English is a living language; it changes slowly but constantly. Old words take new meanings, new words replace old, and sometimes old uses resurface in new contexts. Also, sometimes there are emoji.
We gather together here from across the earth, bringing with us myriad notions of language and meaning. Our purpose is to share knowledge with one another; language can both facilitate this and get in the way. The English of one is not always the English of another.
Our Code of Conduct states,
We don’t tolerate any language likely to offend or alienate people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion — and those are just a few examples. When in doubt, just don’t.
In other words: if we know the recipient of our message will likely be offended by what we write, then we know not to write it. If we're unsure, we should still not write. But how can we be sure?
We each know of some language that is almost guaranteed to offend. But many things are offensive to those of one particular culture or background and yet innocuous to others. It is natural then to wonder how we can ever hope not to offend... And, per that Code, we should thus never write at all, preferring to remain idle, locked in a prison of our own doubt.
Years ago, one of my colleagues wrote some useful advice on unlocking this prison:
one of the most important things is that language is not something you bring to the table yourself, but it's something you share with your audience
Every post, every sentence, is a stab into the dark, an effort to communicate without knowing how what we write will be understood. To communicate successfully then, we must do more than just write - we must also be willing to listen!
If we're writing for an unknown audience - say, posting a PHP question on Stack Overflow - then we should read other PHP posts first, to see how those authors prefer to communicate. They may not represent our actual audience, but they show us how others have been successful in what we are about to attempt.
If we're writing for a known audience - say, a reply to a comment - then we should pay attention to how that author prefers to communicate.
And if such an author expresses discomfort with something we say, or the way in which we say it... Then we should adjust how we write for them going forward.
Surely we can apply these guides to anything, from pronouns to cuss words!
If each of us can do this, then we can get along, work together, and enjoy the benefits of each others' knowledge... Even as the language which is the foundation of our work continues to change beneath our feet.
There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.