Political-correctness gone mad

03.23.04

Margaret Wente’s column on the absurd consequences of excessive political-correctness ought to be required reading for anyone contemplating public or political life:

One problem with our effort to sanitize the language of all that might offend is that it leads to lunatic results. Just ask the music reviewer at the Los Angeles Times. Last month he reviewed an opera by Richard Strauss, which he described as “a glorious and goofy pro-life paean.” A diligent copy editor replaced the controversial term “pro-life” with the inoffensive “anti-abortion.” This resulted in not one but two embarrassing corrections explaining that the opera has nothing to do with abortion.

Education and social work are the fields in which the language police are busiest. My favourite example is from a new college textbook on human development that includes this statement: “As a folksinger once sang, how many roads must an individual walk down before you can call them an adult.” This gruesome effort is some educator’s attempt at a gender-neutral makeover to the classic folksong Blowin’ in the Wind. In the original, it goes, “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?”

I’ve experienced some of this myself. For example, while I was a Concordia student, I remember the equivalent of a major scandal erupting because someone referred to a day when a stupid political decision was made as “Black Wednesday” – a reference to the “Black Tuesday” of the 1929 stock market crash… but taken completely out of context as a racist statement. Apparently, a similar scandal erupted on NBC’s new reality show featuring Donald Trump and his horrible excuse for hair, The Apprentice, when a candidate accused another of racism for using the phrase “pot calling the kettle black”.

Okay, so those are obvious examples. But Wente has lots more:

[ . . . ] more than 500 words that are routinely deleted from textbooks and tests by educational publishing companies and government education departments. They include “landlord,” “cowboy,” “brotherhood” and “primitive,” — words that might offend feminists, multiculturalists or ethnic activists. The forbidden list is growing fast. “Fireman,” “handyman” and “hostess” bit the dust long ago, and are now being joined by “addict” (replace with “individual with a drug addiction”), “cancer patient” (replace with “a patient with cancer”), and “yes man.” New York State education officials have gone so far as to banish all words that include the hateful letters m-a-n — including “mankind,” “man-made,” “man hours” and “penmanship.”

So now I’m supposed to fly off the handle if someone accuses me of poor penmanship???

This has gone too far. And it stems from people having big sticks way too far up their asses. Some terms in language are clearly offensive and should be changed. Others are not meant in any discriminatory sense, and people really need to count to ten before they explode.

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