This term is widely considered to be
This term is generally agreed to be offensive toward a person or group of people. We strongly recommend you do not use this term and instead use a term not usually thought to be offensive. While it is possible that some people will not be offended by this term, just as some people will be offended by other terms when no harm is intended, it is best to avoid. Remember that what is considered offensive can also change over time, by scenario, and by relationship. We provide this library of terms for informational purposes and we welcome feedback to help us get it right.


Derogatory term for a person who doesn't use verbal speech, often referring to people who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have speech disabilities.


This word is believed to have been used in a number of different ways historically, with meanings associated with "silence" for 800 years or longer.

By the 14th century, the term was being used to describe a "person who does not speak," according to Etymonline.

The associations of identifying individuals as silent makes this term offensive due to both inaccuracy and the implications of being without a voice.

The National Association of the Deaf provides this clarification in the context of the term "deaf-mute":

This label is technically inaccurate, since deaf and hard of hearing people generally have functioning vocal chords. The challenge lies with the fact that to successfully modulate your voice, you generally need to be able to hear your own voice. Again, because deaf and hard of hearing people use various methods of communication other than or in addition to using their voices, they are not truly mute. True communication occurs when one’s message is understood by others, and they can respond in kind.


If referring to a person's medical condition of hearing loss, you might opt for "deaf" or "hard of hearing." If referring to a person's inability to produce oral speech or to produce oral speech that is easily understood by others, state that specifically, or you might opt for "speech disability." You might also specifically refer to the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).