Are the ‘PC brigade’ curbing are rights to freedom of speech? asks DAISY PHELAN

Political correctness has fast become one of, if not the, most talked about debate surrounding the accepted codes of speech. The Right often views it as a control tactic that impinges our rights to free speech. Is the real purpose of political correctness to control language and thereby control thought? This question has caused moral outrage amongst the public due to it becoming such a widespread phenomenon.

Using polite and cautious euphemisms to control language is seeing freedom of speech slowly diminish. We could ask, with growing anxieties and our conscious efforts to not violate the accepted code of our utterances, are we to blame for being too cautious about defying the ‘norm’ and conforming to politically correct language and a controlled society?

Allan and Burridge (2006:90) acknowledge this by reiterating the questions surrounding our tolerance to blatant language manipulation, claiming ‘[…] political correctness has been extremely successful in getting people to change their linguistic behaviour. Even many of the deliberate efforts to shift the meanings and connotations of words have come up roses.’ They support the view that as a nation we have been too accepting and accommodating towards politically correct language.

Battistella (2005:111) claims that ‘the politically correct restrictions on speech are mostly self-imposed, with speakers unwilling to run the risk of being judged to violate the accepted code for their context of utterance.’ Therefore, is it a question of thought control, or self-censorship? Are the Left manipulating our thoughts, or are we only too happy to toe the line?

I believe that you can’t have one without the other. Self-censorship has been motivated by a rational fear. Political correctness has become so powerful that it affects the way we think and express ideas. Therefore, the anxieties that have arisen from political correctness have led to self-censorship. We are constantly questioning the language we are using and are required to use imposed speech codes.

In 2011, Ricky Gervais was hounded by the PC Brigade because of a picture he uploaded to his Twitter account. He named this photo ‘mong’.  He claimed he had not realised it was still a derogatory term used to insult disabled people. Ricky Gervais probably didn’t intend for this to cause offense and yet he was bombarded with angry protests that he had dared to use this word. This highlights the ‘thought police’s’ intentions of seeking to eliminate any view, which resists conforming to a strict liberal perspective. It also raises questions. Are we not allowed to speak freely and use language humorously when we have no intention of it meaning to cause offense?

The problem with political correctness is that it is purely subjective. What I take offence to, might not necessarily offend somebody else. Therefore, how do we realistically define what is politically correct or incorrect?

Whilst I believe that people should be aware of different cultures, societies and health issues, we need to refuse to conform to the exaggerated speech codes that are imposed upon us in order to stop it. If political correctness is allowed to perpetuate, it will curb our right to free speech.

DAISY PHELAN, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Allen. K, Burridge. K, 2006. Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Battistella, L, E,. (2005) Bad Language. New York: Oxford University Press.

BECKY DEWHURST considers whether flying the flag for political correctness is a good thing

Political correctness came into the forefront of media attention during the 1970s and 1980s, with much prominence developing during the 1980s when the phenomenon was introduced by students in universities across America (Hughes 2010:5).

Since then there has been widespread debate about PC. Some argue it is censoring and controlling the language, dominating what should be freedom of speech (Dunant 1994). Others argue it is necessary to adopt approaches that are simply terms of politeness and there is nothing wrong with not causing offence (Muir 2009).

So, is political correctness a good thing, or not?

PC is heavily related to taboo, as taboos are the polar opposite of what political correctness encapsulates. Whereas PC uses lexis that is euphemistic, polite and (in theory) inoffensive, taboos are dysphemistic, impolite, offensive and derogatory (Allan and Burridge 2006:2). You could argue that without taboo, there would be no call for political correctness, for, as Allan and Burridge state, taboos motivate lexical change through the consequent censoring of a taboo, thus terms of taboo change to inoffensive PC terms.

Many taboo terms in today’s Western society are related to etiquette, and language speakers have a tendency to carefully censor their own lexical choices as a way of preventing ‘losing face’ by offending others (Allan and Burridge 2006:237).

However, this creates negative connotations for the Political Correctness phenomenon, as language users grow increasingly more anxious about their own use of lexis (Hughes 2010). It now appears that being seen as offensive and un-PC is equally just as bad as being described as ‘politically correct’.

Those who are against Political Correctness argue it threatens freedom of expression (Dunant 1994:23), as PC is a way in which to ‘police’ thoughts, telling people what to say; and consequently, what to think.

Media coverage of Political Correctness has also helped increase its unpopularity. News stories create an ‘us and them’ approach to PC, reporting on events such as the alleged change of lyrics in ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ (Dunant 1994:173) and local councils disallowing the flying of the St George’s Flag (Daily Mail Online 2013). Popular headlines relating to PC often state it has ‘gone mad’.

It is now argued that political correctness has become a problem within its own right (Gallagher 2013). Whereby PC was originally a way to ‘encourage tact and sensitivity’ regarding topics considered as taboo, people now choose to avoid topics such as race, gender, religion etc. all together.

However, those in favour of PC do not agree that it polices thoughts. Instead, a more innocent opinion is held, referring to PC as ‘verbal hygiene’, ironically a euphemism. According to Muir (2009) PC creates an inclusive society in which people from different backgrounds are offered equal opportunities. Social interactions are generally respectful and courteous (Allan and Burridge 2006:238), therefore PC is regarded as a politeness strategy as opposed to anything more sinister.

Referring back to my question posed earlier (is political correctness a good thing?), it is difficult to form a clear answer. Many are divided, and will remain divided on the issue for the foreseeable future. To the vast majority, PC has gone too far and creates anxieties about language use, yet others see no harm in altering certain lexical choices to protect people from offence and encouraging politeness.

BECKY DEWHURST, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


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

Daily Mail. (2013) Daily Mail Online. [Accessed 14 November 2013]. Available at:

Dunant, S (ed). (1994) The War of the Words: The political correctness debate. London: Virago Press

Gallagher, B. (2013) Huffington Post. [Accessed 28 November 2013]. Available at:

Hughes, G. (2010) Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Muir, H. (2009) [Accessed 08 November 2013]. Available at:

EMMA WILLIAMS explores whether political correctness is a restriction on freedom of speech

Political correctness initially occurred in politics but now it relates to many areas of language and linguistic behaviour such as race, culture, and feminism. To begin with it was used in the US supreme court but it never really took off until the 1960s. Political Correctness causes numerous disagreements as many see it as a matter of affecting free speech, whereas on the other hand some individuals think that it plays an important role in society.

Numerous people consider political correctness as a restriction on freedom of speech, which prevents us from saying what we really want to say, whereas others disagree with this and believe that actually it helps prevent bullying of the minority groups that Political correctness aims to protect, such as women, disabled people, black people and so on. A lot of why political correctness has such bad connotations, is because of the constant coverage it obtains from the media. Allan and Burridge (2006:92) declare that the media create a ‘PC scare’ which means that they report on ‘over-the-top speech codes’ which lead to a hostile attitude towards Political correctness.

Political Correctness is deemed by many people as taking away free speech; Becker and Becker (2001) suggest that ‘The term ‘politically correct’ partly in virtue of its historical association with the communist party, also implies that the democratic liberties are being interfered with, most notably free speech and academic freedom’. What they suggest here by referring to the Communist Party, is that political correctness is about wanting us all to be the ‘same’ in the way we speak and you could also go further and say it regards thought control too.

Battistella (2007: 111) claims that ‘[t]he politically correct restrictions on speech are mostly self-imposed, with speakers unwilling to run the risk of being judged to violate the accepted code for their context of utterance’. Here Battistella is suggesting that people are too afraid to say what they really mean to say in fear of being accused of being racist or sexist etc. where in actual case they don’t mean anything offensive by what they say. Gallagher (2013) states that while ‘the original intent of political correctness may have been good, the effect of political correctness has been to make everyone avoid the topics altogether’. Gallagher makes the point that the initial aim of political correctness had good intentions to protect people, but groups of people are now taking PC too far and are using the term subjectively.

Hughes, G (2010:4) suggests that ‘political Correctness inculcates a sense of obligation or conformity in areas which should be (or are) matters of choice’. Hughes’ point is that people feel obliged to say or think in a certain way, in order not to offend people. The whole notion of ‘Political Correctness’ could well and truly be linked to George Orwell’s 1984 novel. He predicted a world where everyone was controlled by the government, your freedom speech was taken away and you could be arrested for saying the wrong thing. Some aspects aside, I don’t think Orwell’s prediction was very far off.

EMMA WILLIAMS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


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

Battistella, L.E. (2007) Bad language: are some words better than others? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Becker, C.L. & Becker, B.C. (eds.) (2001) Encyclopedia of Ethics. New York: Routledge.

Gallagher, B.J. (2013) The Problem with Political Correctness. The Huffington Post [Online], 25th February [Accessed 6th November 2013], 1. Available at:

Hughes, G. (2010) Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture. West Sussex: Blackwell Publishing.




‘Taboo or not taboo? That is the question!’ ROSIE BROWN considers the importance of choosing our words carefully

Political correctness is like a man with many faces, whatever light he is portrayed in whether positive or negative, he shines. Or maybe political correctness is like a woman with many faces? Maybe it’s the many faces of a Caucasian woman who is vertically challenged or maybe the faces of an Afro-Caribbean woman who is a domestic engineer? 

Does it matter?

It is important to understand the roots and initial intentions of political correctness which lie in the ideology of Marxism. As Trueman (2000) notes, by changing aspects of our culture to create a ‘social revolution’, this will destroy the stereotypical dominant role of the white male resulting in more opportunities and equality for women and other minority groups, ultimately having a positive impact on society. But is this still the same today?
Society today believes that political correctness is the motion of censoring words that we perceive as offensive or demeaning, or ‘taboo’ language. As Hughes (2010:4) discusses, by ‘disguising’ or ‘avoiding’ certain taboo words we only use language that is appropriate, acceptable and respectful to our society. In contrast to this, Gallagher (2013) suggests that if we insist on self-censoring or substituting any conversation relating to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or physical ability, then there is no hope in defeating the barriers we say we want to overcome. So how do we conquer these problems?

One method of disguising taboo words is through lexical substitution, replacing politically incorrect terms for ones that are more socially acceptable but as Andrews (1996:391) questions, does a linguistic response such as this really solve the extra linguistic problems in our society or help solve similar problems in the future?

Well, on one hand it does. As Allan & Burridge (2006:97) discuss, the substitution of the term ‘African-American’ for ‘black’ positively impacts this particular social group by making explicit the roots of their heritage. This creates an individual identity rather than stereotyping and categorising those by skin colour.

On the other hand, Spencer (1994:559) conflicts this idea and notes that these movements generate a ‘common political mood of victimization, moral indignation and a self righteous hostility against the common enemy – the white males’.  Spencer (1994:559) also discusses that political correctness produces a moral drama between the oppressed and the oppressor whereby the oppressed demand recognition of their suffering. This is evident by ‘National Sorry Day’ held in Australia whereby the nationals apologise for the past treatment of Aboriginal people, Allan & Burridge (2006:106). As a result of this acknowledgement, this portrays the white male as an ‘enemy’ and ‘oppressor’ which ultimately categorises and labels this group negatively. Surely by doing this it reverses the roles and discriminates against white males for the actions of their ancestors in the past, thus making them a minority group?

So it is apparent that political correctness is hard to define and complicated in the way it should be handled. But is it really making the positive impact on society that it once set out to achieve or is it just targeting present day social groups for events that occurred in the past? As Andrews (1996:402) notes the multifaceted problems associated with political correctness show the dynamic interplay of linguistic signs as they act and react within the constantly changing social context.

ROSIE BROWN, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


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

Andrews, E. (1996)American Speech.  Cultural Sensitivity and Political Correctness: The Linguistic Problem of Naming [online], Winter, 71 (4), [Accessed on 25 November 2013], pp. 389-404. Available at:

Gallagher, B. (2013) [Accessed 25 November 2013]. Available at:

Hughes, G. (2010) Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture. Wiley-Blackwell.

Spencer, M. (1994) Sociological Forum. Multiculturalism, “Political Correctness,” and the Politics of Identity [online], December 1994, 9 (4), [Accessed on 25 November 2013], pp. 547-567. Available at:

Trueman, S. (2000) [Accessed 25 November 2013]. Available at: