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Using Words Wisely Does Not Mean Political Correctness

January 25, 2014

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Over the past weeks there has been many stories about the use of names for sports teams that run counter, to what I consider, common sense and good taste.  From college sports to state high school teams there has been many a story about the use of Indian names and terminology.  The larger debate about word choices, of course, does not end with school mascots but extends to the playgrounds where kids gather and even the work place.

How should we conduct ourselves in society so to be have honest conversations on the one hand, and yet not needlessly offend on the other hand?  I would argue it is not that hard given the entire dictionary of words that one might use to make a point.

In a friendly back-and-forth on Facebook I challenged someone to justify using the term “sissifying” when speaking about how a football player/team was performing on the field to the use of the word ‘sissy’ that a child in school might use to taunt others.  How is one less corrosive than the other, and why is it better for an adult to speak in such ways as opposed to a kid?  And do not kids learn from watching and listening to how adults act?

If the argument is that words should be allowed no matter what than we still would, as a society, see no problem with using ‘nigger’, ‘coon’ ‘half-breed’, and “jap’ in our daily conversations.  Clearly those words are no longer acceptable anywhere, and rightly so.  But if those words are deemed wrong how can it take such a leap to understand that using words such as ‘faggot’ is also wrong.

Everyday people use words wisely, and so I have to laugh when I sometimes hear that someone is ‘unable to speak freely’ as there are too many rules about needing to use politically-correct speech.  That is just a cop-out for acting with civility in modern-day society.

In the lunchroom at the average workplace no one starts up a conversation about the ‘hooters’ on the lady who sits at the front office desk.  No one can just get on a plane and say they are carrying a bomb and think such word choice is allowed, or walk into a theatre and cry “fire!”

Words have weight and if we are to live in a society where the hope of coming together is to exist at all we need to be aware of the impact of the words we use.    I use to speak before groups of constituents when working in the state assembly and was always aware of the audience I was in front of to push the right message by using the right words.

The use of words is key to everything we do.  Being an adult is knowing how to employ the best use of words.  It also means understanding the power our words carry for both good and bad.

Sitting down to read this afternoon I picked up an article from the recent past about the language interpreter that created news at Mandela’s service in December.  At the end was this–which ties into the topic of this posting–“Sign language has adapted in recent years.  The sign for “Mexican” used to be “twirling the mustache like Frito Bandito,” limp wrists (for “gay”) and slant eyes (for “Chinese” have been jettisoned.”

In time the offending words that seem so much in use today will be weeded out as they too will look as foreign and be understood to be as wrong as the ones I listed above.  That is the way society always works.

One Comment
  1. Tom permalink
    January 26, 2014 10:10 PM

    I agree “distasteful” words we use today will fade from use eventually. However, these will likely be replaced by a new set of equally distasteful words just as “neat” or “bee’s knees” were replaced. Must we brace ourselves for an ever lengthening list of banned words on our campuses and media and “polite discussion.”

    While this might be just a part of the normal development of language, what is new is the intervention of interest groups in shaping the language and trying to shape thought at the same time. This can be seen in various forms throughout our society: consider terms such as “illegal alien.” Also concerning is the use of euphemism to further alter language and truth.

    Certainly, we should fear most of all those who deliberately use language to obfuscate the truth and abandon clarity for expedience. The problem is not, after all, the word “nigger,” but it is the thinking behind the word. It seems foolish to attempt to banish an idea by banishing a word and to risk great damage to our discourse–political and otherwise. I was always taught that exposing ideas for what they are was what a person of reason does. Those who seek to police the language of a society do so with great vanity and self-righteousness. It is hard to pick up the tools of a dictator and keep your hands clean.

    I will not suggest that people who are “offended” by certain words are “sissies,” but they do seem to lack an essential strength of character. They would do anything to spare their feelings. They want nothing more than to applaud themselves and feel “double-plus-good.” Banning naughty words does not address the ideas behind them and merely makes it easier to do it next time.

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