The New York Times may bar its writers from using the term “illegals”
The world’s most influential newspaper may be adding the term “illegals” to its list of words not to use. (Flickr: orangeblob)
Motivated by reader responses to a column by former executive editor Bill Keller, it seems The New York Times may soon be updating its style book to caution writers against using the term “illegals” to describe individuals who are in the United States illegally.
Keller wrote in his blog on Tuesday that he consulted Phil B. Corbett, the newspaper’s standards editor, for guidance on how to answer the numerous objections he received for using the term freely in his column. Corbett replied that he believes the term, used routinely by anti-immigration groups, has “an unnecessarily pejorative tone” and that “it’s wise to steer clear.”
“It might be worth cautioning against ‘illegals’ in the style book entry, though if I do that, I will wait for a decent interval – otherwise some suspicious observer will assume the change is aimed at you,” Corbett continued.
In his column, Keller spelled out some of the issues surrounding the national debate on immigration. He also praised Newt Gingrich, the current front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination who recently proposed changes to the country’s immigration system, for introducing substance to a conversation that had been marked by attacks and an unwillingness to talk about anything beyond securing the border.
Some readers were offended by his use of “illegal” as a noun rather than an adjective, or at least found it distracting.
“Shortening ‘illegal immigrants’ to ‘illegals’ reduces human beings to a status label, and a morally loaded one at that,” one reader wrote.
“This is a made-up word with an agenda, which is why I had a difficult time reading your otherwise informative piece,” wrote another.
Keller mentions that he did not consider using the term as shorthand more reductive than using “illegal immigrants,” which he thinks is accurate and is the publication’s preferred term. He does agree that it is bad practice to use terminology that distracts readers from an article’s substance and says that he will “resist that particular shorthand in the future.”
The newspaper’s style book currently asks writers not to use “illegal alien” or “undocumented.” Whether “illegals” will be added to that list remains to be seen.