When Political Correctness Met Essex Girl; Answers to Correspondents

Article excerpt


Who first coined the phrase 'political correctness' and what's its official definition?

POLITICAL correctness was begun in Seventies' America as a method of 'levelling the playing field' between the sexes and the races in the light of the perceived inequalities of white maledominated society up to that point.

It promoted the avoidance of expressions or actions that could denigrate groups or minorities that were traditionally seen as disadvantaged.

In the UK at the time the earliest targets for 'readjustment' were established titles and words such as 'chairman' and 'golly'.

Popular culture had its first knocks as those telling 'Irish' jokes were targeted for vilification by a new breed of comedians such as Ben Elton. In a perverse sense of PC logic, the beginning of the Essex Girl jokes began at the same time - and were deemed politically correct.

By the early Nineties, the slight readjustment seemed to have become a full-on dismissal of all our previous culture, with the publishing of books such as The Bias-Free Dictionary, and literally hundreds of bizarre court cases claiming compensation for supposedly homophobic, sexist or racist comments and actions.

The defining moment, according to those that monitor such things, was the revision of the Bible. No longer would God have a 'right hand', instead it had to be 'mighty hand', for fear of offending sinistrals (lefthanders).

Robert Campbell, Motherwell.

THE first recorded use of the phrase was by Scots-born American federalist James Wilson (1742-98) of Pennsylvania - one of the most important figures in framing the U.S. Constitution.

Using the term in the sense of being correct from a political point of view, he declared in 1793: ' "The United States", instead of "The people of the United States", is the toast given. This is not politically correct.' As a term in its own right, 'political correctness' didn't become a fixed phrase until the early Seventies.

It now means conformity to a body of liberal or radical opinion on social matters, characterised by the advocacy of approved causes or views, and often by the rejection of language and behaviour considered discriminatory or offensive.

By the early Nineties, 'political correctness', like the abbreviation PC, was nearly always pejorative. …