Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

Musings about language, books, grammar, and writing in general

Sigh – I HATE Political Correctness

Your grammarian is particularly grouchy this morning.

I was reading the current issue of Time (which had finally dried out enough that it could be picked up without falling apart)  when a small “sidebar” type article caught my attention. Written by Katy Steinmetz, the article is about how states are trying to replace gendered language with gender-neutral terms.

It’s an interesting article, and the comments are kind of amusing, but…. We have not been able to come up with a genderless third person pronoun (I tend to prefer”Heesh”; others use “zir”). To me, that would be much more effective than the traditional, but somewhat cumbersome, “he or she.”  However, the legislatures trying to deal with this issue seem to think that using “he or she” (alternated with “she or he”) is a relatively easy fix. What they are having problems with are words, like “manhole,” “penmanship,” and “ombudsman.” They have come up with fixes for “penmanship” (“handwriting”) and for “ombudsman” (“ombuds.”), but are somewhat stymied over what to do with words like “airman” and “manhole”.

To me, this is almost as stupid as the insistence back in the 1970s that women needed a separate language. Is our language sexist? Yeah, it is. Then again, our society is still sexist to a large degree. Will changing the language to a more gender-neutral one change that? I don’t think it will do a lot – at least not in our lifetimes. Yes, the language you use informs the way you think. But I think that if a society really becomes less gender-biased, the terms that are needed will develop naturally, rather than being legislated into effect. After all, changes in language did little to improve bigotry – it just meant that people gave lip service to equality, while thinking whatever they thought before.

Then again, I think that much political correctness, like much diversity training, is bullshit engendered by those with good intentions. When I worked for $MajorFinancialServiceFirm, they were really big on diversity training, but the upshot of most of it was that there are certain things you can be sued for publicly admitting to, and it would be nice if you didn’t do or say those things, so we don’t get sued for millions of dollars. The haters still hated, regardless of how many seminars or workshops they attended, and those who didn’t hate were forced to spend hours of time that could be better spent doing their jobs in seminars that they were already well beyond in terms of actions and feelings.

And, I don’t notice them making a fuss over words like “charwoman,” “nanny,” or “cleaning woman.” I guess it’s only male-gender-specific words that matter enough to these people, which kind of begs the question about how pure their motives are, nu?

How do you feel about political correctness, especially as applied to language? If political correctness in language should, in your opinion, be addressed, what issue would you want to see addressed first? Do you think that using gender-neutral language will have any real effect on how the average person thinks?

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4 thoughts on “Sigh – I HATE Political Correctness

  1. I think that language changes with the culture, and forcing changes on it rarely works. I’ve seen examples of this, e.g., in Jamaica in the 1970s “housemaid” disappeared to be replaced by “helper”; the job itself, and its social status, did not change, though the people doing it gained access to benefits (national insurance, minimum wage) that they didn’t have before.

    • Hi, fledgist, & welcome to my little corner of the world.

      I agree. We had something similar here when “secretaries” all became “administrative assistants”. In fact, it actually lowered the status slightly of those who had been “administrative assistants” before the change occurred. I have no idea why people thinks that calling a thing something else will make people regard it as changed, especially when the thing does not change anything but the name.

  2. Mark Blackman on said:

    A friend of ours (you can guess who) once examined “manhole” and suggested “personhole” … then, as “son” is male, offered “perchildhole”. (He then turned to “Manhattan”…)

    The gender-neutral term for “cleaning lady” is “cleaner”.

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