Political correctness

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Political correctness (often PC or even non-PC) stems from the attempt to acknowledge that many of our labelling practices are exclusionary and seeks to find ways to make our language more inclusive.[1]

Unfortunately it may sometimes go too far in its social re-labelling and leave itself open to ridicule.

Diversity[edit | edit source]

Politically correct language is claimed to reflect an increased awareness of diversity. It is further claimed that unacceptable language is very often responsible for maintaining discriminatory attitudes against people because of their ethnic background, their sexuality, their religion, their disabilities, and so on.

However, even with the best intentions it is possible to create negative reactions in well-meaning persons, and one should avoid expressions which might seem absurd, such as a vertically challenged person instead of a short person, or differently abled people instead of the perfectly acceptable people with disabilities.

Although politically correctly language is now used by much of the international English media, it remains to be seen whether such phrasings will be taken up wholesale by the general population - and even if taken up, whether such changes would represent genuine changes in attitude.

Sexism[edit | edit source]

An important aspect of PC is that you should never mention a person’s gender, ethnic background, religion or physical appearance, etc. unless it is directly relevant to the matter. Thus, describing someone as a Rasta poet is only acceptable if the poet in question expressly celebrates Rastafarianism. Likewise, would anybody refer to a judge on the US Supreme Court as a slim and attractive brunette?

One especially important area of PC is the use of non-sexist language. Women, regardless of, and in addition to, their ethnic background, their sexuality, their religion, their disabilities, and so on, have long been victims of different forms of violence, discrimination, subjugation and exploitation. Descriptions such as “The pioneers trekked across the prairies with their animals and their wives.” are no longer considered acceptable. Likewise, instead of “Man first reached the Americas about 13,000 years ago.” most careful writers would now use “Human beings first reached …”.

Professions[edit | edit source]

While most professions in English are grammatically neutral, i.e. teacher, doctor, engineer, pilot and so on, there are other terms for professions which may have traditionally been considered more suitable for either women (air hostess/stewardess) but which later came to include men (air steward), or the opposite (policemanpolicewoman). Others, such as fireman or nurse seemed fixed.

A further development of our ever-evolving language has been to produce new forms for saying the same or similar things, thus we now have gender-neutral firefighter and flight attendant.

Teachers' views[edit | edit source]

Teachers may find themselves in a situation where students hold political, moral or religious views which cause their students to make statements with which the teacher is in profound disagreement. In such a case what should the teacher do?

On the one hand they could argue passionately for their own world-view and attempt to persuade/convert the student; on the other simply help the student to articulate their ideas in the most fluent and lucid ways possible. Assuming that the teacher has been explicitly employed to teach the English language and not as a missionary or representative of a particular western society then the most professional course to take is the latter. However, asking the student to explain the basis of their views would seem to be quite reasonable.

References[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]