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.


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

  1. Lorna Craven says:

    Hi Daisy!
    Great job on the presentation and an interesting perspective on the ongoing political correctness debate. As expected, most of the points made were negative which suggests, like you mentioned, that political correctness will eventually, if it hasn’t already, control out freedom of speech.

    I agree with your comment about whether or not political correctness is down to thought control or self censorship. It’s both, and I do believe that the fear of saying something ‘wrong’ has altered the way we think about certain things to an extent. For instance I would never think to use a derogatory term to describe a person with a disability, the thought doesn’t even enter my mind so I wouldn’t even have to stop myself from saying it.

    As you mentioned, celebrities are often pulled up about their language use, especially on social media sites, even when they don’t mean to cause offence. Your comment about Ricky Gervais is an example, I think, of where political correctness is said to have gone mad. It’s getting to a point where we aren’t sure of what words we can or can’t say without causing offence to some “do gooder”.

    As we only hear about extreme negative PC comments from the media I was wondering if you came across anything that suggested political correctness serves as a positive influence on our society? I’m also interested in the process of how words become politically incorrect, did you come across how and who decides this?

    Many thanks

    Lorna Craven

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