Political Correctness: Have We Gone Too Far?

political-correctness-speech-grammar-ouchMost of us don’t intentionally use words that hurt people’s feelings, words that ridicule or diminish others.

We don’t say skinny; we say thin or slender.
We don’t say fat; we say large or heavy.
We don’t say blind; we say visually impaired.
We don’t say deaf; we say hearing impaired.
We don’t say crippled; we say someone is disabled or has mobility challenges.

Some people consider these softened terms “politically correct.”

A blog I follow claims that the term political correctness and its implications have been so distorted that it should be discarded. Have we finally gone too far?

Correctness, political and otherwise
Distinguished fourteenth-century writer and poet Geoffrey Chauser (The Canterbury Tales, anyone?) talked about correctness in terms of his own writing.

I talk about word and punctuation use that is grammatically correct; it conforms to what many recognize as today’s Standard English.

Correctness, defined as the quality or condition of being correct, of conforming to an acknowledged rule or standard, was combined with politics in the 1950s.

The women’s movement of the ’60s and its sensitivity to language gave rise to new guidelines such as referring to a female as a girl until the age of 18 and a woman after that. If you think it’s a petty and simply a politically correct distinction, consider why this writer considers it sexist to call women girls.

Political correctness today implies language, policies, or measures that avoid offending individuals or putting any particular group of people in society at a disadvantage.

We live in a time of environmental political correctness. Even weddings can be environmentally politically correct: buying diamonds from mines that are not illegally operated by owners who abuse human rights; sending invitations printed with soy- or vegetable-based inks on recycled paper (or better yet, sending electronic invitations); using locally grown flowers and locally sourced organic food for the reception.

But I digress. The complaint about today’s political correctness that prompted my post has more to do with highly visible public figures who flaunt their supposed disdain for political correctness as justification for vitriolic language and name-calling.

The blog that inspired my post concludes:

In a society that values freedom of speech, the term “political correctness” should be unnecessary. In a democracy, no opinion—no matter how hare-brained—is forbidden. Self-styled language police may urge people not to use words they don’t like, but no one is going to be thrown into prison for calling a woman a girl.

In a society that purports to value education, shameless public displays of vulgarity and incivility are inappropriate—especially in the behavior of (presumably) educated public figures. The popular sentence-opener, “It may not be politically correct, but…” often signals no more than the imminent expression of a vulgarity or an insult.

“Political correctness,” “politically correct,” and “politically incorrect” belong on the linguistic trash heap with all the other mostly meaningless, hot-button words and expressions used to manipulate people.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on political correctness. Please use the comment section below or send me an email via the link in the box next to my photo.


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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “Political Correctness: Have We Gone Too Far?

  1. AvatarC Van Domelen

    I am a 72 yo woman (former teacher of English) and still bristle when called a guy, as in “How are you guys today?” Sometimes I stick out my ample bosom and declare, “I am not a guy.” Usually I just mutter under my breath because I have found that most people haven’t a clue what I am talking about.

    On the whole my main argument with political correctness is the mess that is made of pronouns. Example: The chairperson was unclear in stating their position. What???!!!

    Thanks for letting me vent.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      I SO know what you mean! I find the “How are you guys today?” a standard greeting in casual restaurants. I used to think it was an oddity of the Midwest where I grew up, but I’ve learned that it’s pretty widespread.

      Also heard in restaurants: “What are we having today?” I wonder if the server will be joining me.

      My upcoming book has a chapter on keeping nouns and pronouns in accord. I agree that it’s a much-abused aspect of our language.

      Appreciate your taking time to comment, C, even it it was somewhat of a vent. It’s always comforting and gratifying to find like-minded people. — Kathy

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