PC or Not PC, What is the Quest On?

As a writer, I love words. I love to play with them, turn them around, and wring new meanings out of them. The whole Politically Correct movement is actually a treasure trove of euphemisms and turns of phrases to make fun of.

As a person, I find it inconvenient and disparaging. Now, in no way do I pretend to be an authority on anything, all I can do is toss my opinion out, so take it or leave it, but please remember, it is just an opinion, and we are all entitled to have one. At least here in the U.S. -so far. That could change.

Politically Correct. That is what it is often called now-a-days to avoid terms which have ‘negative connotations’. There is good and bad to that. It is a good thing to try to spare people’s feelings, to reduce the shock, pain, and anger that some words can cause. Unfortunately, as noted in Lost In Time, words change, people use euphemisms to make new meanings, and new words are invented. As long as there is something that needs a word, there will be a word for it, whether or not it offends someone. Changing the use of that word only pushes off the hurt until the new word comes into common use and starts hurting feelings again.

And, honestly, some of the things people do or say to be politically correct are just ludicrous. A newspaper’s auto-replace function reported Tyson Homosexual as qualifying for the Olympics in 2008. His real name is Tyson Gay.

I understand that there is a difference between ‘free speech’ and a direct, personal attack on someone. We should all get that pretty easily. My rights should stop, or at least temper, when they begin to interfere with your rights, but this is not meant to be about ‘hate crimes’ or ‘hate speech’ or whatever you want to call it. That is a whole different subject.

My point is, do we need Political Correctness? What does it accomplish? Other than giving certain persons soap boxes to preach from?

Fundamentally, I believe the whole point is to reduce discrimination. And when it comes to that, words are nothing but another tool.

It matters how you use the tool, not what tool you use. You can hammer a nail in just fine with a wrench, a pair of pliers, a hefty screwdriver, or your shoe. Some work better than others and the tool designed for that use works best. But if you have a nail on a fence that wobbles in the wind, it doesn’t matter what tool you use, the nail will keep working its way back out.

Are mentally challenged people really better off being called mentally challenged rather than retarded? Are short people better off for not being called a midget? Are persons of color better off not being called red, yellow, black, brown, or white? Does it change anything for them as individuals? Does it change anything for them as a group?

Maybe. It all depends.

Let me choose this example to illustrate my thoughts, don’t take it personally that this is the one I chose. (See me walking on eggshells? See the power Political Correctness has over us today?)

Once upon a time, the word ‘moron‘ was used to refer to someone with an IQ of 50 to 69. An ‘idiot‘ had an IQ of less than 25, and 20 to 49 was an ‘imbecile‘.  Did it hurt those people, at that time, to be called that? To be ‘classified’ that way? It was being used to diagnose.

Did these words exist before this? Of course, but this really brought them into common usage. And into common insults -to the point where they were re-classified as mild, moderate, severe, and profound ‘mental retardation’. I have never heard of anyone asking not to be called a ‘genius‘ -which refers to someone with an IQ over 140, which is probably why they still use that classification.

The problem comes in the common lexicon where those words are used as derogatory insults. Usually, when someone calls someone else a genius in a derogatory way, it is with sarcasm. So the inherent problem here is an overall perception that persons with lower IQ’s are somehow inferior and to tell someone that they have a lower IQ is an insult.

So now that we have made it Politically Incorrect to call someone ‘retarded’ guess what has happened? When people want to call each other names and insult each other’s intelligence they accuse one another of being ‘mentally challenged.’ Did anything change? Are mentally challenged persons any less insulted by this? Are they any less discriminated against?

How long will it be until ‘mentally challenged’ is such an insult that people want to call it something new?

I think the intentions behind the idea of being Politically Correct (most persons’ anyway) are good ones, but misguided. Until we can get rid of the underlying discrimination we all have against one another for our differences, using different words merely postpones the common use of those words disparagingly.

The real power here is in the words themselves. When you use a word, you have the ability to use it disparagingly, appraisingly, comparatively, sarcastically, etc. Words are tools, primarily used for purposes of description. But like any tool, it can be used multiple ways. When you use a word to hurt someone, it is a tool of discrimination. When we all learn to use the tools properly we won’t need political correctness.


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