Politically Correct Language: Courtesy or Weakness?


I’ve heard several politicians sneer recently that they were going to tell it like it is and not be concerned with politically correct language.
Isn’t it funny how we come up with a label that spins an issue to suit our preferences?
Synonyms for politically correct include neutral, appropriate, unbiased, nondiscriminatory. Its opposite is offensive.
My mother wouldn’t have recognized the term politically correct language, but she certainly stepped down hard on us when our words were what she called not nice. She said that if our words hurt someone or were disrespectful, we should change them or, better yet, be quiet. Her admonitions included my working-class father as the country went through vocabulary changes regarding black citizens.
The phrase politically correct appears to have arisen during the 1930s to mean using correct language. But it was becoming ironic when the New York Times reported on Nazi Germany in 1934 that “All journalists must have a permit to function and such permits are granted only to pure ‘Aryans’ whose opinions are politically correct.”
The term has been associated with the left and with social movements, but today the term seems to have morphed into an insult.

As a linguist, I’m interested when a phrase becomes a cudgel to bash people on the other side of an issue.

The Urban Dictionary defines politically correct as A way that we speak in America so we don’t offend whining pussies. Only pathetically weak people that don’t have the balls to say what they feel and mean are politically correct pussies. That’s definitely beyond ironic!
There are even politically correct bedtime stories. The author is James Finn Garner, and here’s an excerpt from Little Red Riding Hood:
The wolf said, “You know, my dear, it isn’t safe for a little girl to walk through these woods alone.”
Red Riding Hood said, “I find your sexist remark offensive in the extreme, but I will ignore it because of your traditional status as an outcast from society, the stress of which has caused you to develop your own, entirely valid, world view…”
Now, see if you can find someone to insult by calling them politically correct. And don’t forget to sneer.


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Tembua: The Precision Language Solution provides comprehensive linguistic services for 100 languages to private industry and government agencies on a global scale. Services include document and website translation and localization; conference and 24/7 telephonic interpretation; glossary development; proofreading, text adaptation, editing, multilingual design and DTP; transcription; technical / custom authoring editing, foreign search engine optimization; translation memory management; subtitling.
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