Speaking the Unspeakable: A Retrospective on Political Correctness
“Did I mean to say that? No, this is what I meant. Oh…that’s not right either? Well, then I guess I won’t say anything. What? You say that’s offensive to people who can’t speak? Oh, then I guess I’ll just sing a song. What? That’s offensive to tone-deaf people who can’t sing? Oh, I can’t use the word tone-deaf because using the word deaf is offensive to people who can’t hear? Maybe I should get a book on what is the right thing to say. Okay, okay, don’t tell me…reading is offensive to those who can’t read!”
The overt comical nature of this scenario may be more realistic than you would think. With an overly sensitive society calling the shots, political correctness is continually on the rise and not likely to decline, which lends vulnerability to our words and thus puts our right to freedom of speech in jeopardy.
So what specifically does it mean to be politically correct? Well, in its most candid form, political correctness means, “the alteration of ones choice of words in order to avoid offending a group of people or reinforcing a stereotype considered to be disadvantageous to the group” (Politically correct, 2010, para. 4). In other words, everything you say is wrong, and if it isn’t wrong, it will be wrong eventually.
Take into account, for instance, Woodlee’s commentary on the impetuous measures enacted by the mayor of Washington, D.C. of forcing his aide to resign from his position for use of the word “niggardly”, which means stingy or meager in reference to the budget. Although this word has absolutely no racial connotations at all, it was never-the-less interpreted that way by another of the mayor’s employees. The mayor’s hasty response to appease any possible offense was severely misguided by a society with allegorical stones in hand, always at the ready for anything that might come along to coil the backswing. (1999).
To further exemplify how everything we say is futuristically wrong, consider how often terminology changes. For example, the women’s movement of the 1960’s forced the replacement of the neutral gender context of masculine pronouns with expressions inclusive of both genders, such as “he or she” versus just “he” (Politically correct, 2010).
It was also once acceptable to refer to handicapped people as “crippled”. It then became “handicapped” which also eventually became susceptible to degradation and became “disabled”. Now “disabled” is inappropriate, so we use “differently abled” and/or “physically challenged” (Politically correct, 2010).
It’s actually a bit amusing when you think about it. In our society’s attempt to become less offensive, we are also becoming nonsensical. I mean, “differently abled”? Really? I thought we were all differently abled in the sense that we all have different abilities. Next thing you know, it will be considered offensive to refer to a criminal as a criminal. Instead, we will have to call them the lawfully-challenged.
Unfortunately, our words have become ammunition for the lowest of the low. “Groups which claim some status as systematically oppressed or discriminated against will periodically attempt to change the terms by which they are referred to and demand that society as a whole change its usage of words as well” (Politically correct, 2010, para. 4). However, our selfish society will inevitably breed the conformist’s contempt. But, contemptuous or not, we dare not speak out. As more power is being given to those so-called oppressed voices, the rest of our society’s words are being silenced. Atkinson puts it best with his observation that, “the proponents of this social demolition achieve their irrational purpose by publicly embracing absurdity through slogans while vilifying any who do not support their stance,” (2010, para. The Origin of Political Correctness).
What do you think?
Is our society overly sensitive?
I’m not saying that there aren’t some things that shouldn’t be said aloud. From a tactful and respectful standpoint, there are many things that should not be spoken. However, condemning those resistant to conforming to the unwritten law of speaking the unspeakable is trampling on a person’s first amendment right to say whatever he or she wants to say. What people don’t seem to realize is that giving one person what they want is actually taking something away from another person. Two wrongs don’t make a right, or so I’ve heard. A workable society should be dependent on a collaborative effort from all members to protect those rights we’ve already been given; not exchange them for more self-serving ones that exclude others.
- Atkinson, P. (2010). The Origin and Nature of Political Correctness. Retrieved December 22, 2010, from Our Civilization: http://www.ourcivilization.com/pc.htm
- Politically correct. (2010). Retrieved December 21, 2010, from Conservapedia: http://www.conservapedia.com/Politically_correct
- Woodlee, Y. (1999, February 4). Mayor Acted 'Hastily.' Will Rehire Aide. Retrieved December 2010, from Washingtonpost.com: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/williams