Should we support ‘political correctness’ or is it a sign that the world has ‘gone mad’? ALICE FOX explores the PC minefield.

You wouldn’t have to travel far to find someone with views on political correctness, or at the very least have some idea of what political correctness is. Some would argue that it is basic good manners, such as Steven Singer who wrote in The Huffington Post that “we are asked to change the way we speak. We’re asked to self-censor but we already do this frequently without wailing against a loss of free speech”. Others would argue that it is at the least, a silly form of censorship and at the most, anti-democratic.  Espinoza and Rayner (The Telegraph, 2015, 18 December) argued that political correctness is affecting university students and the way universities operate in comparison to the past. They claim that “British universities have become too politically correct and are stifling free speech”. Defining political correctness is not an easy task. Noam Chomsky described political correctness as a “healthy expansion of moral concern” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.90). On the other hand, Morris Dickstein sees political correctness as a “dictatorship of the well-meaning and pure of heart” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.90). So this begs the question, what is ‘political correctness’ and why has it become such a bitter debate.

The origins of political correctness are thought to be in the USA during the Black Power Movement and the New Left (Battistella, 2005, p.90). In Britain, Crystal describes the change of language following the Feminist Movement in the early 20th century as one of biggest cases of prescriptivism in recent history (Crystal, 1984) with Cheshire (1984) stating she believes the change of language against sexism is a natural process occurring with social change. The positive nature of the origins of political correctness are hard to argue against. The idea that political correctness has ‘gone mad’ is where the arguments lie.

By the definitions and the early effects of political correctness, it can be puzzling to understand why people are so against PC-culture. The President of the USA, Donald Trump, has publically spoken out against political correctness and used language that most of us would deem politically incorrect and very offensive, such as stating that Mexicans are rapists (Weigel, The Guardian, 30 November 2016). It could be suggested that his intention of building a wall between the USA and Mexico is a type of political incorrectness, with a large number of people rejecting this type of behaviour and classifying it as discriminatory and offensive. On the other hand, according to Lee (2014) in The Daily Mail, the lyrics of Baa Baa Black Sheep caused a debate in a school in Melbourne, Australia in 2014 over the word ‘black’ and the sexist connotations of the line “one for the little boy who lives down the lane”. This could be argued by those against anti-PC to be ridiculous, as the nursery rhyme was first published in 1744 and has been a very popular rhyme for children for generations with no problem, or offence, as a result of teaching it. One comment on the article says “I always thought that the “Thought Police” were a silly myth….. I stand corrected”. Are people now causing a political correctness storm just in case it may offend someone, somewhere, someday?

Many examples of politically correct replacements have been praised and accepted by the public today. The term ‘Paki’ is no longer acceptable when describing someone from Pakistan, as it caused offence and is now completely frowned upon. Although not frowned upon, the word ‘humanity’ is becoming a popular replacement of the word ‘mankind’ because of the presence of the word ‘man’ making it appear unbalanced and not an accurate description of the human race. However, if the term ‘mankind’ is politically incorrect and offensive, and the precedent is followed, then so is ‘manhole’ and occupational labels such as ‘fireman’, ‘policeman’, ‘chairman’ etc.

The origins of political correctness clearly started as a positive idea, a positive movement of language change with social and cultural change. It is clear to see that some of the language that is being labelled ‘politically incorrect’ is done so because of the small chance it may offend someone at some point and not because it is offensive to those they wish to not offend.

ALICE FOX, 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.

Battistella, E. (2005). Bad language: are some words better than others? New York, USA: Oxford University Press.

Cheshire, J. (1984). ‘The relationship of language and sex in English’. In Trudgill, P. (Ed.) Applied Sociolinguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Crystal, D. (1984). Who cares about English usage? Harmondsworth: Penguin.

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

Lee, S. (2014, 16 October). Is this the moment the world officially went mad? Lyrics of Baa Baa Black Sheep have been BANNED by kindergarten teachers because the nursery rhyme is ‘racist’. The Daily Mail. 

Singer, S. (2017, 4 March). Political correctness isn’t about censorship – it’s about decency. The Huffington Post. 

Weigel, M. (2016, 30 November). Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy. The Guardian.

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Should we support ‘political correctness’ or is it a sign that the world has ‘gone mad’? ALICE FOX explores the PC minefield.

  1. Chloe Blake says:

    Hi Alice,

    This is such an interesting linguistic debate because it has so many different views, and I really enjoyed reading your view on this topic! The title especially was very funny and true. You really know the topic well and have shown this throughout the blog.
    I found the origins of political correctness very interesting, as I was not aware of where it came from, and it is clear it was originally done for a positive reason.
    Your discussion of Donald Trumps opinion on the topic and his reference to Mexicans being “rapists” is a real eye opener to how anti PC some people can be. In my opinion political correctness is to use language in a way that does not offend people, and by Trump using this type of language shows he is really against the idea. I agree with you when you say it can be puzzling to understand why people are so against PC-culture.
    I also agree with your comment on if “mankind” is politically correct, and offensive are occupational labels such as “fireman” and “policeman” offensive too? Should we start changing every occupational label? It becomes a tricky topic because once you start changing one label then do you have to change everything? What is classed as being offensive language or not? What is your opinion on this, do you think the occupational labels need changing or should they stay the same?
    I have really enjoyed reading your post Alice and it is a very interesting debate for discussion!

  2. Jessica Vickers says:

    Hi Alice, I have really enjoyed reading your blog which explores political correctness, and the different things in society which are deemed as being politically incorrect.
    I found it interesting how you touched upon Political correctness being applied in University settings. I agree with the statement you used in your discussion by Espinoza & Rayner (2015), who expressed that universities have become too politically correct and are preventing a freedom of speech (Espinoza & Rayner, 2015, December 18). I strongly agree with this statement, because when researching how universities have enforced political correctness, I came across the rules that Cardiff Metropolitan University had enforced in 2017. They produced a gender-neutral language policy and it was identified that individuals “could face disciplinary procedures if they fail to adhere to the institutions language policy” (Gray,2017, March 3).
    Do you believe it is correct to enforce such rules? I found this information shocking! In society today, shouldn’t the freedom of speech be encouraged? But now we are being punished for using everyday terms such as ‘mankind’.
    As you identified in your blog, political correctness in the 20th century was enforced more positively and occurred due to changes in society. What are your thoughts though on why political correctness has gone ‘mad’, and turned more negatively since these periods?
    I enjoyed your comparison between the racist actions of Donald Trump, and the racist connotations that the nursery rhyme ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ is accused of having. Expanding on your point, Weigel (2016) described Trump as breaking “countless unspoken rules regarding what public figures can or cannot do or say” (Weigel, 2016, November 30). I do believe that Trump is trying to break the barrier around political correctness, however instead he is purposely attempting to be offensive towards certain individuals. This is identified when he was confronted about using phrases such as ‘fat pigs’ towards women he disliked, he defended his actions by stating that a problem with the country is that it is too politically correct (Weigel, 2016, November 30).
    I agree with Cillizza (2018), who emphasises that Trump sees moments where he can “Flout correctness”, and he is “purposely jabbing at their easily offended natures” (Cillizza, 2018, October 23).
    Expanding on your point regarding the lyrics to ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’, this really does emphasise that political correctness has gone mad. I agree with a statement made by Smoridinskaya (2014), “Even though political correctness is rooted in good intentions, over time the concept has been taken entirely too far”. Changing the lyric to the nursery rhyme is seen as crossing the fine line between unnecessary and insulting. Removing the word creates the image that ‘black’ is a negative term, and makes those who refer to themselves as black, question how they are meant to feel about their self-identification (Smoridinskaya, 2014, October 17).
    When reading your part in the blog about changing the lyrics of the nursery rhyme, to make it politically correct, it reminded me of a recent debate. A debate suggesting that Disney films such as Cinderella and Snow White should be changed or banned, as they give young girls an unrealistic expectation on life (Ryan, 2018, October 19). Personally, I find this ridiculous, because as a child I grew up watching fairy tales daily, but I did not grow up with false perceptions on reality. But, what are your thoughts on this?
    In your final statement you suggest that a lot of language is labelled as incorrect because of its potential to offend someone at some point, and I agree with your opinion on this. I agree with this, as I believe there is no other explanation for why such simple, non-offensive terms are now being viewed so negatively.

    References
    Cillizza, C. (2018, October 23). Donald Trump used a word he’s ‘not supposed to.’ Here’s why. The Point: CNN Politics. Retrieved from: https://edition.cnn.com/2018/10/23/politics/donald-trump-nationalism/index.html
    Espinoza, J. & Rayner, G. (2015, December 18). Politically correct universities ‘are killing free speech’. The telegraph. Retrieved from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/12059161/Politically-correct-universities-are-killing-free-speech.html
    Gray, J. (2017, March 3). Cardiff Metropolitan University accused of censorship over ‘gender neutral’ language policy. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/cardiff-metropolitan-university-censorship-gender-neutral-language-policy_uk_58b92d42e4b0b998941680fd
    Ryan, E. (2018, October 19). Good Morning Britain divides viewers by asking if Disney movies should be banned. Entertainment Daily. Retrieved from: http://www.entertainmentdaily.co.uk/daytime-tv/good-morning-britain/viewers-divided-over-gmb-debate/
    Smoridinskaya, A. (2014, October 17). Is ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep Racist? Why political correctness has become offensive. Guff.com. Retrieved from: https://guff.com/is-baa-baa-black-sheep-racist-why-political-correctness-has-become-offensive
    Weigel, M. (2016, November 30). Political correctness. How the right made a phantom enemy. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump

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