Political Correctness

Vocabulary | Listenings | Humour


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Political correctness or PC is a term used to describe language designed not to cause offence to members of a particular group in society. The term is usually used to imply that the language is unwarranted and unnecessary. Political correctness extends beyond language to government policies and measures which are supposed to be more inclusive towards those traditionally discriminated against. This lesson will introduce you to some of the thinking behind political correctness as well as to some of the language that is now deemed to be politically correct.

A term that has become increasingly popular in English since the 1970s has been political correctness or PC. In simple terms, this means avoiding the use of words or phrases that might upset someone’s sensibilities. In more complex terms, this means being afraid to say what you think because it just might be deemed offensive by the PC Brigade. It is a curtailing of our freedom of speech. We can’t call someone short anymore; we must call them vertically challenged. Nor can we call someone bald. Bald people are now follicular challenged. That is, according to the PC Brigade. When I was a young boy and someone called me names, I would tell my mother. She would say, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you.” On a purely physical level, she was right. On a psychological level, however, she was a little off the mark. Calling people names can hurt them. Name calling is a favourite technique of the bully. Calling the child who wears glasses, four-eyes, or the child who is not as tall as his peers, shorty or squirt is bullying, plain and simple. Children are natural bullies, but most mature and grow out of the tendency to bully others. Those sad people who fail to mature and take their bullying behaviour into the workplace are to be pitied as inadequate excuses for human beings. Bullies bully in order to achieve a sense of self-worth that is otherwise lacking in their sad and sorry little lives. As a way of stamping out the bullies of this world, political correctness has its place and should be applauded. Unfortunately, things have gone a bit too far, and hitherto harmless words now carry pejorative overtones. Would a glasses-wearing child feel any better if called visually impaired? Apparently not. And people who cannot see, apparently prefer to be called blind. Would a short child be any less self-conscious about their height if called vertically challenged? I doubt it. If you are a woman, are you offended by the term, mankind? Would you rather I used the term, humankind? Let me know about this, and any other thoughts, in the comments.   What about the clothes you’re wearing. Are they made of manmade fibre? If so, are you offended by such blatant sexism as manmade? I’m not, but then again I’m a man, not a woman. What should I use instead? Perhaps synthetic or artificial fibre would be less sexist? Do you ever think about your forefathers? Whatever happened to their wives? Why doesn’t the word, foremothers exist? It’s more PC to use ancestors these days. And what about housewife? Some years ago they invented the term, househusband, but both have now become un-PC and the rather silly word, homemaker, is supposed to be substituted. And we’re supposed to avoid such words as policeman, and fireman in favour of gender- neutral terms like police officer and fire-fighter. Is there anything really wrong with the term, policewoman if you are talking about a female officer? And we’re not even supposed to mention the word sex. The word gender has taken over. In England I’m known as Mr. My wife would be Mrs because she is married. My unmarried daughter would be Miss. However, some PC types, especially those of the opposite gender to me, regard the titles of Mrs and Miss to be offensive because they highlight the marital status of the bearer. Thus was Ms born. This can be used by persons who are married or unmarried, though only by those who have a Y chromosome deficiency. And there are the terms husband and wife. There was a time when you could substitute the slightly silly word, spouse, for either. Nowadays, the fear of offending same-sex couples compels the use of the term, partner. I understand that on UK and US passport application forms they no longer ask for the name of your mother and father, but rather for the names of parent one and parent two. Will such political correctness completely eliminate the terms mother and father from the rich vocabulary of English? Perhaps we’ll have to abandon Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Of course we would then be left with the problem of which day to substitute with Parent One Day or Parent Two Day. Which brings me to the word, gay. You’ll find it in many pre-PC books. It used to be a word that meant happy and full of joy, until it was stolen by the PC Brigade as the non-offensive sobriquet for homosexuals.   It doesn’t really matter what word you substitute for a word judged, by political correctness, to be offensive to a group of people; pretty soon the substituted word will be just as offensive, if not more so. Bullies have simply added gay to their arsenal of insults, so what’s changed? Thanks to political correctness, many students have problems with the personal pronouns. Pronouns like he, she, him, her are some of the few words in English which have gender. My advice is to avoid awkward constructions like him/her or he/she, and to use their or them instead. Since the lessons learnt from the Titanic, the cautious sea captain keeps their ship well away from icebergs. In this case the sea captain could be of either gender. The owner of a pet tiger is always aware that their pet may one day eat them. In this case the tiger owner may be of either gender, too. Because we live in a world full of religions, there are many moves afoot to change politically incorrect terms that might offend another religion. Take Merry Christmas, for instance. Perhaps you don’t follow the religion founded by Christ? I know I don’t. Thank heavens we have the alternative terms Happy Holidays and Winterval to fall back on! And the two terms used to denote time, AD and BC, have both been dropped by the BBC as inappropriate. Why? Because AD means Anno Domini, or in the year of our lord, and BC means before Christ. AD and BC have been replaced by CE and BCE. CE meaning common era and BCE meaning before the common era. That shouldn’t upset non-Christians, should it? Unfortunately, CE is also used to stand for Christian era. And our entire dating system is based on the Christian belief system anyway, so what’s changed? Nothing! I guess Shakespeare was right when he had Juliet say, O, be some other name! What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet... I know there is a lot of new and complex vocabulary in this video. That is why I have created an interactive quiz on my website. If you are watching this on YouTube or at, you will find a link to the quiz on this page. I hope you find it useful. If you do, please click the “like” button and share this with your friends. You can also leave a comment. 

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