Multicultural Resources

Appendix E - Glossary

Acculturation: The process of adapting to another culture. To acquire the majority group’s culture.

Alien: Every person applying for entry to the United States. Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen

Allopathic: Health beliefs and practices that are derived from current scientific models and involve the use of technology and other modalities of present-day healthcare, such as immunization, proper nutrition, and resuscitation.

Alternative health system: a system of healthcare a person may use that is not predicated within their traditional culture, but is not allopathic.

Assimilation: To become absorbed into another culture and to adapt its characteristics. To develop a new cultural identity.

Care: Factors that assist, enable, support, or facilitate a person’s needs to maintain, improve or ease a health problem.

Culture: Non-physical traits, such as values, beliefs, attitudes, and customs that are shared by a group of people and passed from one generation to the next. A meta-communication system.

Culture shock: Disorder that occurs in response to transition from one cultural setting to another. Former behavior patterns are ineffective in such a setting and basic cues for social behavior are absent.

Demography: The statistical study of populations, including statistical counts of people of various ages, sexes, and population densities for specific areas.

Disadvantaged background: Both educational and economic factors that act as barriers to an individual’s participation in health profession programs.

Discrimination: Denying people equal opportunity by acting on a prejudice.

Emerging majority: People of color-blacks, Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Eskimos, or Aleuts; and Hispanics-who are expected to constitute a majority of the American population by the year 2020.

Ethnicity: Cultural group’s sense of identification associated with the group’s common social and cultural heritage.

Ethnocentrism: Tendency of members of one cultural group to view the members of other cultural groups in terms of the standards of behavior, attitudes, and values of their own group. The belief that one’s cultural, ethnic, professional, or social group is superior to that of others.

Ethnomedicine: Health beliefs and practices of indigenous cultural development which are not practiced in many of the tenants of modern medicine.

Faith: Strong beliefs in a religious or other spiritual philosophy.

Folklore: Body of preserved traditions, usually oral, consisting of beliefs, stories, and associated information of people.

Healing: Holistic or three-dimensional phenomenon that results in the restoration of balance or harmony, to the body, mind, and spirit; or between the person and the environment.

Health: A state of balance between the body, mind, and spirit.

Heritage consistency: Observance of the beliefs and practices of one’s traditional cultural belief system.

Heritage inconsistency: Observance of the beliefs and practices of one’s acculturated belief system.

Homeopathic: Health beliefs and practices derived from traditional cultural knowledge to maintain health prevent changes in health status and restore health.

Homeopathy: System of medicine based on the belief that a disease can be cured by minute doses of a substance that, if given to a healthy person in large doses, would produce the same symptoms that the person being treated is experiencing.

Illness: State of imbalance among the body, mind, and spirit; a sense of disharmony both within the person and with the environment.

Immigrant: Alien entering the United States for permanent (or temporary) residence.

Indigenous: People native to an area.

Medically underserved community: Urban or rural population group that lacked or lacks adequate health care services.

Melting pot: The social blending of cultures.

Metacommunication system: Large system of communication that includes both verbal language and nonverbal signs and symbols.

Modern: Present-day health and illness beliefs and practices of the providers with the American or Western health-care delivery system.

Multicultural nursing: Pluralistic approach to understanding relationships between two or more cultures in order to create a nursing practice framework for broadening nurses’ understanding of health-related beliefs, practices, and issues that are part of the experiences of people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Natural folk-medicine: Use of natural environment as well as herbs, plants, minerals, and animal substances to prevent and treat illness.

Nonimmigrant: People who are allowed to enter the country temporarily under certain conditions, such as crewmen, students, and temporary workers.

Pluralistic society: A society comprising people of numerous ethnocultural backgrounds.

Prejudice: Negative beliefs or preferences that are generalized about a group that may lead to “prejudgment.”

Racism: The belief that members of one race are superior to those of other races.

Rational folk medicine: Use of the natural environment and use of herbs, plants, minerals, and animal substances to prevent and treat illness.

Raza-Latina: A popular term used as a reference group name for people of Latin American descent.

Religion: Belief in a divine or superhuman power or powers to be obeyed and worshiped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe.

Resident alien: A lawfully admitted alien.

Restoration: Process used by a given person to return to health.

Sexism: Belief that members of one sex are superior to those of the other sex.

Social organization: Patterns of cultural behavior related to life events, such as birth, death, child rearing, and health and illness, that are followed within a given social group.

Socialization: Process of being raised within a culture and acquiring the characteristics of the given group.

Spirit: The non-corporeal and non-mental dimension of a person that is the source of meaning and unity. The source of the experience of spirituality and every religion.

Spiritual: Ideas, attitudes, concepts, beliefs, and behaviors that are the result of the person’s experience of the spirit.

Spirituality: The experience of meaning and unity.

Stereotype: Notion that all people from a given group are the same.

Superstition: Belief that performing an action, wearing a charm or amulet, or eating something will have an influence on life events. These beliefs are upheld by magic and faith.

Taboo: A culture-bound ban that excludes certain behaviors from common use.

Time: Duration, interval of time; also instances, or points in time.

Traditional: Ancient, enthnocultural-religious beliefs and practices that have been handed down through the generations.

Traditional epidemiology: Belief in agents-other than those of scientific nature, causing disease.

Undocumented alien: Person of foreign origin who has entered the country unlawfully by bypassing inspection or who has overstayed the original terms of admission.

Xenophobia: Morbid fear of strangers.

The above glossary is taken from:
Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness, 4th edition, (1996) by R.E. Spector, pages 357-363 “Selected Key Terms Related to Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list and, since the modern English language is often changing, these definitions are subject to change. Many GLBTQA folks identify themselves in a variety of different ways, or choose not to identify themselves at all. If you have questions about terminology, please feel free to contact the Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity and we they will do there best to help or find additional information.

Some Useful Definitions:

GLBTQ: These letters are used as shorthand for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and allied community. “I” for intersex and “A” for ally are often included in this “alphabet soup.” A program dedicated to addressing the needs of this population is called Safe Zones.

Gay: The word gay is generally used to describe men who are romantically and sexually attracted to other men. It is sometimes used to refer to the general GLBTQ community, but most often refers to just gay men. There are many other terms used to refer to gay men, but much of the time they are derogatory, offensive, and often painful and should not be used (i.e. fag, etc.).

Lesbian: The word lesbian is generally used to describe women who are romantically and sexually attracted to other women. This term originated with the female poet Sappho who lived in a community comprised predominantly of women on the Isle of Lesbos in ancient Greece. There are many other terms used to describe lesbians, but much of the time they are derogatory, offensive, and often painful and should not be used (i.e. dyke, etc.).

Bisexual: The term bisexual is generally used to describe people who are romantically and /or sexually attracted to people of more than one sex or gender.

Sex & Gender: It is easy to confuse these two concepts and terms; however, they are different. Sex refers to the biological sex of a person. Gender refers to their societal appearance, mannerisms, and roles.

Transgender: The word transgender is an umbrella term used to refer to people who transcend the traditional concept of gender. Many feel as though they are neither a man nor a woman specifically, and many feel as though their biological sex (male, female, etc.) and their socialized gender (man, woman, etc.) don’t match up. Some opt to change/reassign their sex through hormones and /or surgery and some change their outward appearance, or gender expression, through clothing, hairstyles, mannerisms, etc. Many people who identify as transgender feel as though they are confined in a binary system (male-female, man-woman) that does not match who they feel themselves to be. If we look at gender as a continuum and not an “either/or” concept, we have a better idea of understanding this issue.

Transvestite: More appropriately referred to as “cross-dressing,” the term transvestite most often refers to males who dress in the clothing of women. The term drag usually refers to dressing in the clothing and styles of another gender for entertainment purposes.

Transsexual: Transsexual is used to describe those individuals who use hormone therapy and/or surgery to alter their sex.

Intersex: The word intersex refers to people who, on a genetic level, are not male or female. They are individuals whose sex chromosomes are not xx or xy, or who are born with ambiguous genitalia (hermaphrodites). Surgery performed in infancy or childhood, without informed consent, leaves some of these individuals feeling incomplete or altered. For more information, please refer to the web site for the Intersex Society of North America.

Questioning: People who are in the process of questioning their sexual orientation are often in need of support and understanding during this stage of their identity. They are seeking information and guidance in their self-discovery.

Ally: An ally is an individual who is supportive of the GLBTQ community. They believe in the dignity and respect of all people, and are willing to stand up in that role.

Homosexual: The term heterosexual was created around the same time to describe individuals who are sexually attracted to the opposite sex/gender.
These words are still widely used, though they tend to perpetuate an “us versus them” mentality and a dichotomous sex/gender system.

Straight: The word straight is a slang word used to refer to the heterosexual members of our community.

Heterosexism and Homophobia: The term heterosexual refers to the assumption that all people are heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior and more desirable than homosexuality. “Homophobia” is defined as “the irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals”. Both of these are perpetuated by negative stereotypes and are dangerous to individuals and communities.
Genderism: The term genderism refers to the assumption that one’s gender identity or gender expression will conform to traditionally held stereotypes associated with one’s biological sex.

Sexual Orientation: Ones sexual orientation refers to whom he or she is sexually or romantically attracted to. Some people believe that this is a choice (a preference ) and others that it is innate (GLBT people are born this way).

Gender Identity: A person’s gender identity is the way in which they define and act on their gender. Gender Expression is how they express their gender.

Coming Out of the Closet: The coming out process is the process through which GLBTQ people disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity to others. It is a lifelong process. Coming out can be difficult for some because societal and community reactions vary from complete acceptance and support to disapproval, rejection, and violence. The Human Rights Campaign website has some good information and resources on coming out.

Queer: the term queer has a history of being used as a derogatory name for members of the GLBTQ (and Ally) community and those whose sexual orientation is perceived as such. Many people use this word in a positive way to refer to the community; they have reclaimed the term as their own. Not everyone believes this and sensitivity should be used when using or hearing it as there are still many negative connotations with its use.

Safe Zone: The Safe Zone is intended to visibly identify those individuals in the University community who are safe and supportive contacts (“allies”) for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students, faculty, and staff.

These definitions were assembled by Sarah Holmes (GLBTQA Resources Coordinator from 2000-2002) in Augusta 2000, revised by Andrew J. Shepard in November 2000, updated again by Sarah August 2002 and posted on the USM website,