There seems many an implied or direct criticism of being ‘overly political correct’ – people find some random and strange judgement and laughingly refer to ‘political correctness gone mad’ amid the sniggers with many of the facts being wholly absent.
The Daily Mail (there’s a surprise) gives some examples of how ‘far’ politically correctness can go – thereby diminishing it’s worth
Police in Cornwall told a witness they could not use the phrase “gypsy skirt”to describe the long floating skirt that someone involved in an incident had been wearing and instead insisted that it had to be referred to as a “traveller skirt”.
Staff on a training course were told that if a colleague said that he was going for a ‘quick half’, for some ‘amber nectar’ or for a ‘swift bevvy’ he could well be an alcoholic
The signs on the Mersey Tunnel were changed from Manned and Unmanned to Staffed and Unstaffed in case they upset women.
MP Philip Davies in his maiden speech to Parliament said: ‘Whoever said ‘the customer is always right’ never worked for Asda. I encountered the customer who accused Asda of being racist towards Irish people because we sold “thick Irish sausages”. Trying to persuade her that “thick” related to the sausages and not to the Irish was beyond me.’
Just a few of the examples provided in the article – and for the record, I can see the element of offence in each of those examples – in the last example, it is more about making a mockery of those who are offended which is absolutely needless and further reinforces the point.
I’m all for clarity of speech but I think we can find many many more examples where language does offend more openly – this article that was published in the Times at the weekend, for example, which goes back to the recent survey about mental health among MPs and explains the current position in, what I’d consider to be unnecessary terms, saying
Ministers are preparing to allow people labelled “idiots” and “lunatics” by archaic laws to stand for parliament.
Though it may come as a surprise to voters, laws dating back to Elizabethan times bar this category of people from becoming MPs.
Idiots are defined as those “incapable of gaining reason” and lunatics as people only “capable of periods of lucidity”.
The rules ban lunatics from standing as MPs in “their non lucid intervals”. They also ban anyone sectioned under the Mental Health Act from standing for parliament, even if they have made a recovery.
I mean would it really have been so difficult to write up the article without needing to refer to idiots and lunatics?
Couldn’t the journalist just have written a straight piece about the move for change? OK, it might not have been so ‘funny’ but if you look at the comments under the article, most seem to be jumping to the bait and saying that ‘the MPs are all mad anyway – see what laws they pass’.
Personally I think it’s an irresponsible trivialisation but it indicates the importance of language.
Political Correctness has been demonised. Wrongly in my opinion. Language has enormous power to influence our thoughts and our attitudes. Lack of thought of the implications of language indicates a lack of respect to those who might find offence.
Yes, we can all find ‘silly’ examples because any rule administered blankly will have exceptions – just as any law will – but to diminish the good work done in changing discourse and language by emphasising the ridiculous panders, I believe to a right wing agenda.
It’s interesting that one of the first links I found relating to ‘political correctness gone mad’ and ‘anti-political correctness’ had a large ‘Vote BNP’ (British National Party) banner on the site – and is an apologist site for far right racist politics (I think the reasons for me not linking are obvious!).
It’s interesting how language has been turned into a part of the battle between right and left and making the politically correct debate seem trivial and unnecessary puts power back in the hands of the dangerously far right.
So political correctness is about more than changing nursery rhymes from ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ to ‘Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep’ so as not to cause offence and giggling at those ‘silly’ enough to find offence in mere language.
It is providing political debate with a discourse about the use of language to offend and making assumptions about the language we have always used without thought of the implication.
More power to the politically correct, I say – in a desperate bid to reclaim it as a positive rather than a pejorative term.