Is the word 'minority' offensive? While in academic writing, it's very common to specify the special group with less number of people with the term, is it considered offensive especially in the US, Australia and the UK? I'm more concerned about the term being spoken in routine/day-to-day conversation.

This is about the culture as I'm not sure how native speakers take this, by chance, I speak this in front of them (quite similar to 'ma'm' which I never thought to be an offensive remark).

This question hails from this very good question.

  • I can't represent the whole of Australia but I would say minority isn't offensive here. – CipherBot Sep 2 '15 at 7:36
  • On a different note, I believe that in some occasions, we need to be even more careful with the word special than minority. In any case, I don't think that, in spoken English, the word itself is offensive, but the intent or the way it's delivered can be. – Damkerng T. Sep 2 '15 at 8:10
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    I think there's nothing wrong or offensive in using it, as long as the context needs something factual, like in a pie graph, where the minority can be determined. And I think it is more of a euphemism, when used in proper context. (I noticed that journalists tend to use the word, instead of using biased terms) – shin Sep 2 '15 at 9:46
  • As one comment in that "other good question" stated, you wouldn't want to call someone a "minority" to his face; you would need yo use the appropriate specific-but-not-offensive word for that person's race/ethnicity. When refferring to entire groups of minorities, it's fine. (note that a combination of minorities could constitute a plurality, if there is not one racial group that constitutes a majority. – Brian Hitchcock Sep 2 '15 at 11:15
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    Some areas of the US, and especially certain parts of some US cities, have already reached this point. Then the word "minority" starts to lose its value. I have heard such areas called "majority minority". This is understood to mean that white people do not constitute the majority. – Brian Hitchcock Sep 2 '15 at 11:16

I'll use the USA as context for the answer. As this is a volatile period of time for what was traditionally considered "minority" (homosexuals, transgenders) and in light of recent race tensions resulting from police-involved shootings, the definition of this word and the feelings surrounding it may change rapidly.

Statistical and anthropological arguments can be made against the use of "minority" as a descriptive word. Traditionally it has been used to describe "non-whites" in this country. However, is that still the case considering the high volume of "non-white" people in the country now? Furthermore, the use of race terms (white, black, Asian, Hispanic) is quickly becoming considered in anthropological academic circles to be arbitrary (is someone from Egypt black? What about native Haitians? How far north in China do you have to go before you are no longer surrounded by an "Asian" populace? Are Indians "Asians?")

In short, as with many controversial words, "minority" is as offensive as you desire it to be based on the context you are using it in. Typically I would say no, it is not offensive, and is probably your best choice of word to use when referring to non-members of whatever homogeneous culture/race/etc which you are discussing. Today, it will be important to define what exactly "minority" is, especially if you are charting data, as in the USA this is no longer immediately clear.

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