Political correctness keeps popping up as a turn of phrase in the presidential campaign of the last year. Perhaps you’ve noticed candidates referencing it with little affection and significant sarcasm. What do people mean when they fling this term around?
Once upon a time, users intended a literal meaning. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke both of the political inadvisability and the moral justification for passing a civil rights bill. “I’m here to tell you that we are going to do those things which need to be done, not because they are politically correct, but because they are right.”
The once lofty idea of avoiding language (and practices) that intentionally offend, discriminate, or disadvantage a particular group of people has now developed into a heavily pejorative term. The once neutral PC phrase now gets used as a joke, a snide insult, or in the worst case, as a ridiculing weapon.
I am of the mind that words matter hugely. We ought to think with care about how we use them and have some capacity for understanding how they might be heard. Language is, after all, the most distinctive thing about the human species. Recovering a little reverence for words at our disposal wouldn’t be a bad idea. It would certainly beat the quest to intentionally offend others.
To give a lighter take on political correctness, and distract from its harsher uses currently being wielded on the campaign trail, perhaps a few definitions would brighten your day. These are from the tongue-in-cheek, Official Politically Correct Dictionary and Handbook (Villard Books, 1994).
UNTRUSTWORTHY: Morally different
STUPID: Cerebrally Challenged
UNEMPLOYED: Involuntarily leisured
CLUMSY: Uniquely coordinated
BALD: Follicularly challenged [I prefer hair disadvantaged]
SHOPLIFTER: Non-traditional shopper
SPENDTHRIFT: Negative saver
And, before you click off this helpful column for understanding political correctness, there is one more definition you deserve to know – WORST: Least best.
Let’s hope that the least best expressions from our mouths can be kept at bay, or at least to a minimum. In the process, imagine other lives being honored, language being respected, and God (just maybe) being glorified.
– Peter W. Marty, senior pastor