Let’s Get Serious For a Second

So I’ve tried to keep the last few blog posts kind of fun because a lot of people think that learning about language and grammar is boring and pointless (which it can be, I’ll admit), but it can also be fun and useful! I personally love learning about funny little quirks in the English language and its grammar; I’m also a word nerd so learning about comma rules and when to use who and whom is fun for me. Still, not everything about language is fun – as most people can vouch for – and some parts of language are downright upsetting. I am going to potentially voice an unpopular opinion about current language trends and you are free to disagree with me (if you do, connect with me because I would love to hear your opinion), but here goes nothing: I am not a fan of politically correct language.

Before you (possibly) freak out, hear me out first and if you still disagree then you can totally freak out.

The idea of politically correct language is to create and speak a language that is not offensive to anyone: people of different genders, sexualities, ethnicities, religious affiliations, and basically any person who is different from you. It seeks to be all-inclusive and inoffensive to everyone. This I support. I know the saying goes “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” but words have the potential to be incredibly hurtful and a language that seeks to not be hurtful is fine by me. The problem lies in the execution of this politically correct language.

Minor digression: there is this concept in language change called the euphemism treadmill. The euphemism treadmill describes the ways in which words enter the language as either positive or negative and follows the words’ amelioration or pejoration – how words get better or worsen. For example, a certain racial slur is known by society to be derogatory (think the n-word). In an effort to be able to speak about this person or group of people in a non-derogatory manner, another inoffensive word is ‘created’ to take its place (like Negro). This word is used in a relatively neutral manner for a period of time but eventually, the underlying social conditions turn this previously neutral term into a negative one. This has happened over and over to countless offensive and inoffensive words in the English language which makes it next to impossible to create a truly  ‘politically correct’ language.

How can a language be created and remain pure (that is to say, with no negative underlying connotations) when this euphemism treadmill and sociological ideas continue to persist? I support the idea of politically correct language, as previously stated, but I have serious doubts as to how politically correct our language can be without first addressing the cultural ideas that cause the negative connotations behind certain words. We can seek to create an ever more politically correct language but new words will have to be implemented in the future as the neutral words of today become derogatory tomorrow. The answer in theory is simple, but is much more complicated in execution: we must break the euphemism treadmill to actually create a politically correct language.

Now, I realize that I am voicing an unpopular and possibly radical opinion in stating this and this blog has the potential to offend people. Just know this is not my intention at all. I am not saying that my opinion is right and by default that yours is wrong; I am merely stating my thoughts in the hope that I can make you think about yours. Still, I do know that I am not alone in feeling like this about politically correct language: 60% of people think that political correctness is becoming a problem, according to an article by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (I found this article in my school’s library database and tried to find it again and link it here, but I couldn’t find it. Instead, I found another article by Abdul-Jabbar addressing this issue. Check it out.)

Many, many, many people are frustrated by the “Can I say this or not?” problem which, if we actually had a politically correct language, would not be a problem.

I personally believe that the effort to become politically correct has had more negative effects than positive ones. Instead of creating an all-inclusive language, I feel as though we have in fact created a more divisive language which damages more than it heals. Instead of bringing us closer together, our ‘politically correct’ language has driven us further apart. Additionally, (again, this is just my opinion) I feel as though in an effort to become politically correct, we have conditioned our society to become offended to any word or phrase that is NOT politically correct. I don’t want to say we are a nation of overly-sensitive sissies (because that truly is offensive), but because we try/are expected to always say the ‘right thing’ that when the wrong thing is said, people sometimes go nuts.

I am not saying that we as a nation of speakers are speaking the wrong way or that we need a major language overhaul. However, I do think that the sociological ideals underlying our language and motivations behind wanting a politically correct language need to be looked at and addressed. If we can look at (and potentially fix) these ideas and preconceptions, then I think we will be more on track to creating a more politically correct and kinder language. Do you agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Please let me know! I would love to hear your take on it.