It’s not about political correctness

It’s about the accurate use of the English language and the clarity of meaning, with the added benefit of being able to  communicate without giving offense. I’m sorry if a moment of thought is too much effort to put into communicating well.

I was entertaining my college-age colleagues last night telling them that the Interwebs (as my geeky friends call it) used to be called “The Web” or “The Net” or “The World Wide Web.” They goofed around, talking about looking things up on the World Wide Web. It was later in the evening, we were punchy.

But what if we had been talking about outdated terms for race? We never would have sat around talking about Injuns, Coloreds, Orientals, and worse. My colleagues are polite women. They wouldn’t laugh at the old terms; they would know that they have become offensive.

Sure, you say, they are just words. But if your family was systematically enslaved, forbidden from certain kinds of employment, denied schooling, not allowed to speak their own language by a dominant culture, you might see how you don’t want grandchildren of the dominant culture to call your grandchildren by the names you were called then.

Just as you try to pronounce your husband’s cousin’s name correctly and remember what nickname your friend Susannah goes by, you might want to call a group of people by the name that is appropriate at the time. And it might change, but you know what? You’re a smart person. You can adapt.

Here’s some less-ravy and more concrete advice. Chicago, AP Stylebook, and APA all have sections on bias-free language. Here is a useful link from Psychology Today about how to refer to people with disabilities.

Where do you learn this shit?


One response to “It’s not about political correctness

  1. My Chicago Manual of Style rests at my feet, like any good guard dog. And other than that, I keep my ears open and my mouth shut while the world feeds me today’s don’t-put-foot-in-mouth slant. But like all things medical and dietary, tomorrow the bad guy will change.

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