Should we try to use gender neutral pronouns or just ‘man-up’ and stop being ‘snowflakes’? ELLA BEEBY explains their approach to the PC debate

Is political correctness taking language regulation ‘too far’? Or should we seriously try and regulate our language to include everyone?

Noam Chomsky described the debate of ‘Political Correctness’ (PC) as a “healthy expansion of moral concern” (Allan and Burridge 2006, p.90). Much like Chomsky, I agree that being PC shows that as a human you are trying to be more aware of including everyone equally in your speech. For example, a PC person would believe that ‘fireman’ is politically incorrect because it implies that only men can be someone who ‘fights fire’, so perhaps the gender neutral ‘firefighter’ is a more suitable option?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, being ‘politically correct’ involves avoiding words and phrases which purposefully exclude or marginalize groups of people. I have no problem seeing myself as being politically correct and adopting alternative language so as not to offend certain groups. With the struggles of my generation, for example the high rate of male suicide, LGBTQ+ discrimination and equal pay, I think that we all have become much more thoughtful about our linguistic choices. No one should want to purposefully exclude and offend people.

Language tends to belittle women because of their gender. ‘Fireman’, ‘spokesman’ and ‘chairman’ demonstrate this. Nowadays, as Berry (2016) suggests, “there is an increased awareness of gender and how we define it”.  Are we moving forward? Shockingly, according to Berry (2016), there are still 220 words to describe a ‘promiscuous’ woman in English, but only 20 for the male equivalent. Many television programmes and news shows have regulated their language to avoid using ‘loaded’ terms. However, does this mean we need to avoid using the term ‘female’, ‘woman’, ‘history’? It’s food for thought that there are shades of meaning and whilst some may take offence from these words, others may feel that there are  more important battles to fight.

Instead of being offended by words that have been in our dictionary for generations, why don’t we let them empower us? After all, a comma can change everything. If a comma can change everything then surely a whole word has even greater power? ‘Let’s eat grandma’ vs ‘let’s eat, grandma’?

AA Milne famously wrote, “[i]f the English language had been properly organised, there would be a word which meant both ‘he’ and ‘she’ ” (cited in Berry, 2016). Berry claims that ‘they’ is the singular pronoun which could outright solve sexism in the English language. According to her (them?), you literally only need these four letters to “stand against the prejudice embedded in the English language”.

Alongside this, Gray (2017) comments on the uproar created by Cardiff Metropolitan University which was accused of censorship over a ‘gender neutral’ language policy. They undertook what would be a PC language system, advising replacement of  words such as ‘right hand man’ with ‘chief assistant’, ‘waitress’ with ‘waiter’/’server’ and ‘forefathers’ with ‘ancestors’/’forebears’ in a move they described as a “crackdown on gendered language” (Gray, 2017). They threatened students with ‘disciplinary procedures’ if they failed to adhere to the university’s language policy. In their place, they offered an extensive list of gender-neutral terms which included 34 alternatives. This included using ‘same-sex’ and ‘other-sex’ instead of ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’. Dr Joanna Williams, “academic freedom expert and University of Kent lecturer”,  claimed that the ban was “unnecessary” (Gray, 2017) because the “words have evolved over a long period of time and they don’t have sexist associations”. She argues that this is not only an attack on free speech and the over-policing of language, but also puts too much pressure on students to regulate their language in an unnatural way.

Are we a ‘snowflake’ generation who need to ‘man up’?  (excuse the politically incorrect term….!)? Why have gendered terms become such a controversial topic recently? It was clearly something on Chaucer’s and Shakespeare’s minds. The singular pronoun ‘they’ was in fact first used to describe someone as early as 1386 in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales as well as in famous literature works like Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1599 (BBC News, 2019).

So can using ‘they’ instead of ‘he’/’she’ solve sexism? According to Berry (2016) the legendary romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge rejected ‘he’ as the generic pronoun at the start of the 19th Century “in order to avoid particularising man or women, or in order to express either sex indifferently”.

So, if ‘they’ could do it, why can’t we?

ELLA BEEBY, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Allan, K. & Burridge, K. (2006). Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

A brief history of gender neutral pronouns (2019, September 22). BBC News.

Berry, L. (2016, May 5). ‘They’: the singular pronoun that could solve sexism in English. The Guardian.

‘Politically correct’. Cambridge Dictionary.

Gray, J. (2017, 3 March). Cardiff Metropolitan University accused of censorship over ‘gender neutral’ language policy. Huffington Post.

Would ‘they’ be offended by that? JACK HARRISON-JONES explores the controversy that is political correctness (PC)… For the good of ‘humankind’.

Whether something is ‘politically correct’, is a question that pops up in all sorts of topics, such as gender, race and physical appearance. However, it is often surrounded with negative connotations. Is this term interfering too much in everyday aspects of our lives, or are we just politically incorrect dinosaurs?

Most people have heard of the male singer Sam Smith. Or is he male? A recent PC controversy surrounded Smith who requested to be referred to as ‘they’ or ‘them’ when someone is referring to ‘them’. Snapes (2019) cites Smith’s reasons behind identifying as non-binary (neither male nor female): “I hope you can see me like I see myself now.” Maybe this is what political correctness is about? Allowing others to feel comfortable when you address them and to be themselves. It is clear that Snapes was happy to do this as she refers to Smith as “they” in the article. In fact, Berry (2016) claims that using “they” may be a way of solving sexism and assumptions towards gender roles for good. So why do others have such a hard time doing this? It may be more than a linguistic issue.

Whether being politically correct is simply someone’s choice of language is debatable. Hughes (2010, p.4), points out that PC can have a significant effect on people’s thoughts, ideologies and behaviour. Not just language. This could be one of the reasons as to why many people are so defensive against PC. For example, McKinstry (2017) labels the enforcers of PC language as the “thought police”. McKinstry argues that PC is an attempt to control the way people think. His Daily Mail ‘A-Z’ article lists different examples of allegedly current politically incorrect words and ideas, such as ‘G is for Girls’ and ‘T is for Trigger’. McKinstry is a good example of  how, according to Allan & Burridge (2006), “speakers typically dislike being told to change their linguistic habits, which they see as an attempt to manipulate their thinking”.

A valid question to ask is ‘who actually has the power to enforce politically correct language’? Gray (2017), for instance, reports that Cardiff Metropolitan University have implemented 34 ‘gender neutral’ words which it recommends staff and students use as alternatives to more outdated ones. For instance, ‘firefighter’ replaces ‘fireman’, ‘waitress’ replaces ‘waiter’ and ‘mankind’ replaces ‘humankind’. According to Gray, the consequences for students not abiding by these rules could result in the University’s own disciplinary punishment. Clearly, the rules are an attempt to encourage gender equality throughout the university but this method may come across as almost dictatorial. Espinoza (2015) claims that “politically correct universities are killing free speech”. He goes on to criticise Cardiff University students who requested to ban feminist Germaine Greer from speaking there because of her controversial comments on transgender women. Oxford University are mentioned too for cancelling their abortion debate. Political correctness may be beginning to anger more people than please them.

Taub (2015) refers to a New York Magazine article by Jonathan Chait “about his concerns that political correctness threatens free debate by trying to silence certain points of view”. But Taub explains that such people may dismiss something as PC if they wish to “silence debates raised by marginalized people”. Taub argues that the name of ‘Washington Redskins’ is “racist  and hurtful to Native Americans and should be changed”. However, rather than come up with a coherent argument, opponents of that view would refer to her opinion as “PC on overdrive”, and therefore argues that labelling something as too politically correct is just a way for people to avoid dealing with topics that make them feel uncomfortable.

Clearly PC divides opinion. The enforcers of it seem to be doing it for the right reasons. Who wouldn’t want a neutral language that didn’t cause controversy? I know I would. However, this is always going to be a problem for the individuals who want to keep their freedom of speech. ‘Thought police’ is a bit harsh for someone who is just trying to make language friendlier but it seems there will always be someone who gets offended. You should always try and be respectful but should terms like ‘mankind’ should be banned from institutions? PC ideologies have good intentions but what you ‘can and can’t’ say might be becoming too extreme. Someone will always be offended.

JACK HARRISON-JONES, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Allan, K. & Burridge, K. (2006) Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Berry, L. (2016, May 5). ‘They’: the singular pronoun that could solve sexism in English. The Guardian.

Espinoza, J. (2015, 18 December). Politically correct universities ‘are killing free speech’. The Telegraph.

Gray, J. (2017, 3 March). Cardiff Metropolitan University accused of censorship over ‘gender neutral’ language policy. Huffington Post.

Hughes, G. (2010) Political Correctness: A history of semantics and culture. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Snapes, L. (2019, 13 September). Sam Smith on being non-binary: ‘I’m changing my pronouns to they/them’. The Guardian.

Taub, A. (2015, January 28). The truth about “political correctness” is that it doesn’t actually exist. Vox.

Do you prefer to be called a man, woman or a toadstool? Should we bow down in order to avoid causing offence to others? MITCH WARING explores the pros and cons of political correctness.

Political correctness, according to Hughes (2011), is associated with language as applied to such issues as race, gender, culture and disability but can also be used when discussing the environment and animal rights. Yet, depending on what side of the fence you sit on, it is difficult to decide exactly what it refers to.

A standard definition of ‘political correctness’, from the Cambridge Dictionary (2019), is “the act of avoiding language and actions that could be offensive to others, especially those relating to sex and race”. Neduva, Kanesky and Lerner (2012)believe that political correctness involves showing a mutual respect for the views and beliefs of others, including enemies. They may differ in opinions but will use it to overcome existing disagreements and prevent animosity. However, there are others, such as Dutton (2006) who believe that PC involves “suppressing freedom of expression, notably in the sphere of politics, education and the media in Britain and Europe”.

The association of political correctness with gender has been hotly contested in recent years, and has included being blamed for the fall in the proportion of young men studying at Scottish universities (Sanderson 2018). Rowe (2018) believes students are creating nonsense gender classifications, such as ‘non-binary’ or ‘intrasex’, in the belief that there are more than two genders. I disagree with this claim.

Cardiff university has attempted to tackle gender discrimination by recommending gender neutral terms as a replacement for words “such as ‘right-hand man’, ‘waitress’ and ‘forefathers’ on campus in a crackdown on gendered language” (Gray, 2017). The university wants words to be changed to tackle gender discrimination by, for instance, swapping ‘sportsmanship’ for ‘sense of fair play’ and ‘workmanlike’ for ‘efficient’/’proficient’/’skilful’. Students are also advised to use the term ‘typical citizen’ instead of ‘man in the street’ (Gray, 2017). Could the university be trying to control their students’ thought processes by changing certain phrases?

The practice of changing words so as not to cause offence is often associated with the labelling of so-called ‘millennials’ as ‘snowflakes’, those who are accused of being offended by everything and have become soft (The Economist, 2016).

Some hardcore football fanatics believe that the US women’s football SheBelieves cup, is a case of political correctness gone mad. One writer on a thread in Footymad (2017), labelled the cup as “women’s football is a bit crap isn’t it?” and continues “come on, be honest now… no need to hide behind political correctness.” Kelner (2019) refers to women always moaning about receiving equal pay, so why can’t they make fun of them and have a joke. A letter to Oxford Mail complained that political correctness had gone mad over the positioning of the women’s results in Oxford’s local paper: “I checked the results in the back pages of the Oxford mail and to my annoyance at the top of the results for all the football are the women’s football results” (Stevens, 2014). I think the world should start to appreciate women’s football more. The men who are on some crusade to save football as just a man’s sport need get a grip.

The matter of ‘political correctness’ fits into which side of the fence you would rather sit on. Would you prefer to regulate your language to avoid causing offence to others? Or is this an erosion of free speech? Do certain people exploit this latter argument and use it to cause offence? These people usually start most sentences with “I’m not trying to offend anyone but…..”). Or is the over-use of PC terms turning people into ‘snowflakes’ who need to develop thicker skins when it comes to linguistic labelling?

MITCH WARING, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Dutton, E. C. (2006). Political correctness, evangelicalism and student rebellion at British universities. The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, 31(4), 459.

Generation screwed or generation snowflake? Britain’s young. (2016, November 17). The Economist, 421(9016), 32.

Gray, J. (2017, March 3). Cardiff Metropolitan University Accused Of Censorship Over ‘Gender Neutral’ Language Policy. Huffington Post.

Hughes, G. (2010). Political correctness: A history of semantics and culture. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Kelner, S. (2019, June 12). Can’t we have a sense of humour about the Women’s World Cup? iNews.

Neduva, A., Kanevsky, M., & Lerner, V. (2012). Perverse political correctness and personality traits. Medical Hypotheses, 78(1), 146-150.

‘Political correctness’ (2019). Cambridge Dictionary

Red and White Crusader (2017, May 16). Women’s football is a bit crap isn’t it? FootyMad.

Rowe, E. (2018, April 19). Political correctness goes mad with gender changes. The Queensland Times.

Sanderson, D. (2018, March 21). Political correctness blamed as university gender gap widens. The Times.

Stevens, C. (2014, May 28). Having the women’s results at top is political correctness gone mad. Oxford Mail.

Does ‘political correctness’ throttle or enable freedom of speech? HEATHER SMITH discusses politeness, pronouns and penguins

Trigger warning: violence.

Silence. Nearly silence. Almost words. Perhaps an utterance. And then silence falls once more. A hand grips tighter and tighter around your neck until your whispering croaks are ultimately censored. Is this what political correctness is doing to our language? Removing our freedom of speech bit-by-bit, word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence? Will society eventually strangle all of us, silencing those who only wish to speak the truth?

This is the side of the political correctness (PC) argument that some people would lead us to believe. In order to truly assess whether our language is indeed ‘strangling’ us or not, it is first important to determine what political correctness actually means. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to be politically correct one needs to conform to “a body of liberal or radical opinion… usually characterized by the advocacy of approved causes or views” (OED, 2020). Symons (2018) expands on this definition by discussing the idea that political correctness has become a “sharp criticism” of people who believe in policing the language. They discuss the different forms of political correctness seen in today’s society. First, “snowflake generation” defined as people who have thin-skin and are not as resilient as their ancestors. Secondly, the idea that PC language endangers freedom of speech and thought (Symons, 2018).

There are instances, mostly in the media or by influential journalists such as Piers Morgan, where people think that PC has gone “too far”. For example, the Daily Mail in 2009, which claimed that the Prime Minister’s new Christmas cards was political correctness gone mad; instead of ‘Happy Christmas’ it was changed to ‘Season’s Greetings’ (Tompkins, 2009). They claimed that the cards were devoid of all Christmas imagery including the word ‘Christmas’ itself in order not to offend other religions which don’t celebrate it. This insinuates that individuals could not celebrate their Christian religion in fear of offending others. However, Tompkins (2009), argues that ‘Season’s Greetings’ has always been on Christmas cards and indeed the religious aspect of Christmas has been lost for some time e.g. a Christmas dinner has nothing to do with the religious festival. This implies, therefore, that the phenomenon around political correctness has been exaggerated in the media.

Another example given of political correctness “gone mad” is that of ‘preferred’ pronouns.  For instance, in 2019, Piers Morgan said on the UK TV show Good Morning Britain that he wants to henceforth be referred to as a penguin (O’Sullivan, 2019). His main argument was that we now live in a society where anyone can be referred to as any gender they choose therefore he has the right to be known as a penguin. For Piers Morgan, the idea that people have the ability to change their pronouns other than the ones they were assigned at birth is PC gone mad. Furthermore, some people argue that when someone is misgendered and they correct individuals to their preferred pronouns this further shows how PC has gone “too far”. No words in the English Language are inherently good or bad, therefore, if someone accidently misgenders someone without entirely knowing their background and their preferred pronouns this isn’t intrinsically politically incorrect. However, if this background knowledge is known and the wrong pronouns are used to belittle someone then this is politically incorrect (O’Neil, 2011).

Following on from this, according to Petrow (2014), when it comes to gender neutral pronouns, some people claim that using ‘they’/’them’ pronouns doesn’t fit the rules of English and therefore, is another example of political correctness gone mad: whereby society is so intent on being politically correct that were not using our own language correctly. Petrow (2014) then quotes Dennis Baron who explains that ‘you’ used to be a plural pronoun and ‘thou’ a singular pronoun, thus, highlighting that the evolution of grammar is inevitable and should be treated with respect (Petrow, 2014).

I’m going to end my blog on a similar note. As a cis-gendered person I can only imagine the frustration of being constantly mis-gendered either accidentally or purposefully throughout the day. It takes less than five seconds to show kindness and, in this day and age, with between 22-43% of transgender people attempting suicide (Bauer et al, 2015), we need as much kindness as possible. Isn’t a hypothetical language strangulation infinitely better than your words triggering a physical one?

HEATHER SMITH, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Bauer, G. R., Scheim, A. I., Pyne, J., Travers, R., & Hammond, R. (2015). Intervenable factors associated with suicide risk in transgender persons: a respondent driven sampling study in Ontario, Canada. BMC public health, 15(1).

O’Neill, B. (2011). A critique of politically correct language. The Independent Review, 16(2), pp. 279-91.

O’Sullivan, K. (2019, September 11). Piers Morgan identifies as penguin and demands to live in aquarium in furious rant. The Mirror.

‘Political correctness’. (2020). OED Online.

Petrow, S. (2014, October 27). Gender-neutral pronouns: When ‘they’ doesn’t identify as either male or female. The Washington Post.

Symons, J. (2018, September 10). Has political gone far? The Economist.

Tompkins, S. (2009, November 26). Season’s greetings: PC gone mad?. The Guardian. 

Is it OK to take out Easter from chocolate eggs? Or is that one crackdown too far? REBECCA BRIDGES considers how eggsasperted she should be

Christmas seems a lifetime ago and now we begin the countdown to Easter. The best thing about Easter is, of course, the Easter eggs…or should I say ‘chocolate eggs’?

For the past few years, the public holiday has been at the centre of controversy with some companies removing the word ‘Easter’ from the packaging and rebranding the chocolatey treat as ‘chocolate eggs’, supposedly to make them sellable outside of the Easter period. The Sun newspaper (Griffiths, 2018) reported two years ago that nine out of 10 egg products have had the word ‘Easter’ removed from their packaging. This caused many people in the UK to claim that ‘political correctness’ had gone too far. However, the following year, the Metro newspaper claimed that ‘Easter’ was never included on the eggs’ packaging in the first place, even way back in the 1950s, providing pictures as evidence (Drewett, 2019).

So what does this have to do with ‘political correctness’ exactly? What is political correctness and has it gone mad?

According to Hughes, the term ‘political correctness’ (PC) began to be used in the US in the 80s around university campuses and the use of  the term arrived in Britain in the 90s (Hughes, 2009, p. 3).  One defining characteristic of PC is that it involves replacing  words deemed unacceptable with more tolerable ones to make people aware of the offensive language we sometimes use. In this sense, PC is used to maintain diversity within society and to encourage people to respect and value differences (Cepeda-Mayorga, 2017, p. 1). For example, on the UK Government website, The National Careers Service, the job titles have changed from ‘policeman’ to ‘police officer’. These may seem like fairly trivial alterations, but as a woman I think this will have a positive impact on the world’s view of who can do these job roles.

Some people would argue that it’s not PC, it is just being kind to people, and everyone should do that anyway (Diaz, 2016). Diaz claims that those who argue using offensive language is just freedom of speech is “like using the fan setting on an air conditioner. Technically you have the option, but that’s not really why you have it” (Diaz, 2016). When we use inclusive terms, we set an example for others to see people as equal; whatever their gender, race, religion, occupation etc. The younger generations begin to use these terms and improve our society by being more inclusive. I believe that as a society, we have a duty to include everyone.

But some would argue that PC has gone too far. These terms below – from a website called ‘politically incorrect’ – are supposedly recommended politically correct alternatives: lumberjack = tree murderer, unemployed = involuntarily leisured, gossip = speedy transmission of near factual information (Banned words). But there is no evidence that anyone has seriously recommended these alternatives and are often used to mock people who have some sensitivity to the labels we attach to people.

However, I think that if we push PC too far, it will not work. PC terms keep changing and many people struggle to keep up to date with what is and isn’t acceptable. People, myself included, find it confusing. Hughes suggests that PC “inculcates a sense of obligation or conformity in areas which should be (or are) matters of choice” (Hughes, 2009). The main argument against PC is freedom of speech with people having the right to express their views and opinions the way they see fit. However, there have to be some rules and laws in place to work parallel with freedom of speech. As Scott (2016: 418) says:  “no one has the right to call ‘fire’ in a crowded movie threatre or use racist language on a multi-cultural campus”.

So, has political correctness gone mad? Clearly people should be able to enjoy their Easter eggs and celebrate Easter without fear of offending anyone. Celebrating any religious holiday should create a positive atmosphere for everyone. However, if by using more inclusive words, we become more inclusive as a society, then we should encourage alternative PC terms.

REBECCA BRIDGES, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Cepeda-Mayorga, I. (2017). Political correctness” from a “border reason”: between dignity and the shadow of exclusion. Philosophies, 2(13), pp. 1-12

Diaz, M. (2016, September 23). It isn’t “political correctness” to ask you not to be a dick. Ravishly.

Drewett, Z. (2019, February 28). ‘Easter’ egg packaging has never actually contained the word Easter. Metro.

Griffiths, B. (2018, March 24). Shell shock nine of ten Easter eggs won’t say ‘Easter’ on the packaging sparking uproar as church blasts ‘cynical’ shops. The Sun.

Hughes, G. (2010). Political Correctness: A history of semantics and culture. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

National Careers Service. Police Officer.

Political correctness – the awful truth. Politically incorrect.

Scott, P. (2016). “Free speech” and “political correctness”. European Journal of Higher Education, 6(4), pp. 417-420.

From ‘cat’s eyes’ to ‘road studs’, and clapping to ‘jazz hands’. Has PC gone to far? JESS KEANING investigates

According to Symons (2018), “[t]he notion that political correctness has ‘gone mad’ is familiar to everyone who follows even vaguely any aspect of modern political or cultural life”. But what is political correctness, and how does it affect us in our everyday word choices?

Political correctness (PC) seems to be defined differently wherever you look, but the general idea seems to be how Reach Out defines it, i.e. “avoiding language and actions that insult, exclude or harm people who are already experiencing disadvantage and discrimination”. This specific definition seems to be a foundation towards other definitions that I came across. Symons, writing in The Economist (2018) describes political correctness as “ostensibly referred to language or action that is designed to avoid offence or harm to protect groups”, and Hughes (2010, p.3) defines it as a “sense of obligation or conformity in areas which should be (or are) matters of choice.” Allan & Burridge (2006, p. 60) demonstrate the contradictory responses to PC by claiming that it is often simultaneously seen as both “a brainwashing programme and as simple good manners”. It seems that defining political correctness varies from person to person as the world’s perception of what word choice is acceptable seems to be forever changing,

McKinstry (2017), writing in the Daily Mail, has no time for PC and in his ‘A to Z of politically correct madness’ claims that “road engineers in Suffolk were criticised for using the phrase ‘cat’s eyes’ – because some people may have thought cats had been butchered, and thus the council was party to animal cruelty”. According to McKinstry, the term ‘road studs’ has now replaced ‘cats eyes’, citing an Ipswich resident whose five-year-old daughter was upset because she though “cruel people were torturing cats”.

Other alleged examples of PC cited in the article include: replacing actual applause with ‘jazz hands’, because of concerns it could trigger anxiety in nervous students; replacing ‘forefathers’ with ‘ancestors’ or ‘forebears’ as it includes the gender-exclusive ‘fathers; and disregarding pronouns other than ‘they’ or ‘them’ as other pronouns made assumptions regarding identity.

So, is political correctness achievable, and indeed desirable?

Cameron (1995, p.124) suggests that the aim of the ‘political correctness’ movement is to enforce a set of acceptable views on class, race, gender and other forms of sociocultural diversity, whilst giving preferential treatment to members of oppressed groups, such as women and ethnic minorities. However, Allan and Burridge (2006) show, for instance, that although political correctness has been extremely successful in getting people to change their linguistic behaviour, typically language users dislike being told to change their linguistic habits as they see this as an attempt to manipulate their thinking.

Political correctness will continue to be controversial as some people will be offended by what other people do. Szilágyi, A. (2017) claims that “once political correctness stood for an ideal of fairness and open-mindedness. Yet today, “PC” is a widely bashed catchphrase, with politicians gaining popularity worldwide by destroying its rosy image”. Perhaps, as Szilágyi recommends, “those who would like to stick with the ideals of political correctness, should consider giving a new name to their cause”?

JESS KEANING, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Allan, K. & Burridge, K. (2006). Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cameron, D. (1995). Verbal Hygiene. London and New York: Routledge.

Hughes, G. (2010). Political Correctness. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

McKinstry, L. (2017, November 18). A to Z of political correct madness: the Left’s ‘Thought Police’ continues to censor language as ‘manfully’ is labelled sexist. The Daily Mail.

Symons, J. (2018, September 10). Has political correctness gone far. The Economist.

Szilágyi, A. (2017, January 18). A linguist explains how the far-right hijacked political correctness. Quartz.

What’s the deal with political correctness? Reach Out.

 

“Welcome to my blog ladies and gentlemen… or if I’m being politically correct, ‘hello all’!” FRANCESCA ELLIS debates being PC or not PC.

‘Political correctness’ (or PC) is the act of avoiding language that can cause offence to others. The term ‘PC’ has become very controversial in the last few years. Most people you ask may be able to tell you why it is important (or not!) to use politically correct language but most will also find it difficult to give a standard definition. Some would argue that being politically correct is just simply the right thing do to so that no offence is caused. However, others would contend that many of the newer so-called politically correct terms that that have been introduced are just plain daft!

One side of the political correctness debate is the view proposed by Hughes (2010) who defines political correctness as “a sense of obligation” and “matters of choice in what is regarded as ‘acceptable’ or ‘appropriate’ in language”. On the other hand, Browne (2006) in The Times claims that it is “utopian nonsense that aims to create a model society by forcibly outlawing all dissent” and “creates hatred by removing the freedom to choose what to say”. He also claims that it is “undemocratic”.

In recent years political correctness has been regarded an act of controlling free speech. One example is the substitution of ‘blackboard’ with ‘chalkboard’ so that black people are not offended. Political correctness can be violated unintentionally and create confusion. One example where offence could be unintentional is the use of ‘blackboard’ by a white person who would not be aware that this could perhaps cause offence.

The origins of political correctness are first recorded as starting on campuses in the United States in the 1980s mainly for the Black Race Movement (Hughes, 2010, p. 3). However, in the last 20 years some definitions of PC language involve notions of ‘censorship’ in aiming to ‘wipe out’ any uses of negative language that can ‘very’ easily offend the so-called ‘snowflake generation’.

So why is the view of political correctness so divided? In my view, political correctness is positive when it is replacing terms such as ‘handicapped’ or ‘retard’ with ‘differently abled’, or ‘tramp’ for someone who is sleeping rough, being referred to as a ‘homeless person’. However, when you hear the phrase ‘political correctness’, ‘gone mad’ tends to be not too far behind.

The website TV Tropes gives a few examples that demonstrate claims that PC has quite literally gone mad. One example is banning Christmas’ (or hopefully worst case just the word!) to avoid offending Jews, Muslims and other non-Christian people. However it qualifies this by arguing that “often, such stories are outright fabrications” and that “many current PC taboos are the unintended offspring of anti-PC hysteria”.

Gender specific terms such as ‘waiter/waitress’ to ‘server’, ‘chairmen’ to ‘chairperson’ and ‘brainstorming’ to ‘thought shower’? I personally do not find these gender terms offensive, including also ‘manhole’ and ‘chairmen’. They do appear to be a positive change, but the original terms did not cause me a personal offence. However the recommendation that we no longer call a mentally ill person a ‘lunatic’ or a disabled person a ‘cripple’ are acceptable levels of political correctness. Perhaps it is just a question of balance?

FRANCESCA ELLIS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Browne, A. (2006, January 4). Is political correctness a bad thing? The Times.

Hughes, G, (2010) Political Correctness: A history of semantics and culture. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Political correctness gone mad. TV Tropes.