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

 

References

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.

 

Has political correctness actually gone mad? KATE GREEN explores the relationship between PC and race

So, what is ‘political correctness’? Linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky labels it as a “healthy expansion of moral concern”, while Michael Barnard calls it an “ideological virus” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.90). The Urban Dictionary even defines it as “an inverted fascist philosophy that absolutely no-one should conform to unless they are an ignorant, bleeding-heart liberal idiot” (Urban Dictionary, 2004), so it’s already clear that there’s a lot of debate around the subject.

One of the most pertinent issues surrounding the minefield of political correctness is that of race. Allan and Burridge suggest that moving forward with our language in a way which mirrors our progressive social change is to “[call] groups by the names they prefer” (2006, p.96). They provide the example of members of the black community wishing to be called “African Americans […] to emphasise not genetics or colour, but [their] historical roots” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.97). This development perhaps helps to embrace and create the identities of minority groups, rather than focusing merely on physical differences which set them apart. Surely moves such as these should be seen as a positive thing, rather than a “fascist philosophy”, as it’s designed to create a more inclusive and welcoming society? It has also been suggested that “political correctness doesn’t hinder free speech – it expands it. But for marginalised groups, rather than the status quo” (West, 2015). Calling minority groups by the names they prefer may be a step in the right direction – it gives them a voice and seeks to even out the inequalities they face in today’s society.

Trevor Phillips, broadcaster and former politician, recently wrote and produced a documentary for Channel 4 entitled ‘Has political correctness gone mad’? As a member of the black community himself, Phillips discusses his attitudes towards the word ‘n*****’, reminiscing about how his grandmother used it throughout his childhood simply as a way to refer to other black people. Phillips then debates whether or not anyone should be allowed to use the word at all nowadays, given the derogatory connotations it has taken on. On the view that white people should never use it, but that black people can, Phillips has this to say: “that’s one rule for white people and another for black people, and there’s a word for that beginning with R”. Perhaps he’s right. People have already lived through years of racial segregation with certain words used as terms of abuse and as a way to oppress minorities. Allowing certain groups to continue utilising these words in their everyday speech, while prohibiting others from doing the same, does not exactly send out a message of equality.

This brings us to the point: is it politically incorrect to sing the children’s choosing rhyme ‘Eeny Meeny Miny Moe’? Although it is perhaps not common knowledge, the rhyme originally contained the line “catch a n***** by his toe” (Opie & Opie, 1951, pp.156-158). In more recent versions, ‘piggy’ or ‘tiger’ commonly replace the racial term, and it’s these animal-related versions which appear in popular culture today (Boult, A., 2017). An example of this is the television show, The Walking Dead, in which a character sings the “eeny meeny” rhyme featuring the word ‘tiger’ before murdering two other characters. This graphic scene has become iconic among fans of The Walking Dead, so much so that fashion retailer Primark created a t-shirt featuring the words “eeny meeny miny moe” alongside a picture of the murder weapon. For members of the public who were not aware of the garment’s association with the television show, the t-shirt was seen as “fantastically offensive”, and even as a “direct [reference] to the practice of assaulting black people in America” (Boult, 2017). These accusations stem from the fact that the rhyme once had racist connotations and, while the offending word has been replaced today, its history hasn’t been forgotten. This raises the question of how much the past should influence the type of language we use today. Are idioms and rhymes, such as “eeny meeny”, still considered offensive and politically incorrect if the history behind them isn’t common knowledge anymore?

“The path to real progress may be learning to live with offence” is the line with which Trevor Phillips chose to end his Channel 4 documentary. But it’s important to remember that perhaps one’s linguistic choices can have a greater impact on minority groups than realised, and that a bit of “moral concern” can contribute to a more inclusive, “politically correct” society.

KATE GREEN, 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.

Boult, A. (2017). Is this Walking Dead t-shirt racist? Primark pulls item following complaint. The Telegraph Online. 

Opie, I., & Opie, P. (1951). The Oxford dictionary of nursery rhymes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Phillips, T. (2017). Has political correctness gone mad? For Channel 4, originally aired on 22/02/2017. 

Urban Dictionary. (2004). Political correctness definition.

West, L. (2015). Political correctness doesn’t hinder free speech – it expands it. The Guardian Online.

What is, and how desirable is political correctness? VICKI TOON gets out her red pen…..

In recent years, political correctness (PC) has seen a massive rise in popularity, (if I am even allowed to call it that!) For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, the OED online defines it as the “advocacy of or conformity to politically correct views; politically correct language or behaviour” (2017). This seems a rather simplistic view, however, as the modern meaning of the term covers a whole range of connotations.

For many, PC has acted as an uplifting source of equality and relieves those who have fallen victim to insults because of race, gender, physical ability etc. For example, O’Neill (2011) points out that some years ago, ‘handicapped’ used to be the PC term to describe people with disabilities. This grew to have negative connotations and was replaced by a more modern PC term, ‘disabled’. ‘Disabled’ at present, causes less offence than ‘handicapped’ and most people see this as a good thing. But don’t use ‘disabled’ as the collective term, as in ‘the disabled’. It should be used as a description, not a label, as the Government website (Gov.uk) kindly points out for us. There is however, growing frustration around the word ‘disabled’, with some speculation that it is being replaced with new terms such as ‘differently abled’.

Supporters of PC are quick to point out that it has “a civilizing influence on society, that it discourages the use of words that have negative or offensive connotations and thereby grants respect to people who are the victims of unfair stereotypes” (O’Neill, 2011, p. 279). Naturally, it is in most people’s best interests to not purposefully offend someone or to cause them harm, but unfortunately in the past, some words have gained negative connotations and have become subject to O’Neill’s (2011) ‘euphemism treadmill’. This is a rather undeserved fate, and some words such as ‘spastic’, which was originally used in the medical sense to refer to someone with cerebral palsy, gradually grew to be used as an insult and is now seen as being politically incorrect.

You might be wondering, “a euphemism treadmill? Is this all just an elaborate metaphor?” Well the simple answer is ‘no’! O’Neill’s (2011) euphemism treadmill refers to the idea that, for example, ‘toilet’ used to be the PC term but was quickly replaced by other euphemisms such as ‘loo’, ‘W.C.’ and ‘lavatory’. O’Neill claims that we are constantly participating in this cycle of replacing words which is entirely pointless. Words themselves never have an inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ meaning. A word’s meaning often changes over time through use. So, for example, it is inappropriate to refer to someone with dwarfism as being a ‘midget’ or even a ‘dwarf’ (according to Gov.uk anyway!) The PC phrase would be to describe someone with dwarfism as someone “with restricted growth”, did you know that? No, neither did I.

It’s all very well explaining how words move from being PC to becoming politically incorrect, but where do we draw the line? When is it acceptable for us to be told what we can and can’t say, do and even think? Many sources have tried to prescribe what they think should and shouldn’t be used with varying degrees of success. With this, there are those who strongly oppose PC equating it with thought control. Browne (2006) points out that p.c. has managed to creep its way into several areas including hospitals, local as well as central Government and schools. My own recent experience within a primary school revealed that it is now seen as inappropriate to use red pen to mark a child’s piece of work because the colour red has negative connotations. Instead, a purple pen should be used. This to me, does seem to be PC gone mad because only a relatively short time ago, I was of primary school age and never thought of the colour red as having such connotations.

So, what does this mean for people? Ordinary people, who aren’t familiar with euphemism treadmills and constantly changing Government guidelines. Is it that bad? Well, ultimately it means that English speakers are discouraged to use language which is deemed offensive and insensitive to others, which can only be a positive thing to most rational minded people. Vague, I know. But this only reflects current definitions of those who are ‘experts’ in the field, and until someone comes up with a better, more concrete answer, then this is what we have to live by.

VICKI TOON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Browne, A. (2006). The retreat of reason: Political Correctness and the corruption of public debate in modern Britain (2nd Ed.). London, United Kingdom: The Institute for the Study of Civil Society.

Department for Work & Pensions & Department for Disability Issues. (2014). Inclusive language: Words to use and avoid when writing about disability. Gov.uk. 

OED Online. (2017). Oxford University Press. 

O’Neill, B. (2011). A Critique of Politically Correct Language. The Independent Review, 16(2), 279–291.

 

‘Can I say that?’ The dichotomy of ‘Political Correctness’ and Free Speech, by RICHARD STOTT

Emotions have always run high in the debate surrounding ‘Political Correctness’, ever since its rise from an American culture obsessed with freedom of speech in the 1980s. Let’s first consider the positive motive behind the idea. ‘PC’ is a phenomenon which seeks to demonstrate “progressive ideals, esp by avoiding vocabulary that is considered offensive, discriminatory, or judgmental, esp concerning race and gender” as defined in the Collins Dictionary. However, from a philosophical perspective, how do we actually place a restrictive boundary on what we can and can’t say in language?

In recent years, stand-up comedians are just one group to have suffered in an age of sensitive language. A few days ago, Newsweek reported the views of comedian Jim Norton from a documentary issuing concern about stand-up comedy and the policing of speech. Norton sensitively regards this hot topic as no laughing matter, claiming the offence taken from those labelled ‘PC zealots’ to be ridiculous. Norton claims: “If you think you have the right not to be offended, either change the parameters of what offends you or realize you’re wrong. Those are your two choices.”

There is a sense of emotive hyperbole in his words, but how annoying must it be when people are oversensitive and can’t take mere jokes? However, you could say Norton is playing with fire drawing material from topics areas such as ‘transsexuality’ and ‘body dysmorphia’. Although, aside from Norton who seems to embrace offensive comedy, other comedians are ever more conscious of crossing such boundaries, concerned that with the technology available to audiences today, they will be publically shamed in doing so.

Along with stand-up comedians, many other groups find themselves at the centre of a war with ‘PC’, particularly within the social network Twitter. In April 2013, American football quarterback Robert Griffin tweeted “[i]n a land of freedom we are held hostage by the tyranny of political correctness”. Subsequently, the tweet went viral and has over 13,000 retweets and almost 6000 likes, displaying the sheer number of support for the claim that ‘PC’ is suppressing free speech which should be a given right. Additionally, there is an emotional, personified notion that ‘PC’ binds language use against our will. Politician Donald Trump has also been criticised for a number of tweets in the media, and is openly averse to ‘PC’ conformity. For instance, he tweeted “[s]o many ‘politically correct’ fools in our country. We have to all get back to work and stop wasting time and energy on nonsense”, supporting the pejorative mood surrounding ‘PC’, and disregarding it as human oversensitivity.

To flip the coin, Lindy West reported last month in the Guardian, that “Political Correctness doesn’t hinder free speech [but] expands it”. The article instantly attracted public attention with almost 12,500 shares to date on various social networks, due to the presentation of ‘PC’ in a completely opposite light. Details of the report claim ‘PC’ enhances free speech for ‘marginalised groups’ rather than ‘the status quo’. For example, Lindy sheds light on the culture war within the American university system when she claims that “[i]f you’re genuinely concerned about ‘free speech’, take a step back and look at what’s actually happening here: a bunch of college students, on the cusp of finding their voices, being publicly berated by high-profile writers in national publications because they don’t like what they have to say. Are you sure you know who’s silencing whom?”

Instances of journalists and right wing elites exercising their power over the speech used from students have made campuses a hostile environment. For example, ‘silencing tactics’ used against American students have triggered backlashes. Lindy questions how ‘PC’ is suppressing speech as evident protests show they know their given right in the first amendment permitting them to exercise their voices.

The past few decades can be characterised by Western society’s ever growing concern in a number of sensitive areas. However, to stay neutral, isn’t it time we accept that the control and conformity ‘PC’ enforces is essential to keep order in language, and suppress anarchy across highly sensitive domains? Let’s think rationally, open up to understanding different cultural and social relationships, and in turn consider ‘PC’ in specific contexts to channel our language more positively for others. With this in mind, let’s not naively dismiss the concept comprehensively, screaming the wild claim… ‘PC has gone mad!’ We should assess each case individually, and attempt to stay neutral on a unique phenomenon. ‘Political Correctness’ draws so much pejorative attention due to sensitive propagandists abusing the system, that we quickly overlook the positive intention at its core, and its essential presence embedded within a language which would run far too freely without it.

RICHARD STOTT, English language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

 References

Gillespie, N. (2015, November 26). Political Correctness Gone Mad. It’s No Laughing Matter. Newsweek. Retrieved December 01, 2015.

Griffin, R. (2013). Twitter. Retrieved November 19, 2015.

Hughes, G. (2010). Political Correctness: A history of semantics and culture. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Political Correctness. (2015). Collins Dictionary Online.

Trump, D. J. (2015). Twitter. Retrieved December 04 2015.

West, L. (2015, November 15). ‘Political correctness’ doesn’t hinder free speech – it expands it. The Guardian.

DOMINIQUE HITCHEN asks: ‘Has political correctness taken a word too far?’

Political correctness is, and probably always will be, a contested issue. For a long time now, political correctness has been considered by many as a restriction of speech, a control mechanism and a total waste of time. But to what extent are these views entirely true?

Political correctness (PC) is defined by the OED as “[t]he 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” (The Oxford Dictionary of English, 2015). Nothing wrong here. It can just be summarized as being nice to each other.

There are many views that support this definition. Yes, they were much harder to find but I found them… eventually.

Hugh Muir (The Guardian, 2009) describes PC as “a good thing” and continues to explain reasons for using PC – “[…] to have respect, to be civil, to be inclusive, to avoid unnecessary offence, to try to act to give the various sections of society equal opportunities”. Sounds great! Views like this are also linked with the discussions about the relationship between language and thought. Hughes (2010, pp. 62) portrays the idea that PC is “[…] not just doing the right thing but thinking the right thoughts”, suggesting that by using PC language it will encourage the users to construct better thoughts. Okay… somehow I don’t believe this. We still think the ‘politically incorrect’ terms, we just try and figure out a better way to say it. So is it just me that thinks thoughts don’t change with language?

Anyway, on the other side of the fence, some views about PC contradict and disagree with all of the above. Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail (2012) points out that political correctness is not a fair system; it is one rule for one and one rule for another; “[…] others manage to get away with vile remarks — while still others are attacked for the use of words whose meaning has been wrenched out of context”. Other remarks range from PC limiting our human right to freedom of speech to PC acting as a control mechanism (debate.org, 2015). Ally Ross in The Sun (2012) simply states “[t]here is…no limit to the stupidity or madness of…political correctness”. Very emotive – but how have we got to this point in the debate?

Political correctness has changed as regards to meaning, relation and interpretation. In earlier years, PC was consider to consist of strict guidelines that were believed to be important and universal; “[…] in the 1980s, PC was very serious. It didn’t do jokes” (Sawyer, 2012), whereas, today people tend not to be so ‘serious’ about it. Sawyer (2012) later explains a bus journey where she hears teenagers calling each other ‘politically incorrect’ labels. In the defence of political correctness, I think it is much more effective within professions and in the public eye; teachers, tutors, presenters, comedians and many more, have to be extra careful in what they say as it could offend pupils and listeners and cause various disputes. However, as regards non-professional people, PC is a broad term which doesn’t really mean as much to us. Without us knowing, I think we are ‘politically correct’. We try and say things in different ways to try not to cause offence. Basically political correctness, right? Political correctness and its meaning changes from person to person, from generation to generation and will continue to change throughout the years. There will be no regularity regarding political correctness nor two views that are the same. The opinions that relate to PC create anxieties about language. People will begin to say not what they want but what they believe people want to hear. What kind of society is that?

As a generation, there will always be a divide between those who believe political correctness is what shapes our thought and creates a harmonious society and those that see PC as a restriction of our human rights. It is not what we say, it is what people infer from what we say The connotations that relate to what has been said. How far people take what is said out of context to be offensive. Are we being too sensitive? Has political correctness gone that word, phrase, sentence too far? Maybe PC is just infinity….

DOMINIQUE HITCHEN, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Debate.Org. (2015). Is political correctness a good thing? 

Hughes, G. (2010). Political Correctness: A history of semantics and culture. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell

Muir, H. (2009, December 21). In defence of political correctness. 

Phillips, M. (2012, January 9). Tourettes and how David Cameron fell victim to the ‘sensitivity police’. Retrieved from Daily Mail.

Ross, A. (2012, January 11). Premier Bin, Len.  Retrieved from The Sun

Sawyer, M. (2012, January 8). Your Mum is so fat: when she fell in love she broke it. Retrieved from Observer Magazine.

The Oxford Dictionary of English. (2015). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 

Orwellian Newspeak or respect for others? CHRISTINA SOMMERVILLE explores ‘political correctness’

The debate on political correctness can be a sore subject for most, as it is such a controversial topic on which everyone seems to have a different opinion. It has been simmering away for decades, however, it seems that the debate has reached its peak in the 21st Century. Social media, online newspaper comment sections, blogs – these are all platforms for people from any background to express themselves, a modern luxury which gives everyone a voice.  Of course freedom of expression isn’t a bad thing, it is our legal right after all, but the controversy lies in the way we utilise our freedom of expression. In the following, I will be addressing both sides of the argument regarding political correctness from a primarily linguistic perspective, drawing on modern topical issues to support my arguments.

Merriam-Webster.com (2015) defines political correctness as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people” whereas Collinsdictionary.com (2015) defines it as “demonstrating progressive ideals, esp. by avoiding vocabulary that is considered offensive, discriminatory, or judgemental, esp. concerning race and gender.” Both definitions ultimately state a very similar point, however there are subtle differences between the two. Notice how Merriam-Webster.com say “to not use language or behave in a way that could offend […]”. This suggests that we should restrict our language and behaviour and eliminate words from our language that could, at any time, cause offence, even where offence wasn’t intended. Collinsdictionary.com address the definition slightly differently, as they use terms such as “demonstrating progressive ideals”, and “avoiding vocabulary that is considered offensive…”. Unlike Merriam-Webster.com, Collins-dictionary.com has more of a descriptive approach, suggesting that our language should expand and adapt to our modern culture, that we should avoid certain vocabulary which is already deemed as offensive in today’s society. These two definitions represent the two main arguments I am addressing. Has political correctness gone that far that we need to eliminate words from our vocabulary and be conscious of our language at all times in case we cause offense? Or should we celebrate the positive influences and progression that political correctness has brought to our language?

The BBC caused outrage when it was revealed that they had edited out the word ‘girl’ in their coverage of the Commonwealth Games, in which Mark Beaumont said “I am not sure I can live that down – being beaten by a 19-year-old-girl” (Marsden, 2014). Some members of the public reacted, saying that it is “finding offence where none is taken” (Marsden, 2014) whereas the BBC felt that they needed to edit the word out ‘just in case’. This is where political correctness goes too far. The media have an immense privilege in that what they publish or broadcast does influence/manipulate the thoughts and behaviors of its recipients, however this time the BBC were trying too hard to remain politically correct by conjuring up an issue that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Browne (2006, p.49) summarizes this point, stating that “[o]ne tactic of political correctness is to follow the Orwellian Newspeak approach of trying to eliminate thoughts by eliminating the words, or even unintended associations.”

If we read Uuganaa Ramsay’s blog “The Meaning of Mongol” (Ramsay, 2014) we see how one word, “Mongol”, can be received so differently depending on the context. Initially, the term was used in a derogatory way to describe people with Down’s syndrome before a diagnosis had been discovered, because the physical appearances of the Down’s syndrome patients (then known simply as “idiots”) were similar to those of Mongols. Ramsay’s main point in this article is to use the term as it is intended, the name of a race, rather than as an insult. Here we see a positive use of politically correct language, as instead of blaming people for using the term or wanting the term abolished, she understands that some people are unaware of the etymology of the term and hopes that, by making them aware, the usage of the term will change over time. Hughes (2009, p.3) makes a point which summarises Ramsay’s views quite well, that political correctness is a “…slightly puritanical intervention to sanitize the language by suppressing some of its uglier prejudicial features, thereby undoing some past injustices […] with the hope of improving social relations.”  The main point to take away from both arguments is that context is key. A word is just letters, it is just a signifier. The offence is caused when the word is given meaning when used in a particular context.

CHRISTINA SOMMERVILLE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Browne, A. (2006). The retreat of reason. London: Civitas.

Collinsdictionary.com,. (2015). Definition of “politically correct” | Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved 8 December 2015.

Hughes, Geoffrey. (2009). Political Correctness. Wiley-Blackwell. 

Marsden, S. (2014). BBC mauled for ruling ‘girl’ is offensive word. Mail Online. Retrieved 8 December 2015.

Merriam-webster.com,. (2015). politically correct | agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people. Retrieved 8 December 2015.

Ramsay, U. (2014). The meaning of Mongol – BBC News. BBC News. Retrieved 8 December 2015.

 

 

THOMAS BARBERA asks: ‘Should we rejoice over political correctness?’

How many times have we heard “Oh no, you should not say that!”? We are taught to watch what we say because it might offend someone and be deemed as “politically incorrect”. Does political correctness serve a good cause or does it only prove to limit our freedom of speech?

Nowadays it seems that everything that we say is under the magnifying glass of political correctness. However, is it a bad thing in itself? It could be the case, to some extent, if we consider the concept of ‘victim status’.

According to Browne (2006), claiming to have victim status is finding a statement that is deemed offensive – or not – towards one’s community and using it against the utterer. It is also a device to kill two birds with one stone: The reply to the first comment serves to elevate the group that has been affected by the utterance that was perceived derogatory. A good example of the use of victim status was what the controversial Jeremy Clarkson said in reference to the tragic accident that happened to Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Beach in 2004. With very questionable humour he compared the 2012 Olympic synchronised swimmers “as nothing more than Chinese women in hats, upside down, in a bit of water”. He added: “You can see that sort of thing on Morecambe Beach. For free” (The Huffington Post UK, 2012). The backlash came from the family of the casualities but also from the Chinese community and the anti-racist groups, saying that “he had no right to offend communities in this country who live and work here and provide more to Britain than he does” (Phillips, 2012). He was in no point referring to the race of the cockle-pickers, yet his comment received backlash and media attention. This was also the occasion for a particular anti-racism group to value and highlight the Chinese community’s worth whilst lowering Clarkson’s. This suggests that political correctness can be taken to the extreme and that people can be offended by statements that are not intended to be politically incorrect. Nonetheless, it does not make what Clarkson said any less abhorrent.

However, is political correctness always going too far? Sometimes it can be put to great use and help the minority and the ones who are discriminated against. It is undeniable that policing what people say can be, from time to time, quite beneficial. It is especially valid for people in the public eye. They serve as role models for the young and need to be more aware of what they can and cannot say. Their words are heard, analysed and repeated multiple times. The role of the “thought police” can turn out to be crucial. Discovering that your favourite football player, John Terry (Chelsea), needs to pay almost £250, 000 for some racist comments should make you question racism and correct language – hopefully.

Political correctness can help change the mentalities and could broaden the narrowest minds in some occasions. Consciously choosing another words instead of one that could be deemed rude takes half of a second but makes a whole world of difference for your interlocutor. I agree with what Steven Pedrow (2014) wrote in his article for the Washington Post: “Language is about respect”. Choosing words correctly proves that you care about the person you are speaking to. Moreover, as Hughes (2010, p. 289) claims, linguistic adjustments can have a positive effect on one’s behaviour in some measure. It makes little sense to use nice and respectful words to talk to someone with the idea of hurting them. Even though it is not a question of getting rid of all the bad words, of course, it can prevent someone from being openly rude. Perhaps, if we start to talk in a more “politically correct” manner, we would, in the end, start acting as such.

As Browne (2006, p. 40) rightly said, “[o]ne of the main purposes of civilisation is that it protects the weak and curbs abuses by the strong. Few could oppose the basic underlying aim of political correctness, to redistribute power from the strong to the weak”. For that reason, we should be glad political correctness exists. Beside its advantages, political correctness has to face some disadvantages as well. We can note, for example, the creation of a “victim mentality”. Browne (2006, p.41) points out that political correctness, instead of protecting the weak, can cause more harm than intended.

THOMAS BARBERA, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK

References

Browne, A. (2006). The retreat of reason. London: Civitas.

Hughes, G. (2010). Political correctness. Maldon, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell.

Petrow, S. (2015). From ‘he’ and ‘she’ to ‘they’ and ‘ze,’ a shift to more gender-neutral pronouns. Washington Post. Retrieved 27 November 2015

Phillips, M. (2012). Tourette’s and how David Cameron fell victim to the “sensivity police.” Daily Mail. 
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