Volume Five, December 2004

home » articles » Sorin Ungureanu


Political correctness is a set of post-modern phenomena1 that have evolved for the last few decades by taking several shapes: pc – part of the political trend(s) and ideological orientation(s) of the ‘New Left’; pc – an all-encompassing ‘alternate speech-, and life-style’; pc – the linguistic battlefield for and against prescriptivism of a peculiar nature; and so on, and so forth.
The linguistic researchers of pc will face a number of problems that, however empathetic they will try to be, are going to pose challenges and dilemmas, frustrations:
• the multi-faceted object will simply not agree to ‘lie there’ exposing the proper (i.e. its linguistic) side; neither does most of the specific theory and analysis that is available focus mainly on this particular side (on the contrary);
• the fierceness of the fight involving pc is so obvious and inviting that keeping one’s brains cool seems very often to be the hardest job of all (objectivity is a requirement likely to give the researcher some extra harsh time);
• being post-modern in its quintessence, pc is endowed with the specific characteristics: it is relativistic, alienating, mundane, ‘slippery’ (i.e. deceitful), obscure, eccentric, iconoclastic, libertarian, ubiquitous, diverse, egalitarian, de-constructive, New Canon-oriented, reflecting-by-deflecting reality, etc.
But the feeling that one does experience when conducting such a troublesome enterprise can be equally rewarding. Political correctness has been so impressively present, especially over the last decade, that one can hardly fail (i) to notice it, and (ii) to ask several simple and commonsensical questions: *what is it, really?, *where does it come from?, *were there similar phenomena in the past?, *what is its reason to exist?, *what influence does it exert on the inhabitants of the ‘global village’?, *how does it reflect and shape reality?, *what would our world look like without it?, *how far will it go, and what future does it have?…
Along with those, and more relevantly, we have to ask ourselves in our investigation questions that are specific to the linguistic dimension of pc; these are to be dealt with in the body of the present essay. We take interest in the linguistic paradigm of pc, particularly in the following topics:
-the relationships pc – euphemism / pc – verbal hygiene (with a brief inquiry into the history of linguistic prescriptivism)
-classification of pc-speech lexemes
-a reality/language interdependence assessment (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis applied to pc)
-how competence and performance balance may, or may not, come to terms with pc linguistic practices
-pc as a novel way to reflect reality in linguistic reference and sense relations
-how interpersonal meaning is affected by pc practices
-is prescriptivism a viable approach in matters of ‘verbal hygiene’/pc?
-speech acts and pc-induced adjustments
-Grice’s Cooperative Principle + Maxims and pc
-politeness strategies and politeness theory, and pc
-pc influence on style in personal and public discourse
-how ‘the minority condition’ is linguistically reflected and illustrated in pc


The most general aim of this ‘political correctness’ movement [...] is to enforce a set of orthodox (‘politically correct’) views on class, race, gender and other forms of sociocultural diversity. The movement’s specific objectives include giving preferential treatment to members of certain social groups (e.g. women, ethnic minorities) in schools and universities; constructing educational curricula in which the traditional ideas of cultural heritage and artistic excellence are replaced with an emphasis on non-western, non-white and female cultural contributions; and prescribing the kind of language that may or may not be used to talk about the differences between humans, especially gender and racial/ethnic differences.2

1. What is political correctness? By its very nature, pc allows for more than just one, clear answer:
• a social-cultural-political abstract entity in a close relation to feminism, Deconstructivism, New Historicism, Marxism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and other similar cultural and philosophical Isms of the postmodern continuum;
• an allegedly wrong name given to the ‘correct way’ of thinking and communicating in our era – therefore a name that some ‘pc people’ undertake to deny, to resent and to reject as a label created by opponents; at the same time, a trademark that others take pride in:

PC stands for Politically Correct. We of the Politically Correct philosophy believe in increasing a tolerance for a DIVERSITY of cultures, race, gender, ideology and alternate lifestyles. Political Correctness is the only social and morally acceptable outlook. Anyone who disagrees with this philosophy is bigoted, biased, sexist, and/or closed-minded.3

• an active, militant approach to the problems of the contemporary world, aiming at the undoing of past injustice on (among others) the linguistic level: “Radical verbal hygiene wants to leave speakers with no unpoliticized linguistic corner into which they can retreat...”4; NB minorities regarded automatically as victims (ethnic, sexual, political, religious, cultural, even artistic etc) are at the focus of this movement;
• not in the least, a commercial and corporate range, with brand(s), subsidiaries, affiliations, agents, aggressive advertising, an extended market; the range confers ‘fashionability’ to users within their community; it also provides them with the opportunity to make ground for further adversity against competitors (i.e. their critics, or merely conservatives) – which, in turn, provides further cohesion among ‘pc people’; pc definitely sells, and many of its apparent features on the market / in the public arena indicate that it is a typical product of consumerism.

2. History of ‘pc’. As far as the phrase ‘political correctness’ itself is concerned (excluding any previous accidental conjunction of ‘political’ and ‘correctness’), according to Ruth Perry5, American activists of the New Left in the 1960s and 1970s probably adopted the phrase from the English translation of Mao’s Little Red Book; Barbara Epstein6 suggests a connection with ‘correct lineism,’ a term typically used in the Communist Party.
An attempt to anticipate pc historically takes us back to a long period of time, from seventeenth-century Puritans to nineteenth-century linguistic vigilantes, social enforcers of high Christian morality standards of the kind best illustrated through the expurgation activity of Thomas Bowdler & Sisters in the United Kingdom (basically, on Shakespeare’s works), or Noah Webster in the United States (on the Bible, the other of the two most important books in many people’s personal-use axiology for the past few centuries).
The ‘genetic information’ that such phenomena and pc share is linguistic prescriptivism that benefits from the authority of advocates such as national institutions (the Church, or the government), but also public figures (exceptional individuals of the high caliber illustrated by Th. Bowdler and N. Webster).
And yet, the archaic attempts to enforce the desired linguistic correctness are no match to twentieth-century developments, with the totalitarian experience of the ‘Eastern Block’ to a far greater extent than the Anglo-Saxon world. A commonplace in the interpretation of 20th-century official prescriptivism (and in particular, of pc) by various authors is reference and parallels to ‘Newspeak’, the Orwellian, dystopian language of ‘Oceania’. Rather than in technical details of language engineering, the striking similarity between actual developments, and ‘Newspeak’ and 1984 resides in the relationship between the ‘linguistic law enforcer’ and the subject of such experiments; in the tragic condition of the communities that were involved (from Romania or the Soviet Union, to China, North Korea, or Cuba); in the highly politicized, ideologically-engaged approach of such verbal hygienists (here, pc being on a par with its predecessors).
Such developments of the recent history and their importance in our shrinking world call for much more persistent analysis from linguists and philosophers of the language, or we are ‘doomed’ to preserve the confusion of the ideas, of the names, and of the means. Somewhat paradoxically,

Few linguists felt called upon to comment on this unfolding drama, and those who did made contradictory and simplistic statements. David Crystal7 noted that the feminist campaign against sexist language was among the most successful instances of prescriptivism in living memory; Jenny Cheshire8 put the success of non-sexist language down, conversely, to natural linguistic evolution in the face of social change. These extremes – prescriptive conspiracy or quasi-organic evolution effected by the agency of no one at all – are all we have been given by way of explanation on this subject.9

3. Classification of pc-speech terms. Pc is the trademark of linguistic engineering in contemporary (American mainly, not only) English and that works (see Preamble, supra) by means of implementing a new, different view of reality in new words. By way of consequence, the pc vocabulary consists of lexical groups that carry meaning, to the exclusion of parts of speech that prove useless to the aim of pc people. Thus, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs are the only categories that are employed in pc coinages; whereas prepositions, conjunctions, numbers also, are not. Some subcategories are nevertheless quite productive (see 4., next):

4. Pc word-formation: the lexical-grammatical categories that are productive:
-abstract nouns (‘male fantasy’), as well as concrete (‘underachiever’); countable as well as uncountable (‘ideological soundness’, which is one alternative name for pc); simple nouns (‘wimmin’), compounds (‘phallogocentric’, implying a male tyranny through language), or phrases (‘inappropriately directed laughter’ – fun at the expense of minorities/the oppressed) cover virtually every aspect of existence that needs ‘mending’.
-pronouns, since they carry gender information, are a quite sensitive area; no new coinages here, but adapted usage to avoid sexism or any prejudice (‘they’/‘them’/‘theirs’/‘themselves’ replace correspondent masculine forms in the singular).
-qualifying adjectives make up for the majority of pc words (‘disabled’), or phrases (‘with disabilities’); there exists an important subclass, composed with the help of the suffix ‘-challenged’ (‘orthographically-challenged’, etc.); possessive adjectives are treated like pronouns, where they originate (‘their’ substituted for generic, non-pc ‘his’).
-demonstratives (either pronouns or adjectives) are not affected.
-verbs and verbal phrases, transitive or not, simple or composed (‘to feel good’, the reward for being pc); except for fundamentals such as ‘be’, ‘have’, modals and auxiliaries, which are left untouched.
-adverbs (to go, e.g., ‘non-judgmentally’ – the prime aim, as Nigel Rees says, of pc coinages), are to a considerable degree less productive than adjectives.

5. Pc word formation – means. In English nowadays, pc and IT are some of the fields where new words; whereas vocabulary enrichment in IT is based on the principle ‘a new piece of reality needs a new word to describe it’, in pc the principle seems to be ‘an old reality needs new words’. Here are some specific means, with apt examples:
-affixation: ‘pre-wimmin’ (i.e. girl), ‘efemcipated’, ‘weightism’; former ‘-ess’ nouns instead are banned by pc enforcers;
-composition: ‘African-American’;
-conversion: ‘to chair’;
-abbreviation: ‘C. E.’ (i.e. Common Era; this abbreviation can be read out, not to their full satisfaction we may imagine, as Christian Era as well);

The Semantics of pc

6. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis and pc. If we agree (and we do) that “all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar or in some way can be calibrated,”10 it follows that in the pc-permeated world that we live in, such linguistic wars of representation waged by everyone against all cannot but lead to “... a political or moral judgment from the addressee: substituting ‘politically correct’ for more traditional labels is an attempt to solicit alternative judgments, or at least problematize the usual ones.”11 That is, pc proponents base their approach on Sapir and Whorf’s theory, from a standing point which is one step ahead: they suggest an ‘alternate representation’ of reality so that speakers already have the precondition fulfilled for a significant change in human interrelationships.
But the ‘language determines perception’ approach is unilateral and creates incompleteness; both the individual’s perception and the perception shared by members of any community determine, in their turn, linguistic usage for that individual, or for that group. The problem is, in a world like ours, (i) heterogeneous, centrifugal, and (ii) conflict-driven, sharing a traumatic past,

Endless bickering over what to call things (and people) draws attention to a lack of social consensus; at its most confrontational [...] it dramatizes the existence o viewpoints that appear not just different but incommensurable. Furthermore, whereas language has traditionally been the privileged symbol of one kind of social identity – ethnicity – the ‘PC’ phenomenon makes it symbolic of a bewildering range of affiliations: gender, race, sexual preference, region, subculture, generation, (dis)ability, appearance, and so on. For those whose ideal is a common language in a common culture, this is an unsettling development.12

7. Another feature that attracts the linguist’s interest is the special relationship between competence and performance as far as pc-driven speakers are concerned. This task is rendered difficult by the imperfect, incomplete accountability of their linguistic performance. Few speakers of English are pc-free in their own linguistic usage, and the remaining majority manifests a variety of approaches, both in quantitatively (some speakers only produce incidental pc insertions, as, for instance, the catchy ‘they’ in impersonal/neutral statements; others take all opportunities to use pc phrases); and qualitatively (preference of certain such words over others).
But some features may be inferred, nevertheless. Basically, an imbalance between competence (which stays, in principle, the same) and performance (which is adjusting to the new requirements) occurs; if, in the long run, competence evolves to permit the desired performance, there is still a gap between the two, and it has to do with another contentious point, as pc-critics and opponents don’t hesitate to point out, drawing parallels with the Orwellian doublethink:

Critics do not say that sexism is acceptable or inevitable; they ‘quibble’ [...] at some of the means to the desired end. They doubt whether particular usages are in fact biased, insulting or misleading; they deplore any change that results in fewer linguistic distinctions; they shudder at the injury to English grammar and vocabulary done by the use of they as a singular [...] or the use of the suffix –person. [...]
The most common linguistic charges against the so-called ‘PC movement’ are on the one hand that its brand of verbal hygiene abuses language and destroys freedom by perverting the meanings of words, and on the other that it trivializes politics by focusing on language and not on reality.13

In terms of langue and parole (another binary theory, parallel to that of competence and performance), in our given context the discrepancy seems even more radical: the ‘parole’ of a minority exerts pressure upon the common ‘langue’ in order to have it meet the emerging standards.

8. A ‘novel’ passage to linguistic reference and sense relations. Let us take the case of a set such as the substitutes for ‘Negro’. Historical evidence shows this word as a paradoxical instance: both offensive (it was in full use in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time of slavery practices in English-speaking America) and neutral (since,
in public discourse, there was no other more derogatory term). Apparently, there is more to verbal effectiveness than prescriptivism and euphemism combined can acquire:

One point that is often made about successive labels for black people (also old, disabled, mentally ill and gay people) is hat they have to keep on changing precisely because verbal hygiene is so ineffectual: the renaming process makes no difference to the underlying prejudice and stigma. Therefore, whatever the ‘polite’ term is now, in a few years or decades it will have acquired such negative connotations that someone will feel compelled to propose a new one. In this way Negro and colored yielded to black, which has now yielded to African-American, cripple gave way to handicapped, then disabled and now (in some quarters) physically challenged; old-age pensioners became senior citizens while old itself has gradually been supplanted by elderly.14

Things in the state of the language reach a critical point when the connection between a referent and a referring expression is deliberately, repeatedly and confusingly mixed up in an organized way, regardless of the linguistic contract between users. The common man will thus find himself contemplating the hazed bunch of references, all for the same referent – which used to bear just one name ‘when I was young’ (or maybe two: one offensive, one for home use). Not all speakers, even in a liberal society like the American society, have enough education, tolerance, open-mindedness and what else it takes to keep up with daily adjustments of the core vocabulary, let alone to participate with new items, or engage in the specific debates.
And then there is inertia, a universal fact that overrides the individual’s abilities or attitudes:

... why do so many people so deeply resent campaigns against sexist, racist, ageist and ableist language? Is it because they are dyed-in-the-wool bigots who want language to ‘reflect society’ by faithfully expressing widespread social prejudices? I think the evidence points in a different direction. As we ill see, objections to linguistic reform tend to focus more on language than on the social questions at issue, such as whether women are men’s equals. It is ‘perverting language’ and ‘reading things into words’ which attract opposition, and which are parodied [...]. What many people dislike, specifically, is the politicizing of their words against their will. By calling traditional usage into question, reformers have in effect forced everyone who uses English to declare a position in respect of gender, race or whatever.15

There is nothing special with inertia, it being, like in any field of human activity, the element that determines the degree of success or failure that reforms have. Inertia is not directly responsible for the creation of prototypes, which are needed in effective, shared reference; but it is responsible for stereotypes, which accounts for labels, erosion of polite terms (negative connotations inevitably attached), and sheer resistance to an improved communication.
Sense relations in what pc is concerned also have to do with, mainly, synonymy and antonymy – as detailed in our first Report (‘Euphemisms in English’); the usual procedure in coining pc replacements is twofold:
-creating synonyms for unsatisfactory terms; universal building principle – to eliminate downbeat (biased/ discriminating/excluding) implications from around entities belonging to minorities, or to other sensitive groups: e.g. ‘first name’, instead of ‘Christian name’; ‘femstruate’ for ‘menstruate’; or ‘nutritional shortfall’, instead of ‘hunger’.
-aiming at constructing ad-hoc antonymies to terms which are part of the lexicon employed by the oppressive establishment: ‘additive-free’ – opposed to the idea of unhealthy diets; ‘visually oriented’ – opposed to the negative physical condition of being ‘deaf’; or ‘(the) metaphysically/biologically challenged’ – to avoid the disturbingly direct reference of ‘dead people’.
Other sense relations, such as homonymy (which is sometimes by necessity accidental, e.g. ‘Philosophy Major’, for ‘bum’ / ‘homeless’) or hyponymy (‘physically-, ‘chemically-, ‘vertically-, or ‘gravitationally- challenged’, superordinate term – ‘challenged’ etc.) are of less relevance.

9. How interpersonal meaning is affected by pc practices. Generally speaking, utterings that include pc-permeated discourse and are constative tend, are intended, or are sometimes likely to be interpreted as performatives. They are, naturally, imbibed with a sort of ‘wishful thinking techniques’ that range from ‘Pollyanna’-type, naive assertions (e.g. “They’re economically unprepared.” i.e. poor, or “We’re all Earth’s Children.”) to assertions meant to hurt deliberately in order to settle accounts (e.g. “He’s nothing but a Right Wing Extremist Fascist Pig.”).
For pc language does not exclusively consist of euphemisms; there are also lots of dysphemisms, for use in the ideological and political fight with the ‘Insensitive Cultural Oppressors (ICO)’ (a term coined in response to ‘WASP’). But, neither does it reside in very directly pointed utterings; statements are built, most of the times, in the third person. Another contradictory element in pc communicational strategies and techniques is that, based on its extreme contents, pc speech intends its message to overload its perlocutionary dimension, to ring a loud bell in the interlocutor. Contesting illocutions, for example, protests, arguing over some contentious ‘bone’ – all are likely, if they include the right terms, and are uttered in the right tone, to cause the desired effects, from persuasion to shock. But we must add that, under casual circumstances, regular people’s pc discourse is marked by conformism (it is becoming convenient for more and more people to sound pc), rather than by militantism.
In countless instances in the media and in everyday conversation, now and then jocularly, people insert such assertions as “Is that pc to do?”, or “That’s totally un-pc!” But in more serious environments (public administration, schools and Universities) little is left to jocularity or leniency. Like communist activists in recently-occupied Eastern European countries of the 1950s, pc activists are ever vigil and merciless; in the early stages, all probably seemed pretty harmless:

Americans with their love of grandiose and verbose terminology were obviously well placed to take part in this process. The people who always prefer to talk about ‘homework’ as ‘an evening work study program’, or who had given the term ‘extra-vehicular activity’ to what you did when you climbed out of your spacecraft, knew whereof they spoke. At the beginning of 1991, Newsweek ran a cover story (inevitably entitled ‘Thought Police’) and carried other material that firmly put the issue in the consciousness of the American public. By May 1991, word person William Safire in The New York Times was busy defining phrases like ‘politically correct’ and ‘physically challenged’ as, ‘Adverbial premodified adjectival lexical units’.
During the summer, political correctness was said to have ‘swept through US universities’. In August, Joel Connaroe was writing, also in The New York Times: ‘The phrase ... has become a lethal weapon for silencing anyone whose ideas you don’t like ... the McCarthyism of the left.’16


10. Prescriptivism, verbal hygiene, pc. Prescriptivism in language; Pc, Newspeak, Thought Police, Stalinism, censorship: nomine odiosa. Personalities – from John R. Searle or Edward Behr, to Virgil Nemoianu or Cristian Tudor Popescu – expressed disbelief, fear, reserve, or repugnance. However,

There is no language without normativity. If there really were no restrictions of any kind on what could be said and how, speech would be inconsequential gibberish, and interaction at an end. Therefore [...] it is nonsensical to suppose we could ever have, or for that matter want, absolute freedom of speech. Absolute freedom of speech could only be the utterly trivial freedom to make meaningless noises.17

By way of consequence, we have to go further back when judging the opportunity of pc. Language, it must be admitted, was created in the likeness of the dominant groups. Language is an imperfect mirror of reality. Social problems derive from failures in communication, which are made possible by inherent limits of speech and of speakers, and that is a given. All these are facts, but the way pc enforcers conduct their quest for objectivity has a series of flaws that spoil efforts and positive intentions altogether. “But, yes, PC enforcers do exist, even though they would never identify themselves as such nowadays. I have encountered them [...]. There is resentment and an absence of good humour in their attitude.”18 The methods employed are utterly inadequate, and much of the popularity that pc enjoys nowadays is due to the reverse psychology, the inertia that makes something new fashionable too.
Communication is hindered when its management is based on such a terrible stress on difference. The problems of the contemporary world will not (let themselves) be solved by using ‘Ms’ instead of ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’, by violently promoting otherness for its own sake, or by indulging into thought- and speech-policing. The world will not be changed by means of a magical language – at least not by this one; and manipulation of alienated masses towards a utopian end, certainly will not.

11. Grice’s Cooperative Principle and Conversational Maxims, and pc. It should be noted that – irregular, incoherent and heterogeneous as it is – pc allows for applied commentary in terms of its behavior from a pragmatic viewpoint. With the limited means for relevant sampling from pc American discourse, speculations based on what we may get from inside the Romanian Establishment are short of perfection.
The co-operative principle, ‘make your contribution such as is required...’ seems valid for the non-pc interlocutor rather than for his committed counterpart; pc and adjustment in communication sounds like a contradiction.
The maxim of Quality may well be attainable for the pc-oriented interlocutors, as long as pc phraseology does not directly hinder communication; but they can direct similar claims towards non-pc communication partners.
The maxim of Quantity may raise some problems, as (i) pc style is t a certain extent verbose, and (ii) pc phrases are several times longer, on average, than the corresponding neutral/normal words.
The maxim of Relevance does not pose special problems here in particular.
The maxim of Manner is possibly the most troublesome one for pc communications; ‘perspicuous’ – almost unattainable, as at least the first three requirements (brevity, avoiding obscurity, and ambiguity, respectively) are acutely contradicted by the very essence of the pc vocabulary and attitude.
Conversational implicatures acquire, therefore, a special status, but they cannot be considered as specific for pc – in all specialized jargons, the insiders freely flout principles and maxims as taken by outsiders, establishing their own, off the cuff rules.

12. Theories of politeness and politeness strategies and pc. It goes without saying, almost, that with pc, like with euphemisms,
-the approach is submissive, but NB not, customarily, towards the second person, but usually the third person; this will influence both the negotiation and the interpretation of (Levinson’s) Politeness Principle – although Levinson does not explicitly say that it works between interlocutors alone (nor is pc exclusively oriented towards the absent oppressed in the third person).
-in principle, the Tact maxim should be flouted, but that depends on the degree of diplomacy that a pc speaker possesses.
-the Generosity maxim seems specially designed for reference to that ‘absent oppressed’, viewed through the modifying lens of cultural, social or political activism!
-the Approbation maxim shall be split for usage applied to the ‘oppressed’ (yes), or to the ‘oppressors’ (no).
-the Modesty maxim shall apply specifically in rendering submissive the self and to a certain extent the rest of the universe before the same oppressed.
-the Agreement maxim, we expect, shall be approached in a way similar to the Approbation maxim.
Face is something that the pc herald will hold in high esteem; it is, and then it is not. According to the circumstances (the context or rather the company one has is critical), face may be saved or compromised, as appropriate; face-threatening acts may be performed – we should say that, on average, in more instances when reference is made to the second person, but in fewer, if referring to that significant other.


13. Pc influence on style in public or personal discourse. Several distinctions should be noted about pc before proceeding to any comments:
-pc ‘is not’ pc: a large part of the lefty agents that are pc-active do not admit this label for what they do; instead, the public (on one hand) and the opponents (on the other) make no such claims.
-pc vocabulary consists of terms which are ‘pc proper’ and also of ‘parasitic’ words, as coined in a jocular mode by non-pc individuals (basically, writers and journalists); the pc corpus is easily permeable, to the extent observed in coinages such as the following (and which have the best flavor too): e.g. the ‘-challenged’ series:

aesthetically, aurally, cerebrally, cerebro-genitally, chronologically, constitutionally, ethnically, financially, follicularly, gynaecologically, horizontally, humorously, hygienically, ideologically, intellectually, linguistically, metabolically, morally, optically, orthographically, paternally and socially, trichologically, university, verbally, vertically, visually, etc19

-pertinent or not, pc vocabulary includes gnarl words (dysphemisms) along with purr words (euphemisms). Euphemisms are meant for minorities (‘oppressed’), whereas dysphemisms are for the former favorites of fate (‘oppressors’).
Pc can create a wide range of feelings or states in users and in the audience: neutrality-induced unawareness; taboo-induced frustrations; raging fury over points of ideological dispute; the fun that a good wordplay can offer to a clever individual; haunting memories of past experiences under totalitarian regimes... Ianus Multifrons in so many ways.
The higher a viewer climbs the social ladder, the more serious things appear; if John (or Jenny) Doe uses the wrong word in the wrong circumstances, he (or she) will probably get away with it – but if the US President gets carried away by terrible events such as those on 9/11 and uses perilous terms, as ‘Arab terrorists’ or ‘crusade’, things instantly get out of control with anti-imperialist watchers. Pc in the western world – in the American establishment in particular – brings along considerable risks.
Inadvertent backlashes produced with the help of pc occur every now and then. It has become proverbial that a judge dismissed the case against a female defendant who was tried for indecent exposure, based on the law itself, which claimed that he who exhibits his genitalia in a public place is held liable before the law.
Typically, pc occurrences induce a sense of artificiality (at the best) and uneasiness. Pc coinages are long/analytical, therefore clumsy, and often imprecise/ inaccurate and simply unpleasant in their forceful desire to sound highly ideological, committed, and persuasive of whatever noble goal. Insofar as one is dealing with real pc-people, a definite sense of intolerance may often be inferred from such encounters.

14. ‘The minority condition’ – reflected and illustrated in pc. We assume that the central concept in the pc ideology (one’s belonging to one minority or another) is worth enterprising, and should undergo a detailed description and analysis in our next doctoral report. There exists, nonetheless, a certain difficulty (apart from that induced by the physical distance between phenomenon and observer), namely having to set different restrictions within the pc body, in order to be able to isolate various linguistic features; this happens when the political, social, or cultural (i.e. not purely linguistic) characteristics are dominant; also when the dis-continuum turns incomprehensible.

1 “ ‘political correctness’. If any current linguistic contest deserves the epithet ‘postmodern’ this one does.” writes Deborah Cameron in Verbal Hygiene (London: Routledge, 1996), 31.
2 Cameron, Chapter 4, ‘Civility and its discontents: Language and ‘political correctness’’, 124.
3 PC Primer [Answer #1]
4 Cameron, 162.
5 ‘A short history of the term politically correct’, 1992.
6 ‘Political correctness and identity politics’, 1992.
7 In Who Cares About English Usage?
8 In ‘The relationship of language and sex in English’
9 Cameron, Chapter 4, 118.
10 Benjamin Lee Whorf (Language, Thought and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Ed. J. B. Carroll. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1956), 214.
11 Cameron, Chapter 4, 147.
12 Cameron, Chapter 4, 160.
13 Cameron, Chapter 4, 139-40.
14 Cameron, Chapter 4, 145-6.
15 Cameron, Chapter 4, 119.
16 Nigel Rees, (The Politically Correct Phrasebook. What they say you can and cannot say in the 1990s. London: Bloomsbury, 1993). Introduction, xvi.
17 Cameron, Chapter 4, p. 163, discussing Stanley Fish’s essay, ‘There’s no such thing as freedom of speech and it’s a good thing too’.
18 Rees, Introduction, xvii.
19 Rees, 24-25.

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