Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Watch Your (P.C.) Language

(Hat tip: National Review's Media Blog).

The Global Language Monitor has released a Top 10 list of 2005's most "politically correct" phrasings. It's a hoot to see how far people will try to twist the language so as not to offend anyone.

Here's what the Monitor lists:

1. Misguided Criminals for Terrorist: The BBC attempts to strip away all emotion by using what it considers neutral descriptions when describing those who carried out the bombings in the London Tubes. The rub: the professed intent of these misguided criminals was to kill, without warning, as many innocents as possible (which is the common definition for the term, terrorist). [To see one example used by John Simpson, BBC World Affairs Editor, click here.]

2. Intrinsic Aptitude (or lack thereof) was a suggestion by Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, on why women might be underrepresented in engineering and science. He was nearly fired for his speculation.

3. Thought Shower or Word Shower substituting for brainstorm so as not to offend those with brain disorders such as epilepsy.
As an aside, this isn't actually new; it stems from a directive in 2003. You can read the news story about it here.

I really don't expect this one to catch on -- "storm" has more of a connotation of energy than "shower," and you want energy when you're trying to come up with a new idea. Besides, "shower" has an implied sense of coming "from on high" (a shower that goes in any direction other than downward is what we call a "spray"), which makes the phrase akin to expecting a miracle to descend upon the thinker.

To continue:
4. Scum or "la racaille" for French citizens of Moslem and North African descent inhabiting the projects ringing French Cities. France's Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, used this most Politically inCorrect (and reprehensible) label to describe the young rioters (and by extension all the inhabitants of the Cites).

5. Out of the Mainstream when used to describe the ideology of any political opponent: At one time slavery was in the mainstream, thinking the sun orbited the earth was in the mainstream, having your blood sucked out by leeches was in the mainstream. What's so great about being in the mainstream?

6. Deferred Success as a euphemism for the word fail. The Professional Association of Teachers in the UK considered a proposal to replace any notion of failure with deferred success in order to bolster students self-esteem.
I think this one may become popular -- particularly since it gives the impression that success will come, it just hasn't happened yet. I'd expect the Quebec sovereignty movement to pick this one up, easily.

7. Womyn for Women to distance the word from man. This in spite of the fact that the term "man" in the original Indo-European is gender neutral (as have been its successors for some 5,000 years).
Well, at least it looks better on the page than "wimmin."

8. C.E. for A.D.: Is the current year A.D. 2005 or 2005 C.E.? There is a movement to strip A.D. (Latin for "In the Year of the Lord") from the year designation used in the West since the 5th century and replace it with the supposedly more neutral Common Era (though the zero reference year for the beginning of the Common Era remains the year of Christ's birth).
As an aside, this is one change that I don't particularly mind, mainly because people have generally tended to use A.D. wrong.

The proper use of the term is A.D. 2005, not 2005 A.D. It makes better grammatical sense that way: "in the year of Our Lord 2005" instead of "2005 in the year of Our Lord."

9. "God Rest Ye Merry Persons" for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen": A Christmas, eh, Holiday, carol with 500 years of history is not enough to sway the Anglican Church at Cardiff Cathedral (Wales) from changing the original lyrics.
I actually found an example of this, on the Montreux Jazz Festival announcement for 2003. I don't expect this one to become popular either; "gentlemen" scans better in the lyrics.

10. Banning the word Mate: the Department of Parliamentary Services in Canberra issued a general warning to its security staff banning the use of the word 'mate' in any dealings they might have with both members of the Parliament and the public. What next? banning Down Under so as not to offend those living in the Up Over.
The actual news story about this can be found here and here.

Some of these are actually pretty old (the CE and "womyn," for example) and probably attracted the Monitor's notice because of usage explosion on the Net. Still and all, they're a pretty odd lot for this year.

This kind of language watch is actually quite fascinating; I wonder how much of it will be picked up in the blogosphere. The GLM is definitely a site worth paying attention to, as a form of inoculation against the PC attitude in writing.