Politically Correct: a start

This was a term that was “bandied about” during most of the more-than-a-year fiasco that seemed to be a presidential campaign (“presidential campaign”, itself being a rather politically correct term for what the world was forced to endure for over a year).

During that time, though, no one really bothered to tell us just what they meant by being “politically correct”. Some of the use of the expression:

I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either.” D. Trump

Donald Trump has opened [political correct enforcement] up wide. He’s made a very bold statement and he’s backed it back just a little bit when he said it is temporary.” T. Cruz

So many ‘politically correct’ fools in our country. We have to all get back to work and stop wasting time and energy on nonsense.” D. Trump

It’s time to stop being politically correct and start being morally right before we lose every semblance of the civilized society that we fought so hard to create.” J. Pirro

While Bette Midler is an extremely unattractive woman, I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.” D. Trump (2012)

conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminatedWebster’s Dictionary

Conforming to a particular sociopolitical ideology or point of view, especially to a liberal point of view concerned with promoting tolerance and avoiding offense in matters of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” The American Heritage Dictionary (politically correct. (n.d.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011))

Two points stand out in the various definitions of “politically correct” (PC): a political end and a social end. It also appears that the social end is actually a means to the political end.

By being PC, the speaker (or writer) is using language in order to communicate a point of view, that would be the political part. At the same time, the speaker (or writer) is avoiding the use of any language that would offend certain groups (usually the same ones in American society, racial, class, gender and sexual groups), that would be the second end, and becomes a means when through avoiding offence the speaker (or writer) has a better chance of bringing the listener (or reader) around to his/her point of view.

Being PC has a history behind it, which can be read elsewhere, as it is not the focus of this essay. That history is interesting to review, as this somewhat volatile term has had some flip-flops, being first a way of defining people who towed a political line without question, sometimes being an insult or demeaning term for certain political ideologies, and probably most often, in the common man’s vernacular, simply meaning “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”. That is, don’t always say what you are thinking, think about how you might offend the other person.

A particularly lucid thinker on the use of language in everyday life, George Carlin had a number of routines he used to highlight how that use has evolved over the years and how that evolution has created new realities for us to live within. One of his more interesting diatribes on language can be seen in this video:

Though not talking directly about PC, one can easily see that he is critiquing a move from more direct, simple language that says (or said) exactly what it meant to euphemistic language that tries to “sugar coat” difficult concepts so that they will be less offensive — part of the definition of PC. The question remains if the effort is to make those concepts less offensive to those who suffer or those who are speaking about the suffering.


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