Although it is easy to believe that ‘political correctness’ started with good intentions, it is also easily conceived as a phenomenon that has gone too far. As predicted by George Orwell in his book 1984, a clear definition of PC language might be ‘Vocabulary consisting of words which had been deliberately constructed for political purposes, words that is to say, which were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them’ written in 1949, before the rise of political correctness as we know it today. We can now see that language created by the powerful is used as a form of social control, just as Room 101 and the Ministry of Truth controlled the thoughts of the population in Orwell’s classic (Orwell, 1949).
Enforcing polite, more cautious language for personal descriptions only has the effect of creating more nervous, socially awkward speech, thus highlighting people’s linguistic wariness when referring to race, gender and disability. This ultimately continues to hinder what could be argued is already a ‘socially awkward’ generation of children and teenagers. However this also opens a pathway for a new form of hate and helps justify a need for political correctness. This can be seen by the changing titles of someone’s colour, as now in Law, even the word ‘Race’ has been removed from the Equality Act 2010 due to its difficulty to define; and has been replaced with term ‘Ethnicity’. Does this limit offence to those we are trying to refer to? Or are we being overly cautious in a society that now has thicker skin than those who created this fascination nearly 40 years ago? Statistical analysis shows that deaf and blind people prefer to be referred to as such and not by their new politically correct titles of visually challenged and visually impaired. The first equality law in this area was the Disability Act in 1995, a piece of legislation not imposed on the UK by Europe, showing how in some areas of law and in turn also language, the UK has led the way for absurd linguistic notions of equality.
The current idea of editing out gender specific terms such as waiter/waitress to waitron, seems to back track, hiding the female recognition that the Suffragettes fought so hard to achieve. On the other hand, eradicating the differences between the sexes (within language) may have been appreciated by the 101 women in the Labour Government when the media nicknamed them Blair’s Babes in 1997. It is here that Allen and Burridge’s opinion that politically correct language ‘trivialises important issues because it focuses on insignificant language matters’ (Allen. K, and Burridge. K, 2006: 90) can really be seen.
Supporting this view is the slide from politically correct sentiments such as: anti-abortion/pro-life and Afro-Caribbean/African Caribbean – using words in a positive way; to the use of euphemisms such as chairman/chairperson and barmaid/bar attendant – in the neutral; and dysphemisms such boring/charm free and clumsy/uniquely orientated, deliberately making fun of both the situation the user is in and the linguistic phenomenon alike. The latter, according the Urbandictionary is now referred to as a ‘Brainwashing censorship phenomenon’, as opposed to respecting the ideas behind the linguistics of equality.
KATHERINE NICHOLLS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester (UK)
Orwell. G, 1949. 1984 (London: Secker and Warburg)
West. E, http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100177627/george-orwell-the-prophet-of-political-correctness-does-not-belong-to-the-left/. George Orwell, the Prophet of Political Correctness, does not belong to the Left