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The Hidden Power in Words


From an email that has been widely circulating the Internet:

“The following is the 2007 winning entry from an annual contest at Texas A&M University calling for the most appropriate definition of a contemporary term. This year’s term was ‘ Political Correctness ‘.   

The winner wrote:    ‘Political Correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical  minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which   holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end.” 

A funny story, perhaps, but let’s see what’s under the hood:

PC: like art, we say we know it when we see it. But one man’s political correctness, I mean one person’s PC, is another person’s carefully crafted speech. 

The definition offered below for political correctness I interpret as an attempt to move the concept of PC, which was intended to be a value-neutral way to promote positive social change through enhanced sensitivity to how words unconsciously communicate acceptable assumptions, into the realm of garbage: that which may be summarily dismissed by right-thinking people of good will. Or should I say “clear-thinking” 

So, if language is our most powerful artifact for shaping values and storing tacit knowledge for future generations, what would you propose to replace PC as a term of art to acknowledge that people validly see the world in different ways? 

Here is a form of word play introduced by Bertrand Russell to make my point: 

Positive                                  Neutral                                   Negative

I am:                                       You are:                                 He is:

Bold                                        Active                                     Brash

Careful                                  Hesitant                                Timid

Husky                                      Solid                                       Fat

Inexperienced                      Beginning                             Unskilled

Idealist                                   Realist                                    Pessimist

True believer                        Skeptic                                   True believer

Sensitive                               Objective                               PC

PC                                          Unconscious                        Bigoted

Biased                                   Unbiased                              Biased

Uncaring                               PC                                         Unthinking

 Did I cheat and change the rules of the game? Where?

Now, which triplet using PC is the “correct” employment of PC? Says who? 

In the voice of Peter Griffin: “Words are just semantics”

In the voice of Stewie Griffin: “Idiot”

 Because words take their meaning from the mind of the listener, you must appreciate their likely interpretation when choosing what you will send.

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