Be Trendy, Be PC

As part of my job on campus, I have to read a lot of old materials pertaining to Bucknell- old newspapers, event announcements, letters, etc.  While much of the stuff certainly reflects attitudes from bygone eras, the vocabulary used in even the most formal of publications would stun even the least PC person today. Every decade or so has its words and it seems that what is “acceptable” is an ever changing list of words.

A hundred years ago, moron, idiot, and imbecile were perfectly fine words to use to refer to someone who is “intellectually disabled”. If you’re still one of the people using the phrase “mentally challenged” you better get with the times lest you be labeled “offensive”. Between “moron” and “intellectually disabled” there was “slow” and “mentally retarded”. All these words at one point appeared in legislation, medical journals, and scholarly writings. In ten years, “intellectually disabled” will likely be an offensive term and something new and even longer will be the accepted phrase.

“People of color”-the current PC term- has had a similar history. We used to have “colored” and “negro”. Then it was “black”, and then it was “African-American”. Grammatically speaking, “people of color” is the same as saying “colored people”, but only one of those terms has been deemed offensive.

The reason for our continuous replacement of terms lies in their usage and not within the words themselves. The process of pejoration occurs when people use these words as slang to imply something negative. Whether a child at school calls someone else “retarded” or “intellectually disabled”, his motive is the same. Until the attitudes of people have changed, these labels will continually be used in ways they were not intended to be.  Even the term “politically correct” has developed to be somewhat negative. Two-hundred years ago, the term literally meant to be accurate when speaking of politics. Now it is associated with race, mental capacities, gender, and more. Political correctness doesn’t fix any problems because it’s just a method of picking and choosing among synonyms in the “war on language”. If we really wanted to dress the problem of offensive speech, we would look to changing the intentions behind the use of certain words. However, its easier to change a word than a mind so I guess this facade of decency is what were stuck with for now.


7 responses to “Be Trendy, Be PC

  1. I too have difficulty rapping my head around the vocabulary regarding certain PC terms. The way in which you recognize a group of people is not the concern, it is the intention behind the use – as you pointed out. It would be interesting to observe the evolution of terms throughout Bucknell’s archives. As I discussed in my own post, older generations grew up stereotyping those different from them; now we are educated on these stigmas and have learned to accept these differences. Hopefully, the change in vocabulary has somehow aided in this change.

  2. I agree Laura. I truly hate how people are so sensitive. Who has the right to make rules regarding what to call people? Is there a council of minorities that votes bi annually on terms they would prefer to be called? NO! These are just stupid tools to make the people of this country believe that we are making continuous progress on a variety of issues, but in reality, as you said, we are just changing around the words.

  3. I’m not sure if I believe that it is the intention behind the use that really matters. There are just certain words you know are inappropriate and have a history behind it. Even if you mean well, the word does not mean well.

  4. I find the PC vocabulary difficult because they all mean the same thing. It aggravates me that people believe that, like Alexis said, that calling someone challenged and retarded carries a different meaning, even in jest. While some words have much stronger connotations, I think that their PC synonyms carry the same meaning in a non-PC world.

  5. 200 years ago? Shit, honey, you are joking. 30 years ago it meant accurate about facts. Note un-PC references above in the spirit of your post.

  6. Pingback: Call me Crazy, No, Really… | Running Naked With Scissors·

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