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Ask the expert: Brainstorming – offensive or not?


Question markDo we really need to refer to a session where we're kicking around ideas as a 'thought shower'? Isn't that over sensitive and just too PC? What do the experts advise?

Earlier this year Adrian Frederick asked on our Any Answers forum: Is the word 'brainstorm' now considered to be an offensive word? And should one replace references of this word with 'thought shower'?

It's not a new question on - back in 2004 the question was troubling Paul Brookes who asked: What is the situation with using the term 'brainstorm'? I've heard conflicting opinions on whether it is a politically correct term to use whilst in the classroom. Can anyone help?

More recently the term thought shower (instead of brainstorming) has turned up in the BBC's list of annoying management speak.

So what's the expert advice - is brainstorming offensive or not?

Janet Basdell of Plain Words advises:

"This question has come up once on twice during our training courses when we are discussing mind maps. The general feeling is that it is not considered acceptable in the more politically correct circles. Substitutes that people have used include 'word storming' or 'ideas storming'.

"The reason it's apparently unacceptable is that it's considered offensive to epileptics. Although, according to an epileptic that I know, he is not concerned by the word 'brainstorming' and he feels that it's not necessarily appropriate for somebody somewhere to make assumptions on behalf of all epileptics. However, people ought to consider the environment in which they are working, and that some environments are more sensitive than others."

This is confirmed by both Epilepsy Action and the National Society for Epilepsy:

According to Epilepsy Action:

"We are often asked about the word 'brainstorming' and whether its use is acceptable. Our view is that it depends upon the context: if the word is being used to describe a meeting where participants are suggesting ideas, then its use is not offensive to people with epilepsy. However, it should not be used to describe a seizure or the electrical activity within the brain during a seizure."

Amanda Cleaver, the communications manager at the National Society for Epilepsy (NSE) goes one step further and says brainstorming is just not offensive to epileptics:

"We carried out a survey among our associate membership ( which consists of people with epilepsy, their carers and medical professionals) and among our 150 residents who have severe epilepsy and learning or physical disabilities the consensus was that brainstorming was not offensive to people with epilepsy and in fact is a term we use frequently at NSE!"

So now you know - it's fine to use the term brainstorming for a meeting where you are debating ideas - and we at can't see thought showers, or other alternatives catching on.


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