Politically Correct English


POLITICALLY CORRECT [c. 1990]. Short forms PC, P.C. Marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving esp. race, gender, sexual affinity, or ecology.

(Webster's College Dictionary, 1991).

Really, 'politically correct' and 'political correctness' are the wrong terms for the idea, in that they may make people think it has to do with Politics with a capital P, whereas it has much more to do with social concerns. Why not 'socially correct', then? - because that would make it sound as though it had something to do with manners and etiquette. 'Ideologically correct' would give the game away, of course, and lead us back to politics. As it is, 'political' hints at the coercion that is all too much part of the PC movement. In short, there cannot be a proper term for such a false concept.

(Nigel Rees, The Politically Correct Phrasebook, 1993).


Is English Sexist?

Compare:
French: le la les
German: der die das die
Italian: il (lo) la i (gli) le
English: the

Complete the following lists (in some cases, no answer is possible):

LIST 1.

Male + Female
eg. ..Prince..+ Princess
. + Countess
Author + .
Writer + .
. + Hostess
. + Waitress
Poet + .
Hero + .
Governor + .
. + Housewife
. + Nurse
. + Bride
Doctor + .
. + Widow
. + Nun
Conductor + .
. + Mayoress
. + Wife-swapping
Dentist + .
Manager + .
Mr + .
. + Usherette
BA / BSc + .

LIST 2.

Male + Female + Neutral
eg. Postman + ..Postwoman..+ ..Postal worker..
Chairman + .. + .
. + . + Fire-fighter
Bachelor + . + .
. + Policewoman + .
. + Saleswoman + .
. + . + Head Teacher
Steward + . + .
Spokesman + . + .
Spaceman + . + .
. + . + Bartender

LIST 3.

Male? + Neutral
eg. Mankind + ..Humankind(?)..
Manpower + .
Vicar/Priest/Minister + .
Manslaughter + .
Man-in-the-street + .
Layman + .
Masterpiece + .

Consider your answers for the above lists and come to some further conclusions about whether English is a sexist language or not, and how easy it is to avoid being sexist.



Problems with Pronouns

Fill in the gaps, first being "sexist" and then being politically correct:

  1. Anyone can leave the room if ____________ wants.
  2. If a student wishes to leave ___________ should put up ___________ hand.
  3. Someone must be able to tell me the answer, can't ____________ ?
  4. His towel is pink, her towel is blue, the baby's towel is green. The pink one has the word "His" on it, the blue one "Hers" and the green one "____________".
  5. If any student has problems with this exercise, ____________ can see me after the lesson.
  6. Everyone should try to do this exercise ____________ (i.e. alone, without any help).


A Code of Practice?

It is always your duty to 'desex' language ('they' for 'he', 'humanity for 'Man'), tactfully, without being counter-productive.

(Peter Newmark, A Textbook of Translation, 1988)



Other Areas of Political Correctness.

Which words or expressions do you consider not to be politically correct in each area?

Gender Bias
- a henpecked husband - the weaker sex - Mrs John Smith - The car wouldn't start, so we gave her a push - Stop nagging me! - Mr and Mrs Brown - Son of a bitch!

Homosexuality
- gay - queer - queen - mummy's boy - lesbian - les - dyke- butch

Race
- white supremacy - black - nigger - negro - coloured - barbarian - Asian - aborigine

Ethnic Groups
- Pakistani - paki - chink - wop - frog - kraut - jap - eye-tie (I-ti) - pommy - aussie - yankee - Jew - dago - polak

Age
- You old fool! - You're past it! - the old girl - the old man

Height
- You silly little idiot! - Pigmy - shorty - dwarf - a walking lampost - giraffe

Ability
- Are you deaf or daft?- handicapped - blind - cripple - Mongoloid - Down's syndrome

Political ideas
- You Communist! - Communist - commie - Red - Socialist - Leftie - Fascist - Nazi - Liberal - Conservative - Tory - wet



Is It All Just a Question of Lip Service?

When someone says 'Asian', they very seldom mean 'Asian'; they mean 'Indian' or 'Pakistani'. 'Ethnic' should be able to signify any cultural area, but when was the last time it was used to mean 'French' or 'Scottish'? When was the term 'the Asian community' used to refer to the Japanese in Britain? That's the way that political correctness works. You say only the numbers, but you think of the sandwiches by name.

(The Independent, 20th January 1992)



The Use of Euphemisms

Match the euphemism to the more usual (offensive?) word or expression.

Euphemisms More Usual Term
freedom fighter under-developed countries
home-help bus routes
under the influence of alcohol stupid
Amerindian rat catcher
rationalization of the workforce ghettos
refuse collector poor
mental institution cripple
affected by cerebral palsy toilet
immediate superior deafness
people with learning difficulties old-aged pensioner (OAP)
Transportation Services drunk
emerging nations mistress
paying guest servant
impaired hearing spastic
rodent officer Red Indian
little room go to the lavatory
senior citizen boss
someone on income-support lodger / boarder
powder your nose terrorist
wheelchair user lunatic asylum
partner dustman / dustbinman
sub-standard housing lay-offs


Going Too Far? Doublespeak.

© Nigel J. Ross, 2003


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