I used to write here a lot more about language. This was back when I lived in Asia, mainly, and I came to appreciate the fact that while language is a great tool for communication, grammar, spelling, and the other conventions that sit alongside language only serve to clarify and codify communication that can happen perfectly well without them. A prime example of this would have been conversations overheard in India between two people, both of whom spoke different languages and so communicated through their second language. This was English, but it was a version of English that I really couldn't understand myself without a hell of a lot of effort.
I've always avoided political correctness. Partly because I think it's anodyne and iniquitous, but also because it changes regularly, and it's virtually impossible to keep up to date. And it changes from individual to individual. A word that one person finds to be a perfectly acceptable description of them may be offensive to another. It's a mine field. That said, I've never gone out of my way to be particularly politically incorrect.
Example! At last I've come up with an example. I've made up an imaginary friend, Nicola, who works in a restaurant. Her job is to take orders from customers, and deliver food. Apparently the politically correct term for her job is a Wait person. She thinks this is silly. She's a waiter. She describes herself as a waiter. But her colleague, Diane, describes herself as a waitress. Because to call herself a waiter would be to deny the fact that she's a woman. She finds the term offensive. Personally, I call them Nicola and Diane. Or I would, if they existed.
The point of this, I guess, is that the word itself isn't offensive. It's the interpretation of the word that's offensive. So if a word is used with the intention of causing offence, the listener (or listenress) would have every right to be offended. If a word is used with no such intention, it's up to the listener to decide whether to explain to the speaker that they find the word offensive, or just to let it drop.
i call a spade a spade. when i was young pc meant police constable. iniquitous?
I think I'd add a minor modification to your otherwise excellent "rule".
That is, when a word is used without meaning to offend but without any thought as to whether it might. Can this not be as bad?
Posted by alan
March 27, 2003 7:13 AM
I thought about that one, but I reckon that falls fairly firmly into the second category - unless you've got an example.
I'm thinking about things like 'nitty-gritty', 'denigrate', 'blackmail' or 'rule of thumb' here.
And on further reflection... Nic's right where it's a word that you know may be contentious. To use a word knowingly that some people may find offensive is different from using a word that some people find offensive where you have no idea that said word offends anyone.
I could draw a linguistic flow chart?
Is that last sentence a "high rising terminal"? I find them irritating, but not actually offensive.
Yes it is. I find them irritating too. I'll try not to do it again.
Posted by Douglas
March 27, 2003 1:26 PM
I was wondering what a high rising terminal was. Then I thought about it. I'm still not sure but I think I get it now.
I was just about to come over and agree with your first comment on my first comment( after also re-reading the original piece, which is always a wise way to start) and then you write a second one.
Which hits the nail nicely....though a chart would be good.
Another thing, does anyone really describe themselves as PC? Isn't it more commonly a term one uses about someone else (usually in an at least slightly derogatory way)?