Political correctness is a broad term used to describe the opinions and attitudes of those who are actively opposed to prejudice on such grounds as race, gender, sexual orientation and physical appearance. In terms of language, they also oppose vocabulary that reflects such prejudices. However, many people who hold these attitudes would not describe themselves as politically correct. This is because the term has acquired negative connotations and is now often associated with extremism, aggression and intolerance.
Although supporters of political correctness distance themselves from the term, it is undoubtedly the case that the radical campaigns and movements of the last 20 years have had a real impact on the language that we use. Words and phrases have been identified as sexist, racist, ageist, ableist ( discriminating against those with disabilities) , etc.. Alternatives have been proposed and in many cases are now in general (if not universal) use.
Some examples of politically correct and incorrect usage:
Eskimo is considers offensive because it is possibly derived from an Indian word meaning “eaters of raw flesh”. The right term to use would be Inuit.
The same with Unemployed. “Unwaged” is sometimes preferred because not being in paid employment does not necessarily mean that time is not usefully employed
“Christian name” is considered offensive to non-Christians, so First name ist more used now.
Opponents of political correctness argue that seeking to control the language we use comes dangerously close to trying to control the way that we think. They regard those who campaign against politically incorrect language as dictatorial and intolerant.
Others who are sympathetic to the causes of political correctness argue that focusing on language is a distraction from the real struggle, which should be directed towards more practical goals, such as tougher laws against discrimination and increased investment to help the disadvantaged. They argue that language reflects social attitudes, and that if attitudes do not change in society the new “positive” vocabulary will soon acquire the same negative connotations as the old.
Political correctness is often ridiculed through the use of humour. Bizarre, outlandish expressions are invetend to satirize the new vocabulary of political correctness:
“Boring” becomes “differenty interesting”
“bald” becames “hair disadvantaged”
“False teeth” become “alternative dentition”
Stories deriding the excesses of political correctness regularly appear in the press. In the 1980s, it was reported that the left-wing lealdership of the Greater London Council had banned references to “black coffee” in the council cafeteria because “black” was a racist word; “coffee without milik” was to be used instead (in fact the story was completely untrue).
On the other hand, supporters of political correctness argue that much of the language they oppose is offensive and demeaning. In contrast, referring to minority groups in more positive terms encourages them to feel respected and accepted by the rest of society.
Another argument relates to the theory that the language we learn to use influences the way we perceive the world. This theory is called The Saphir-Whorf hypothesis and was developed by two linguist, Edward Sapir and his pupil Benjamin Lee Whorf. The theory argues that the language we learn, determines the way we view the world, and that people who use different languages perceive the world in different ways.
For example, if the vocabulary we acquire as children encourages us to think of certain minority groups as inferior, we are more likely to view them in this way. It follows that changing the language that people use should change their perceptions: using more positive vocabulary to describe minorities will mean people start to view them more positively.