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    anglosphere /

    Газета School English #3, 2003

    Political Correctness in the USA

    Mr David Mark Reid, a graduate of University of Chicago (M.A.) (USA), of Heidelberg University ( Germany) (M.Sc.), worked in different educational establishments in Turkey, Belarus, Colombia, Spain, Italy, South Korea, Ivory Coast, Iran, Germany, Zimbabwe, Australia. Now he is working as a teacher of English as a foreign language at Samara Nayanova University.
        “All men are created equal1.” This 18th-century statement was a reaction to royal rule. The rule of law was supposed to replace the rule of man. “Justice is blind”. Unfortunately, the law was discriminatory. It treated women, slaves, children, non-citizens, etc. differently. However, the strong individualism of the settlers reinforced egalitarianism2. Discrimination in the law also diminished. You cannot just legislate away the social practices of centuries. Attitudes are resistant. The language is resilient3. Equal rights for women and minorities4 have been legislated; but there is still a lot of fine-tuning5 to be done. This is enforced in part by the ubiquitous6 guns. America continues to resist gun control. More importantly, Americans love to drag each other into court7. Lawyers encourage this. If you sue someone, you pay the lawyer only if you win.

        Originally, political correctness meant that language and social practices should correspond to spirit of the law. Language and gestures shape thought, which shape action. The first step was to discourage derogatory8 names for minorities, such as “wop”9 or “kike”10. The offending “nigger”, “boy”, “black Sambo”, “blackie”, “colored” were changed to “Negro”, then “black”, and today “Afro-American”. Some terms were considered implicitly11 derogatory. For example, the “Indian”, had been “damaged” by Hollywood stereotypes. Today “Native American” is more politically correct. “Spic” is a shortening of “Hispanic”, but the former is insulting, and the latter is politically correct.

        More difficult to change is the orientation of the language towards males. For example, a middle-aged unmarried male is given the neutral term “bachelor”, but the older unmarried woman is given the derogatory term “spinstress”. A “Sir” is someone knighted12 by the Queen, but a “Madam” runs a brothel13. A male “escort” is a bodyguard or guide. A female “escort” is a high-paid prostitute. “The doctor treated his patient” is classically correct, unless it is known that the doctor is female.

        This last example has found a “politically correct” solution, even though it complicates the grammar. In America, the classic rule of noun-adjective agreement has been discarded. Now: “The doctor treated their patient.” This was easy to introduce. The agreement rule had earlier been amended for words such as “everybody” or “everyone”, when the sense was plural, but the form was singular. Example: “Everybody loves their freedom” in the J7 commercial.

        Another example. The word “man” means not only “male” but also “humanity”. “All men are created equal” is therefore ambiguous14. The politically correct version would be “All humans are created equal.” The popular series Star Trek changed its “...mission to go where no man has gone before” to “...where no one has gone before”.

        It used to be natural to include “man” in the name of the male-dominated professions. This is today politically incorrect. “Fire-fighter” replaces “fireman”, and “police officer” replaces “policeman”. One says “congressperson” instead of “congressman”, “chair” instead of “chairman”15, “spokesfolks” instead of “spokesmen”16. A “garbage man” has become a “sanitation worker”, or even a “sanitation engineer”. Even objects are renamed: “manhole covers”17 are now “sewer access entry points” and the term “chess piece” is favored over “chessman”18. The reverse is also true. Traditionally female professions are renamed. In a plane, you call a “flight attendant”, not a “stewardess”. “Meter maids” used to give fines for illegal parking. Now “parking enforcement officers” do it.

        The fundamental principle is: try not to offend. For example, the insulting term “invalid” is replaced by a neutral “handicapped”. However, positive is better than neutral. Therefore the terms “physically (or mentally) challenged” and “differently abled” have become widespread.

        Language is not the only aspect of political correctness. Due to the rise in known cases of pedophilia, it is no longer politically correct to pat an unknown child on the head in public. Also, there are more suits for sexual harassment19 — false as well as real. Therefore male professors and doctors never see a female student or patient alone in a closed office. To be politically correct (“PC”) is not only in good taste, but also safe.

        Being “PC” is also good for advertising and vote-getting20. Americans worship youth. To be reminded that one is “old” or even “aged” is uncomfortable. But if “senior citizens” is a euphemism21, “respected citizens” is a misnomer22. “The third age” sounds like the Riddle of the Sphinx23. The “golden age” is definitely not golden. But nonetheless, “Golden Age Retirement Villa” is a common name for a common living area for “the aging.”

        The British have allowed similar language change. On both sides of the Atlantic, one refers to “sex workers” instead of “prostitutes”. Your chromosomes determine your “gender”, not your “sex”. In general, however, the phenomenon is stronger in the USA. America calls itself “The Land of the Free”. Well, maybe, but you must still watch your step.

    Snow White

    Once there was a young princess who was not at all unpleasant to look at and had a temperament that many found to be more pleasant than most other people’s. Her nickname was Snow White, indicating of the discriminatory notions of associating pleasant or attractive qualities with light, and unpleasant or unattractive qualities with darkness. Thus, at an early age Snow White was an unwilling if fortunate target for this type of colorist thinking.

    (J.F. Gardner. Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. New York, Toronto, Oxford, Singapore, Sydney, 1994.)
    1 equal – равный
    2 egalitarianism – приверженность принципам равенства
    3 resilient – устойчивый (к внешним воздействиям)
    4 minorities – меньшинства (национальные и т.д.)
    5 fine-tuning – (зд.) доработка
    6 ubiquitous – широко распространенный
    7 drag each other into court – таскать друг друга по судам
    8 derogatory – унизительный
    9 wop – (амер. презр.) иммигрант из Италии
    10 kike – (амер. сл. презр.) еврей
    11 implicitly – имплицитно, неявным образом
    12 knight – посвящать в рыцари
    13 brothel – публичный дом
    14 ambiguous – двусмысленный
    15 chairman – председатель
    16 spokesman – представитель, делегат
    17 manhole cover – крышка канализационного люка
    18 chessman – шахматная фигура
    19 sexual harassment – сексуальная агрессия (в основном на рабочем месте)
    20 vote-getting – предвыборная компания
    21 euphemism – эвфемизм (непрямое, смягченное выражение вместо резкого или неприличного)
    22 misnomer – неправильное употребление названия или слова
    23 riddle of the sphinx – загадка Сфинкса (Кто ходит сначала на четырех ногах, затем на двух, а потом на трех?)

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    School English #6, 2011




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