brainstorming” would be offensive to those who have epilepsy, as well as those who live with mental illnesses. Staff were put through training seminars and told to use “thought showers” when they felt the urge to generate ideas.
The point of ridicule returned as representatives for epilepsy organizations and mental health charities even said this was a case of political correctness taken to the extreme.
“Brainstorming is a clear and descriptive phrase. Alternatives such as thought shower or blue-sky thinking are ambiguous to say the least,” National Society for Epilepsy member Margaret Thomas said. “Any implication that the word brainstorming is offensive to epileptics takes political correctness too far.”
Richard Colwill, who works with the mental health charity SANE agreed saying:
“This ban goes too far. Few would be genuinely offended by the word brainstorming in the context of council meetings.”
The council stood by its decision emphasizing their commitment to diversity awareness. They aren’t alone in singling out words and training staff to use alternatives either. The Welsh Development Agency, which works to promote local businesses, began compiling a list of problematic words in 2004. They held seminars on ways to be more politically correct, which included the banned words list. Alongside “brainstorming” were “nit-picking” and “manila,” due to their roots in slave trade.
In 2009, the Local Government Association in England released a list of 200 words that shouldn’t be used by councils. The list included “autonomous,” “bottom-up,” “holistic governance,” as well as the phrases “thinking outside of the box” and “level playing field.” According to the chairman, this list was meant to force people to not hide behind jargon and cliche phrases.
Do you think using “thought showers” instead of “brainstorming” is taking political correctness too far?