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Derek McMillan

Political correctness?

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Godfrey Bloom was given a seat on the European Parliament's women's rights committee on Tuesday.

But he told the media: "No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age." He then smiled at the camera and said "That's not politically correct is it."

Media stories - often invented or exaggerated - pretend that there is a "climate of political correctness" or that "it has gone too far." And this is the consequence. The most disgusting opinions are OK so long as you can smile and say, "That's not politically correct is it."

I wonder how many women will vote UKIP next time around ;)

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Derek cites the following statement by Godfrey Bloom:

"No self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would ever employ a lady of child-bearing age."

That's terrible! My daughter (and business partner) has just had a baby (Rebecca -an absolute darling) and is on maternity leave from our small family partnership. It means that my wife and I are having to work harder for the time being, but the joys of being grandparents more than compensates for the extra work.

Are businessmen not interested in the next generation? Who will run the businesses in the future if women don't bear children and are given adequate time off and help to bear them and look after them in the crucial early months of their lives? Babies are extremely demanding. Working a 12-hour shift is easy in comparison!

However, there are many examples of political correctness gone mad and this gives it a bad name. I recall a feminist colleague saying in all seriousness that the word "manager" should be dropped because it includes the word "man". This simply showed up her ignorance about natural language: "manager" derives from French "ménager".

The BBC has a page entitled "Has political correctness gone mad?", centering on the use of the expression "nitty gritty" by a politician addressing the Police Federation, which - it was claimed - should not be used as it dates from the slavery era and is said to have its origins in the 18th Century slave traders' phrase for the debris left at the bottom of a slave ship after a voyage:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/1988952.stm

But this origin is suspect anyway, and if it were the origin would the politician have known about it? According to reliable sources, the expression appears to be Black American in origin and only appears to have been in common use from the early 20th century onwards:

http://www.hippy.freeserve.co.uk/nitty.htm

And how many people know that they are using rhyming slang when they refer to someone as "a right berk"? The full expression is "Berkeley Hunt" (Gloucestershire) - not "Berkshire Hunt", as is sometimes claimed ("Berkshire" is pronounced "Barkshire" - I live there!) It's a load of old cobblers, I say - and that's rhyming slang too!

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We have all got our pet examples of "political correctness" but it is as well to remember just how the phrase is being used.

"Political Correctness" is rapidly becoming a media myth. It is used to militate against anyone who is trying to do the right thing.

1) When Harry Potter was quite correctly analysed in class terms there was an immediate outcry that The PC brigade wanted to "ban Harry Potter" and inevitably "The PC brigade are all Potty". The trouble was it was not true. AFAIK nobody had suggested banning it.

2) A front page story in The Sun told its readers that Haringey Council wanted to ban black bin bags because they were racist. The Sun subsequently admitted that the story was a complete fabrication but "that is just the sort of thing the looney left would do."

3) A teacher - a single teacher - made a facetious comment about "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and it was elevated into a cause celebre.

People are trying to do the right thing. Would we be happier if they were being naturally and spontaneously abusive? A child comes into the classroom and calls me "a fat black lesbian bitch"...and then the little charmer puts on a little grin and adds..."huh huh that's not very politically correct is it." And that makes it all right does it?

The right are just "off in the air with a phrase for a flying machine" (Jack London) They can dismiss any attempt to make behaviour or language more civilised as "political correctness" and perhaps we should be wary.

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I agree with Derek that people should try to do "the right thing" - although "the right thing" is an incredibly woolly term. However, I think I know what he means. The silly examples that I have cited are cases of people getting it wrong, however. The more examples of this sort that abound, the more the term "political correctness" becomes a negative rather than a positive term.

There's an entry "worsened words" in Fowler's Modern English Usage, which discusses the way in which some words start out having a positive meaning and end up having a negative meaning, e.g. "collaborator", which originally meant someone you worked with. When this happens you have to find/invent another word/term that conveys the original positive meaning. It's just one of those quirky things about natural language. Americans avoid the use of "toilet" or "lavatory", preferring euphemisms such as "washroom", "restroom", "bathroom" or even "comfort station". Interestingly, "lavatory" was once a euphemism too, deriving from the French "laver", which means "to wash" and not to do the main things that one does in a lavatory - as well as washing one's hands, of course! I suspect that the term "political correctness" is already on a downward path and that it will have to replaced by another term that has connotations of "doing the right thing".

I agree that one should also try to avoid being abusive to others, but it depends on the context. I am quite used to being called "a dickhead" in my local pub when I put forward an argument that others disagree with. I don't take offence, because I know it is not meant seriously and that whoever calls me "a dickhead" will probably buy me a pint sooner or later. :)

I have on my bookshelf a copy of the 1992 edition of "The official politically correct dictionary" (ISBN 0 586 21726 6). It includes military terms such as "soft targets" (i.e. human beings) and medical terms such as "negative patient care outcome" (i.e. death). All the terms in the dictionary have been gleaned from authentic (mainly American) sources. And we all know what "friendly fire" means - yes, this is also documented in the 1992 edition of the dictionary.

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Yes I am not really disagreeing with Graham. If people get it wrong then we tell them - as Naomi Klein does in her book No Logo. In the book she suggests that we were so busy promoting a PC agenda that we ignored the fact that the corporations could absorb these ideas and use them for their own purposes.

She argues that anti-capitalism (which has been a big influence on my children) is a reaction to that. We have yet to have an example of Coke sponsoring an anti-capitalism action although they have pretended to embrace anti-racism and feminism :)

There is also a website and although I do not endorse Naomi 100% any more than she would endorse me she makes a lot of valid points. For example she is not taken in by the Democrats and believes the election is between Tweedledum and Tweedledumber!

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Derek writes:

In the book she suggests that we were so busy promoting a PC agenda that we ignored the fact that the corporations could absorb these ideas and use them for their own purposes.

Essentially, the term "politically correct" has been hijacked. The once noble ideas associated with the term have been lost and the term has become the subject of mockery or exploitation for other purposes. This is why we need a new term.

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When the Race Relations Board was founded, the Daily Telegraph coined the term "Race Relations Industry" on the grounds that people were being paid to oppose racism. Of course the BNP, National Front, Daily Mail, or come to that the Daily Telegraph also employ people and could be termed a "racism industry."

The Telegraph, like the worst of the tabloids would headline stories about people being forbidden to use the word "welsh" or "blackboard" (in fact nobody has ever been **forbidden** to use either term....but why spoil a good story?) with references to the "loony left" and to the "Race Relations industry."

It is not too difficult to work out what their motivation was :rolleyes:

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