Political Correctness: Speech Control or Thought Control?

By Kreyche, Gerald F. | USA TODAY, March 1995 | Go to article overview

Political Correctness: Speech Control or Thought Control?


Kreyche, Gerald F., USA TODAY


THE Random House Dictionary defines political correctness as "marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving especially race, gender, sexual affinity or ecology." This definition certainly covers a multitude of sins committed by non-adherents of PC. Let's look at these sins of omission and commission.

When political correctness started out, many thought it was an academic joke, referring to taxation as "revenue enhancement" or the handicapped as "physically challenged." Many even thought articles concerning PC were about personal computers and skipped reading them. Some, such as syndicated columnist Ed Quillen, did a bit of nose-thumbing by illustrating the absurdity if carried to its full implications. He suggested the banning of real estate advertising using terms such as "master bedroom," a "walkin closet" (as offensive to wheelchair-bound buyers), and "spectacular views" (to placate the blind).

However, when the new Scrabble dictionary eliminated nearly 100 time-honored words deemed to be non-politically correct, people knew that PC was picking up a head of steam. The Los Angeles Times issued guidelines for its writers that prohibited "discouraged," to be PC) the use of a number of words. Among them were "man-made," no doubt a fop to feminists, "Dutch treat," "ghetto," "inner city," "Hispanic," and "Indian." One suspects that the Times was influenced heavily by the French Parliament banning 3,500 words, mostly Americanisms such as "cheeseburger," "chewing gum," and "bulldozer." The English, tongue in cheek, then threatened to ban French words such as "laissez-faire."

Even sign language has felt the revisionism of the correctness movement. Black now is signed not by putting two fingers on one's nose, but by the letter "A" circling the face (for Afro-American). The former sign for Indian as showing two fingers (representing feathers) behind one's head also is changed. A gay person no longer is signed by a flip of the wrist, but by the letter "G."

Political correctness is not so much about words, as it is about action and conduct, for words lead from ideas into real life. In North Carolina, for instance, a judge remarked of a female attorney defending someone accused of robbery that he didn't like to argue with a "pretty girl." The result was a Supreme Court decision requiring a new trial for her client. In Dallas, after a trial involving a man convicted of raping a lesbian, the bailiff said in an aside that, instead of the long sentence handed out, if he were judge, he only would give 30 days. That cost the bailiff a 10-day suspension and a loss of $842 in pay.

Near St. George, Utah, two tortoises on the endangered species list accidentally were killed during construction of an arts complex. The Department of Justice fined the sponsor, The Heritage Arts Foundation, $20,000. Two workers, finding a dead tortoise, planted one at the construction site and promptly were fired for their insensitive prank.

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