Letter from the editor: The words we use

At The Gazelle, we believe language is powerful. Although we strive for balance and objectivity in our reporting, there are inevitably choices to make ...

Nov 23, 2013

At The Gazelle, we believe language is powerful. Although we strive for balance and objectivity in our reporting, there are inevitably choices to make regarding the kind of language we use.
After much deliberation, a group of our staff and contributing writers voted this past Monday on two contentious style issues, ultimately deciding to label the body of water to the north of the UAE as the Arabian Gulf and to refer to people, things and ideas from the United States as U.S. American.
The decision to refer to the body of water in question as the Arabian Gulf, instead of the Persian Gulf, was determined by our mission to respect the language used in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. The different names are a part of a debate that extends back to the 1960s, and the dispute has resulted in cancelled sporting events and the banning of publications in Iran. Many organizations, including the United Nations and the AP Stylebook, continue to use “Persian Gulf.” However, our choice to diverge from this convention stems from two main principles: first, we feel it is necessary to recognize the ancient and continuous history of Arab communities around this body of water; second, we have decided that this choice furthers our stated mission to situate ourselves as a publication based in the UAE.
The choice to use U.S. American to describe people, ideas and things from the United States is another point of contention. While the term American is widely used, for many others this usage ignores the presence of other countries and people of the Americas. As our Opinion editor Andres Rodriguez noted in an Aug. 31 article, “[limiting the term to the United States] is to imply that one country’s identity is more important than the identities of 54 others.” Ours is a controversial decision given the pervasive use of "American." Yet we believe that adding the U.S. modifier not only acknowledges the diversity of the Americas but also specifies the United States and removes potential ambiguity.
These changes, however, come with a caveat of flexibility. We tell writers interested in contributing to the Opinion section that, so long as they have a clear, well-argued idea to raise that conforms to our Code of Ethics, we would love to publish their views. Inevitably, certain articles submitted to our Opinion section will require particular language, which we acknowledge might conflict with The Gazelle’s stylistic choices. In the event that The Gazelle’s stylebook and the author’s voice deviate from each other, we have decided to defer to the author’s voice. Because we believe in the power of language, and because our language situates us within our context and carries our ideas, we acknowledge that there will be times when writers’ word choice is integral to their voice. We believe that, so long as the original language is clear and understandable, it is the best way to convey the author’s opinion.
Although they may seem minimal to some, these changes in our stylebook are the results of weeks of reflection and discussion. The words we have chosen are deliberate and, we believe, impactful. In many ways, they defy some conventions in phrasing and definition. But given the choice to stray, we hope to provoke thought or reflection on the subtle underpinnings of the everyday language that we use.
But tell us what you think. Join the conversation with a comment, opinion or any other response. We’d love to hear your words.
Alistair Blacklock  is editor-in-chief. Email him at
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