Would you find it patronising if your midwife addressed you as ‘good girl’? Or is it another political correctness blow up? STEPHANIE MEADOWS investigates

The concept of ‘political correctness’ has become hugely controversial in the last few years – but why? Well, maybe it is because people struggle to even know what political correctness is because the definition is all over the place! I even suspect that your idea of political correctness is probably different to mine. One of many general definitions of political correctness that most of us can probably relate to is this one from the Oxford Dictionaries Online – “the avoidance of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against”. This is surely a positive thing? Stopping people using language which may be offensive and insensitive to others.

However, there are other definitions of political correctness where people may start to disagree. Chandler & Munday (2011) believe it to be “a term typically used pejoratively for what is seen as an obsessive avoidance of language or behaviour which might be perceived as offensive or discriminatory” (p.326). Penny (2015) claims that “what has come to be called ‘political correctness’ used to be known as good manners and was considered part of being a decent human being. The term now is employed to write of any speech that is uncomfortably socially conscious, culturally sensitive or just plain ‘left wing’”. It’s pretty clear that people are unable to agree on exactly what it is, so how are we ever supposed to know where the boundaries lie?

This brings us to the next point where language is starting to become regulated because of ‘political correctness’.  Apparently, some midwives are now being advised what language is deemed as acceptable when helping women in labour. Recently, Donnelly (2018) in The Telegraph newspaper reported that midwives should “avoid the use of the phrase ‘big baby’ in case it makes women anxious, and not to talk about ‘foetal distress’. Instead, larger infants should be described as “healthy” while foetal distress should be described as “changes in the baby’s heart rate pattern,” (Donnelly, 2018). The advice also said, “midwives and obstetricians should never address the pregnant woman as a ‘she’ when they are discussing the situation at hand. Instead, they should always refer to her by her first name, the guide says” (Donnelly, 2018). The article claims that using the right language could help to reduce anxiety and show more respect for women in labour. So, the question is, would you find it more respectful if midwives changed their language around you when you’re in labour? I personally do not think that it would make much of a difference. I’m sure us ‘women’ are more focused on giving birth rather than how midwives use language to describe our labour process.

However, there are good reasons for regulation of language that have been enforced in recent years which I’m sure many of us can agree on, such as the substitution of words which can be “insulting and objectionable to various minorities”. For instance, black people became “African American” and high school girls became “women” (Cameron, 1995, p.115). This type of regulation helps create equality and fairness for everyone.

Lastly, new regulations have been proposed for school teachers as they have been advised to start using more gender-neutral pronouns, rather than addressing children as ‘he’/’she’, ‘girls’ and ‘boys’. Kinsella (2017) relates how the “UK Government’s former mental health Tsar Natasha Devon told teachers at the UK’s top schools to use gender-neutral language towards their students”. The reason for this was so teachers avoided enforcing gender stereotypes onto their pupils and to make those who are querying their gender feel comfortable when being addressed. However, some people, such as the likes of TV presenter and journalist Piers Morgan (see Kinsella, 2017), may argue that this type of political correctness is barbaric!

The overall motives behind ‘political correctness’ are sound. Who would not agree about stopping the use of offensive language? However, ‘political correctness’ is often not perceived as that anymore. Many refer to it as “PC gone mad” and it is leading people to being too frightened to say anything in case they cause offence. I think maybe we need to consider that although PC is a good thing, there will always be people who want to personally offend you. But phrases like ‘good girl’ being used by midwives is not something to be offended about. Maybe we need to stop going around looking for insults and grow some thicker skin?

STEPHANIE MEADOWS, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Cameron, D. (1995). Verbal Hygiene. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Chandler, D., & Munday, R. (2011). A dictionary of media and communication. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Donnelly, L. (2018, 9 February). Don’t say ‘good girl’ to women in labour because it is disrespectful, midwives are told. The Telegraph.

Kinsella, L. (2017, 23 November). UK teachers told to use gender-neutral pronouns. News.

Oxford Dictionaries Online. ‘Political correctness’ definition.

Penny, L. (2015, 1 June). What’s wrong with political correctness? New Statesman.


Eye-rolling or head-nodding? KATE MUNSCH discusses how seriously we should take ‘political correctness’

Do you roll your eyes, or do you nod your head in agreement when someone says they’re ‘politically correct’? Do you take the stance that ‘political correctness’ restricts your freedom of speech? Or that being ‘politically correct’ is simply just kindness and being considerate of other’s views.

Political correctness has always been a controversial phrase, ever since it started to fully emerge in the early 80s. The general acceptance of these new words and behaviours is still a matter of debate. Because of this, people define ‘political correctness’ differently. Nyguyen (2008, p. 5) believes that political correctness “refers to language and ideas that may cause offence to some identity groups and aims at giving special treatment to members of those social groups”. The main aim of political correctness is to challenge offensive words/expressions either by rules that restrict them known as ‘speech codes’, or by replacing words completely with new ones (Nyguyen, 2008, p. 5). Here, Nyguyen (2008) appears quite neutral on this topic. But others, like Hughes (2010, p. 1) believe that ‘political correctness’ “instructs a sense of obligation or conformity in areas which should be (or are) matters of choice”.

Some people feel that political correctness is responsible for the corruption of our ‘sacred’ language and how it replaces the more important issues at hand, concerning language matters (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p. 93). However, I agree with people like Singer (2017) who believe that using politically correct language leads us to a much more tolerant society. So surely if language can influence people to be more accepting and understanding, it should be regarded as an important language matter.

Cardiff Metropolitan University has been in the limelight recently for adhering to political correctness. The university has introduced a language policy, where both students and staff will be disciplined if they do not comply to it. Words such as ‘right-hand man’, ‘waitress’ and ‘forefathers’ have been banned on campus in order to “crackdown on gendered language” (Gray, 2017). Cardiff Metropolitan University offers a checklist of politically correct terms to use, rather than politically incorrect terms, for students and staff to follow whilst on campus. Instead of ‘best man for the job’, its politically correct alternative is ‘best person for job’. Also, it asks to say ‘women’ instead of ‘girls’ when addressing an adult female. This seems quite logical to me. I am a woman and I would prefer to be addressed as an adult rather than patronizingly addressed as a ‘girl’. The university believes that by doing this, they are making everyone on campus feel welcome and valued (Gray, 2017). Implementing this new language policy has riled some people, as they feel that the university are “attacking free speech and patronizing students and staff” (Gray, 2017). Views such as “these words have evolved over a long period of time and they don’t have sexist associations” and “the idea that in a university, people need to be dictated to in this way is really insulting to students and academics, we should be able to cope with words” were expressed about this new language policy (Gray, 2017). How would you react? Do you agree with the university banning certain words? Or do you think it is ridiculous?

Nanjiani (2013) expresses his view on using the ‘p-word’ – a word nowadays which is generally not acceptable in today’s society, but there are still people who use it. He describes his disappointment when the ‘p-word’ is thrown around carelessly (Nanjiani, 2013). It was a word that was often used to insult him when he was a child. He speaks of the dread he felt going into school when a new racist phrase was doing the rounds on the playground (Nanjiani, 2013). These racist catchphrases typically came from the popular TV shows at the time. Thankfully now, it is pretty much unthinkable that any pop culture references could include such offensive language, regardless of context. However, there are people who think that they can use these words and still not be a racist. But as Nanjiani (2013) explains “it gives permission to those who are racist to use it as a term of abuse” and when the ‘p-word’ is used as banter or in a non-racist way, it is still offensive. This takes me to my final questions. Is it pure ignorance that people use these offensive terms, or do they actually want to cause offence?

Words possess a power that can permanently alter how people see themselves. Once they are heard, they cannot be unheard. This demands a level of responsibility (Diaz, 2016). This responsibility should start with accepting and following language regulation and rules.

KATE MUNSCH, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


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

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

Gray, J. (2013, 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.

Nanjiani, S. (2013, 14 April). P-word isn’t ‘banter’…it’s a harmful jibe. The Sun.

Nguyen, T. (2008). Political correctness in the English language. München: Grin.

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

‘Mankind’ or ‘humankind’? ‘Man-made’ or ‘artificial’? Should we adjust our language to avoid causing offence? FRANCESCA WILLIAMS discusses the pros and cons of so-called ‘political correctness’

Where does political correctness (PC) come from? It can be traced back to the feminist movement in the 1970s (Hughes, 2010, p.64) and this has further changed and developed to what is perceived to be ‘political correctness’ today. The overall idea of having a “healthy expansion for moral concern” (Allan and Burridge, 2006, p.90) still stands. Put simply, PC today involves changing or modifying our behaviour in order not to offend others. This may seem like a simplistic definition, but the modern meaning of the term today covers a whole range of connotations and versions.

More increasingly we are told there are words we should and should not use – those deemed ‘politically incorrect’ – and therefore we must exercise the correct versions. However, who has decided we are not to use such words? Who has the power to enforce this? What happens if you don’t comply and use ‘correct’ terms? In one case at least we can identify who is trying to regulate language use. Cardiff Metropolitan University has compiled a check-list of 34 gender-neutral terms that it advises it staff to use, and their offensive equivalents be dropped. For the everyday person, if we use a politically incorrect term we don’t face jail or face a fine, nothing happens. However, according to Gray (2017), at Cardiff Metropolitan University “[s]tudents and staff […] could face “disciplinary procedures” if they fail to adhere to the institution’s language policy”. The university state that its aim is to make everyone feel valued and create a “positive working environment, free from discrimination, harassment and victimisation” (Gray, 2017). To them, language should always be gender inclusive. The list includes swapping ‘chairman’/’chairwoman’ for ‘chair’/’chairperson’, ‘mankind’ for ‘humankind’, ‘taxman’ for ‘tax office’. Surely this isn’t hard to do, and if using this language promotes fairness and equality then people surely cannot complain?

The term ‘political correctness’ itself holds negative connotations nowadays. In red top tabloid papers the term is often accompanied by the phrase ‘gone mad’. These arguments against the regulation of language use suggest that PC is creating a world that restricts free speech. For instance, according to Delingpole in the Sunday Express, “[t]hey want to create a world where none of us can open our mouths without first mentally censoring ourselves. They want us all to think like politically correct lefties” (Delingpole, 2013). This bold statement is mirrored by Browne (2006) who claims that “the pervasiveness of political correctness is closing down freedom of speech and open debate” (p.5). He also states “rather than say:… I would like to hear your side, the politically correct insist: ‘you can’t say that’” (Browne, 2006, p.7). This alleges that PC people are only bothered by what is PC and not what is necessarily correct.

Supporters of PC are quick to point out that political correctness isn’t about suppression and having to control your thoughts, it’s about courtesy. Singer (2017) highlights this with the example of the gender neutral pronoun “they” and respecting peoples wishes not to be labelled as ‘he’ or ‘she’. He explains if you were to introduce yourself to someone and say your name was ‘Steve’, if they didn’t get that right and called you ‘Steven’, you would correct them and say “please call me Steve”. People often respect this and almost always call you by your preferred name, so if this happens with name labels then why can’t the same be said for the gender neutral pronoun. If people are respectful enough to call someone their preferred name, why can’t this be done for the labels ‘he’ or ‘she’?

Valenti (2016) argues that “[o]ur language should reflect the world we want, not antiquated attitudes towards women”. Although feminism has been around for a long time, biased sexist words still seem to exist. Words such as ‘mistress’, ‘diva’ and ‘slut’ are inherently negative terms that refer specifically to women. Even an unmarried man is a ‘bachelor’, compared with the female equivalent ‘spinster’. A male who has been in lots of relationships is a ‘stud’, compared with the woman, a ‘slut’.

But what does all of this mean to the everyday person? We are told not to use language that is inherently offensive to others, which seems vague. But when it’s broken down so simply like that, is it really so hard? We are asked to change the way we speak and self-censor, but we do this anyway without moaning that we have lost our right to free speech.

FRANCESCA 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.
Browne, A. (2006). The retreat of reason: Political correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain. Citvitas: Institute for the study of Civil Society.
Delingpole, J. (2013, 16 April). We must not allow the Left to take over our language. Sunday Express
Gray, J. (2017, March 3). Cardiff Metropolitan University Accused Of Censorship Over ‘Gender Neutral’ Language Policy. Huffington Post.
Hughes, G. (2009). Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture. Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell.
Singer, S. (2017, 4 April). Political correctness isn’t about censorship – it’s about decency. Huffington Post.
Valenti, J. (2016, June 2). Why we need to lose biased words like ‘mistress’ for good. The Guardian. 


Has political correctness gone mad or are we simply refusing to move with the times? LUKE WHITE delves into the political correctness debate

The term ‘political correctness’ is not only hard to define in this day and age but it’s difficult to decide where we cut the line on it. The origins of political correctness go back to the First World War but it is quite difficult to trust the definitions of the topic when considering that women had only just been granted the vote and homosexuality was still illegal. Hughes (2010) relays the point that Mao Zedong first coined ‘political correctness’ in 1929 but again I don’t think taking the idea of a man who was responsible for at least 45 million deaths can be validated as politically correct. A more fitting definition by Barbara Gallagher (2013) is that political correctness is there to encourage tact and sensitivity to others’ feelings around issues of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and physical abilities; and since its reprisal from the feminist movement in the 1970s this is what it has done.

In essence political correctness is there to come to aid of those discriminated against and simply help people view others as equals, rather than inferior and superior. Racism permeated through British culture heavily in the 1970s leading for stricter calls on language regulation. With shows like ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ referring to his West Indian neighbour as “those nig-nogs next door” or ‘Only Fools and Horses’ often “nipping to the p*aki’s on the corner” it is not hard to understand why we needed language regulation. . . But really how far have we come? Although Ed Richards, former media watchdog, stated these programmes from a previous generation were no longer suitable for today’s more enlightened audiences (Knapton, 2014) there are still shows present that may conform semantically to political correctness but not behaviourally. Shows like ‘Little Britain’ which extolls the stereotypical Thai woman as a concubine with the name Ting Tong Macadangdang still exist. Have we actually progressed at all?

Alas there is hope and common decency amongst us somewhere that someone is encouraging sensitivity to Gallagher’s five spheres of political correctness. Cardiff Metropolitan University have recently come on the radar by introducing their ‘censorship’ on gender neutral language. ‘Fireman’ is now expressed as ‘firefighter’; ‘salesman’/’woman’ is now ‘sales assistant’; ‘sportsmanship’ is now ‘fair play’. The list goes on. However, the term ‘censorship’ is used rather aggressively in this instance by stating it’s a bad thing you cannot say its original term, but this is guidance to help create a politically correct world, well a start to it anyway. There is the common belief from this change in language that we will be able to dismantle, slowly, the ideals of a patriarchal society and both men and women can coexist as equals.

Although the aspect of gender regulated language is being undertaken by the university and accordingly across the globe, in what instances does language regulation go too far? The word ‘woman’ contains the word ‘man’; ‘women’ contains the word ‘men’. Does this mean we have to re-write the terms for the female sex? And even Cardiff universities list of alternative proposals for words can be brought under scrutiny. Their idea that ‘mankind’ should be recognised as ‘humanity’ only counteracts its own argument as there is still the embedded notion of ‘man’ within their substitute, so surely political correctness can’t solve every debate.

Browne (2006, p.7) states that the “pervasiveness of political correctness is closing down the freedom of speech and open debate” and rather than say “I wouldn’t like to hear your side, the politically correct insist you can’t say that” (p.5). In most cases it’s almost inherent to use language that others may find offensive. You’re not allowed to say ‘manhole’ as there is the notion only men can enter these holes but I personally cannot see the offensive nature in this. When speaking about first born languages it is inherent that you use the phrase ‘mother-tongue’ but yet again I don’t see the offensive nature in this.

The control of language can work two-fold, which I hope you have seen from this blog. You either support it or don’t. For the likes of me and you I hope you understand the implications of using certain words rather than others but as years go by words change as do their meanings. We are simply living in a stage were people want to accelerate this cycle to fully remove those words that cause offence. Think of language regulation as “a healthy expansion of moral concern” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.90). It is here to help those who feel like they need it, so accept it and continue the movement.

LUKE WHITE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


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

Browne, A. (2006). The retreat of reason: Political correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain. Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society.

Gallagher, BJ. (2017, 6 December). The Problem With Political Correctness. Huffington Post.

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

Hughes, G. (2009). Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Knapton, S. (2014, 29 December). Racist 1970s comedies would be banned now, says head of Ofcom. The Telegraph.

Has ‘political correctness’ gone mad? MARK DOUGLAS casts a balanced eye over an emotive subject.

Some of us may frequently feel that the statement in the title is true and that the tentacles of political correctness (PC) have, like ‘topsy’, spread into every nook and cranny of our everyday lives, leaving any iota of proportionality and common sense by the wayside. The PC label is often imbued with negative connotations which are reinforced by the left-wing press and liberal leaning individuals.

The Chambers Dictionary (2011) defines ‘political correctness’ as “the avoidance of expressions or actions that may be understood to exclude or denigrate groups or minorities traditionally perceived as disadvantaged by e.g. race, sex, disability, class, political alignment or sexual inclination; the use of recommended alternative expressions intended to be non- discriminatory.” In other words –  to be politically correct – we must think before we speak and moderate our language accordingly, so as not to cause anyone any offence or distress regardless of whether any was intended. The downside of this is that all spontaneity in any dialogue may be lost and a form of self-regulatory censorship is imposed as we pause and attempt to find an alternative PC label for words which many of us are familiar with and have used regularly over many years.

Some examples of lexis may include ‘artificial’ rather than ‘manmade’, ‘server’ versus ‘waitress’, ‘chairman’ v ‘chair’ / ‘chairperson’, ‘sportsmanship’ v ‘fairness’, ‘old’ v ‘senior’, ‘half-cast’ v ‘mixed race’, ‘mankind’ v ‘humanity’, ‘retarded’ v ‘developmentally challenged’ and ‘blacklisted’ v ‘banned’.

Lakoff (1990: 298) declared that “[f]or change that comes spontaneously from below, or within, our policy should be, let your language alone, and leave its speakers alone! But other forms of language manipulations have other origins, other motives, other effects and are far more dangerous.” In other words – when language use evolves culturally and temporally and not from within an individual then we should not interject. If language is to change due to the conscious nature of language users then it can be torn apart. Cheshire (1984) believes that the change of language against sexism is a natural process that occurred with social change. Crystal (1984) refers to this as one of the biggest cases of prescriptivism in recent history. Cameron (1995: 119) claimed that “movements for linguistic change are common-sensically represented as merely parasitic on movements for social change; at the same time, they are felt to be a superfluous embarrassment to those movements, since any social change will ‘naturally’ produce linguistic change.” She also states that the so-called ‘politically-correct’ “are known for their insistence on replacing usages which they deem insulting and objectionable to various ‘minorities’. Thus high school girls become ‘women’, mankind becomes ‘humanity’, disabled people become ‘physically challenged’ and black people in the US become ‘African-American’ ” (p.166). This leads us to question whether political correctness is as simple as good manners or is it a movement of people’s ideologies?

There is clearly much ongoing debate as to whether political correctness is morally right or a means of language censorship.

Battistella suggests that the use of the term ‘political correctness’ in America was first used in the 1960’s during the Black Power Movement and the New Left. (2005: 90). The phrase was also used by George W Bush at the 1991 commencement speech at the University of Michigan where he stated that “political correctness has ignited controversy across the land” (Battistella, 2005, p.91).

What do you think? To paraphrase Allan and Burridge (2006: 90) – is political correctness a ‘brainwashing programme’ or simply ‘good manners’?

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

Cameron, D. (1995). Verbal hygiene. Abingdon: Routledge.

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

Lakoff, R. (1990). Talking power: The politics of language. New York, USA: Routledge.


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


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.





Oppressive thought control or controlling oppressive thoughts? EMMA ALDINGTON debates the pros and cons of political correctness

It’s no secret that people today are increasingly concerned about the rise of political correctness, fuelled particularly by newspapers and posts on social media. We hear that political correctness is ‘thought control’ or disregarding the ‘free speech’ that we so often take for granted in this country. There is a mass of polarised views when it comes to academics and PC. Michael Barnard describes the issue as “a new strain of ideological virus”, but Chomsky calls it “a healthy expansion of moral concern” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p. 90). It can be understood why those who have researched the history of political correctness might be troubled by the obsession the UK has with being ‘PC’. Its roots are embedded in Chinese communism and the dictatorship of it former leader Mao Tse-tung, but it’s important to remember that the term has since been revived by slightly different groups such as the American New Left and the feminist movement (Hughes, 2010, p. 60-69).

A study by Pearson (2005) investigated students gaining their PGCE qualification to work in secondary schools, and their attitudes towards terms such as ‘special educational needs’ and ‘disability’, and their subsequent language use when presented with the terms (p. 18). Pearson (2005) found that “inclusion was rarely mentioned […] and some of the responses were exclusionary and offensive” (p. 21), and suggested that the results raised “concerns about the adequacy of current provision” (p. 17). Of course, using inclusive terms for people with disabilities is just one small part of the political correctness debate, but this study highlights that there are issues in the way people are educated on the topic.

Cardiff Metropolitan University very recently published a ‘check-list’ of words and phrases that they wanted their student body to avoid, to ultimately avoid offending oppressed or minority groups such as people with disabilities and women. Their aim in this, as reported by Gray (2017), was to “make everyone on campus feel valued”, but there has been a backlash against this and some “accused [the university] of attacking free speech”.

This really raises the question alluded to in the title of this blog. Are the ‘PC brigade’ trying to control the population’s thoughts? There are two ways of answering that question, depending on who you are and what your general beliefs are. The first is that, yes, Cardiff Metropolitan and anyone else enforcing rules on others’ language are somewhat ‘controlling’ the way we speak, and ultimately the way we think. However, it also begs the question, why should we have a problem with avoiding terms that potentially cause distress or exclusion to others? Is it oppressive ‘thought-control’, or is it controlling oppressive thoughts? Both of these justified points are often thrown up in debates on the topic, which is why it is seen as so difficult to come to a definitive answer.

There’s the age-old expression, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” that often gets brought up by the defence when talking about being PC. Whilst this can remain true in some instances, it is vital to look at real-life scenarios where being politically incorrect and using offensive terms can turn into a scenario which is physical and violent. The Intelligence Report from the Southern Poverty Law Center is an American periodical which monitors activity of far-right groups across the US. They published statistics that since Donald Trump (known for his offensive language and politically incorrect phrases) announced he was running for president in 2015, there was a 14% rise in “extremist groups” (Alexandersen, 2017). That comes as no surprise. If we want to get specific, “the FBI reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes went up by 67% in 2015” (Potok, 2017). Not everyone will wish to extrapolate that data to Trump’s campaign and anti-Muslim rhetoric, but it is certainly food for thought.

This is an ongoing debate that we may never get an answer to, but it is important to remember that while sticks and stones may break your bones, words can hurt too.

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



Alexandersen, C. (2017). Hate, extremists groups rose 3 percent in U.S. during divisive 2016: report. Pennlive.com.

Allan, K. & Burridge, K. (2006). Forbidden words: Taboo and the censoring of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gray, J. (2017). Cardiff Metropolitan University accused of censorship over ‘gender neutral’ language policy. Huff Post Young Voices

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

Pearson, S. (2005). ‘SEN – a politically correct phrase to replace terms such as disabled?’ A study of the views of students entering a secondary PGCE course’. Support for Learning, 20(1), 17-21.