Should I Use the Adjective “Diverse”?

A flowchart illustrating whether or not a particular use of the word "diverse" is correct.
Full image description.

It has long been a pet peeve of mine that the word diverse is widely misused in the English language. Diverse is defined by Merriam-Webster (my favorite dictionary) as:

  1. differing from one another
  2. composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities

Unfortunately, diverse gets misused to refer to people or things that differ not from one another, but from what is considered to be mainstream, dominant, or the cultural norm.

Examples include:

  • racially diverse (or just diverse) being used to mean “people who are not white”
  • neurodiverse being used to mean “people who are not neurotypical”
  • gender diverse being used to mean “people whose genders defy cultural expectations”

If you follow this thinking to the root, it’s based on the idea that there is a neutral, majority, dominant way of being, and that diversity is the addition of non-normative elements to that supposedly “default” environment. This is a falsehood. The truth is that diversity is what humanity inherently contains—we all differ from one another.

The idea that there is such a thing as “normal” or “neutral” is a lie. Not only does it uphold certain identities and experiences as best by virtue of their normalcy and marginalize other ways of being, it also sends the message that there is a universal, singular experience of all of the things that are considered “normal”: a universal white experience, a universal straight experience, a universal able-bodied experience, and so on. This is also a harmful untruth.

So it may seem like a small act to use the word diverse in a manner that is true to its dictionary definition, but it’s a small act with big ripple effects when you refuse to buy into a system that teaches us what “normal” is and then defines everything else as Other. Diverse is not Other. Diverse describes the collective beauty of humanity.


What’s your take on diverse? Comment below! Want to ask a radical copyeditor something? Contact me!

*Notes: A version of this flowchart and accompanying text was originally published in 2013 at Roots Grow the Tree. Many thanks to Alice Sofiasdiakonos for the great link about neurodiversity terms.

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8 thoughts on “Should I Use the Adjective “Diverse”?

    1. That’s exactly right. A diverse group is one that is varied, not one that is non-normative. So a racially diverse group includes folks of many different races, a neurodiverse group includes people whose brains work in many different ways, and a gender diverse group includes people of many different gender identities/expressions. The key with “diverse” is to use it to describe people or things that vary from one another, not from what society considers “normal.”

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  1. Also, quit using it as an adjective to describe singular nouns, as in “a diverse person”! Using it both oppressively and nonsensically at the same time drives me batty. You can’t make it any more obvious that you don’t know the meaning of the word and are using it to mean “not white” when use use it to describe a singular noun.

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