Donald Trump has declared that he has no time for “political correctness”. Well a lot of us don’t have time for you, Mr. Trump, and not just because we like to mind our verbal Ps and Qs. We at Glossophilia are all for being PC — when it’s necessary. As the NBA’s leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently commented in the Washington Post:
The term “political correctness” is so general that to most people it simply means a discomfort with changing times and attitudes, an attack on the traditions of how we were raised. … What it really means is nothing more than sensitizing people to the fact that some old-fashioned words, attitudes and actions may be harmful or insulting to others. … When times change, we need to change with them in areas that strengthen our society. It’s no longer “politically correct” to call African Americans “coloreds.” Or to pat a woman on the butt at work and say, “Nice job, honey.” … If you don’t have time for political correctness, you don’t have time to be the caretaker of our rights under the Constitution.
Well said, Mr. Abjul-Jabbar. And Donald: don’t worry. We wouldn’t expect you to utter anything correct — either politically or, er, politically. It’s just not in your vocabulary.
However … Here’s the thing. There are times when being PC — at least in a linguistic sense — can go just a little bit too far. As the University of New Hampshire did, for example, back in July, when it published on its web site a “Bias-Free Language Guide”: a PC dictionary of sorts that “[was] meant to invite inclusive excellence in [the] campus community.” American, foreigners, mothering, and fathering were just a few of the words deemed “problematic”, for various sometimes incomprehensible reasons. The latter two words were prohibited “so as to ‘avoid gendering a non-gendered activity’.” Hmm. And as Campus Reform reported at the time:
Even saying the word “healthy” is problematic, the university says. The “preferred term for people without disabilities,” the university says, is “non-disabled.” Similarly, saying “handicapped” or “physically-challenged” is also problematic. Instead, the university wants people to use the more inclusive “wheelchair user,” or “person who is wheelchair mobile.” … Using the words “rich” or “poor” is also frowned upon. Instead of saying “rich,” the university encourages people to say “person of material wealth.” Rather than saying a person is “poor,” the university encourages its members to substitute “person who lacks advantages that others have” or “low economic status related to a person’s education, occupation and income.”
Well, when the higher-ups at UNH got wind of the verbal prescriptions being doled out on their school’s web site, all hell — or perhaps I should say “the infamous resting place due south of heaven” — broke loose. Suddenly all the verbal correctness didn’t seem quite so politic. Here’s the statement UNH President Mark W. Huddleston issued in defense of his decision to take down the offending PC guide:
While individuals on our campus have every right to express themselves, I want to make it absolutely clear that the views expressed in this guide are NOT the policy of the University of New Hampshire. I am troubled by many things in the language guide, especially the suggestion that the use of the term ‘American’ is misplaced or offensive. The only UNH policy on speech is that it is free and unfettered on our campuses. It is ironic that what was probably a well-meaning effort to be ‘sensitive’ proves offensive to many people, myself included.
So, being PC doesn’t always get a free pass: it doesn’t automatically trump reason, even if reason escapes Trump. Just for kicks, here are a few humorously PC words or expressions that have cropped up in recent years*, proving that sometimes political correctness can seem as ridiculous as those who have no time for it.
Follicly challenged: bald
Horizontally challenged: fat, obese
(A)esthetically challenged: ugly
Cerebrally challenged: stupid
Parentally challenged: lacking one or both parents
Person of size: fat
Employmentally challenged: jobless
Living impaired: dead
* they’re on Wikipedia, even if they haven’t yet made Webster …