Before words come out of your mouth, choose them carefully. Some of you are old enough to recall the days when you could say anything that came to mind without repercussions. But the 1970s arrived, and things drastically changed. We learned that not all that was on one’s mind should be spoken. So, what happened in the 1970s? We were introduced to a term that had not been widely used prior to that decade. Back in the day, you might recall, it was unnecessary to be politically correct.
What does it mean to be politically correct?
According to a piece on Britannica.com contributed to by Cynthia Roper, an Abilene Christian University communications professor, political correctness refers to language that seems intended to give the least amount of offense, especially when describing groups identified by external markers such as race, gender, culture or sexual orientation. The concept has been discussed, disputed, criticized, and satirized by commentators from across the political spectrum. The term has often been used to ridicule the notion that altering language usage can change the public’s perceptions and beliefs as well as influence outcomes.
There is a dispute as to when the term initially appeared. Some say that it appeared in a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1793 about the boundaries of federal jurisdiction. Others argue that the first known appearance of the term was in Marxist-Leninist vocabulary following the Russian Revolution in 1917.
In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s the term was used by liberal and conservative politicians in relationship to views that they did not embrace. While this may appear to be a mouth full, a look at content provided on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, contains a more simplistic definition.
It describes political correctness as a term used to describe language, policies or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. Interestingly, Ruth Perry, a professor of literature at MIT, has written about the relationship between political correctness and the Black Power Movement. Can you recall words or phrases you used back in the day that were not viewed as politically correct?
Some of you use the term mailman. However, this is 2020 and the appropriate term is mail carrier. April 15 is the date that we used to think of the tax man; today you look for the tax officer. Similarly, a fireman is now a firefighter; a policeman today is a police officer. Undoubtedly, you recall the days when we freely referred to the person in charge of a committee as the chairman. If you are like me, when calling on or introducing this person in today’s politically correct environment, this person is referred to as chairperson or simply the chair.
We are so conscious of the need to be politically correct until bad things or undesirable things have assumed an air of correctness. Do you hear today about someone being a wanted criminal or is he or she a person of interest? There was a time when a person lost his job as a result of being fired but now their job loss is a result of job restructuring. Do you recall when a person was identified as a tramp or bum? Today, that person is homeless. Even homeless has been dressed up to a more politically correct term and we are now hearing references to an outdoor urban dweller. We had many that came from broken homes in the past. Today these individuals come from dysfunctional families. Even horrible terms have been cleaned up today. Yes, there was a time when we lived in ghettos, but now these are economically deprived areas. Labeling someone as a prostitute has even been abandoned. The alternative, calling someone a woman of the streets is now taboo. So, what is the politically correct term for those that engage in the oldest profession known to man? I am told that sex worker or sex care provider is a word that is used. Then there are those that drank excessively and were easily identified as drunks. Now, those that have had too much to drink and are, “drunked up,” a term coined by the brothers from the neighborhoods, back in the day, are now inebriated or tipsy.
I have no doubt that many of you reading this column have been cautioned in the past about using a word or term that was not politically correct. In some cases, it is a word that you did not understand to be politically incorrect. Who would think that using the words husband or wife would be considered to be politically incorrect? I understand that the politically correct word today is partner. I did not consider referring to a person as Mexican to be politically incorrect until I was told, rather emphatically, not to use that word but use the politically correct word, Hispanic. In spite of the lectures about Dec. 25, as a child this was Christmas and, in my lifetime, it shall remain Christmas Day. I can take the criticism, but if you cannot, then use the term Season’s Greetings.
So, what do you say when someone refers to you as a Negro? I have even been in situations where I was referred to as colored or even “boy.” In this day and age, some words are well beyond being politically incorrect; they are simply insensitive and dumb.
Being politically incorrect received so much attention in the mid 1990s until comedian Bill Maher hosted a television show, “Politically Incorrect,” for nearly a decade. Since that time, being politically correct has received increased attention.
From all indications, more and more words and terms are being added to the politically incorrect category. Thus, as years come and go, words we regularly use will become obsolete as they become unacceptable. They too will be replaced with words that are politically correct, leaving offensive words and terms, back in the day.