I wish I had a dime every time I heard this sentence: “I’m so tired of political correctness. What ever happened to freedom of speech in this country?”
Just check out any political news story on the Internet. It won’t take long to find it in the comments.
And because the Internet is such a kind and civilized place (sigh), these comments are usually followed by another comment explaining that your freedom of speech isn’t in jeopardy. Because freedom of speech means the government can’t arrest you for the words that come out of your mouth.
Freedom of speech means that you get to say what you want to say. Like, “I don’t like your idea/opinion/dog.” And I get to say, “You’re an asshole.” And no government official is going to break down the door and take us to prison.
Now, I suspect most of the people who say,”I’m so tired of political correctness,” aren’t really talking about the first ammendment at all. That’s just a convenient sound bite parroted by TV news personalities (irony at its finest).
What they are really saying is they want to say what they want to say, and they don’t want to be judged on those words.
Okay. You don’t want to be judged. I get that. No one does.
The problem is this desire to say what you want to say without repercussions ignores the basics of communication — the power of words.
Anyone who writes for a living knows the struggle to find that one word that expresses the right meaning. It’s the difference between rain and downpour and monsoon. It’s like saying you are angry when it’s more accurate to say you are livid or apoplectic. You feel sexy versus horny or lustful.
Words are powerful. They have meaning and nuance.
And sometimes those meanings and nuances change.
The purpose of words is to express thoughts and ideas. And learning underlying meanings behind words isn’t really political correctness, it is knowledge.
Let’s look at a classic PC word: Oriental.
This is a word that refers to objects from Asian countries–rugs, art, etc.
Using Oriental when referring to a person isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about being incorrect. Because, quite simply, people are not things.
Now my grandparents have said, “He’s Oriental.” Lots of people did back in the early 1900s.
But it was incorrect. So they stopped.
It’s that simple.
Meanings also change. The word “gay” meant “joyful” only 50 years ago, or so. That’s not what first comes to mind today.
We are constantly revising the meaning of words because our society and our culture is changing. That’s why dictionaries add new words every year. Like “selfie.” And, at one point, “political correctness.”
What our society calls political correctness is actually the evolution of our language. Bemoaning changes in word meanings is not unlike spouting off on the demise of the 8-track tapes in our MP3 world.
Your words are much more than letters on a screen or vibrations in the air. They carry nuances of meaning.
And when those words are received, the reader or listener will assign meaning.
To deny those meanings is to deny the expression of your true thoughts and ideas. It is to miscommunicate your intentions.
If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language or communicate with a nonnative speaker, the biggest barrier isn’t the words. It’s the meaning behind the words. It’s knowing the difference between “Como te amo?” and “Como se amo?”
Because that one word changes your meaning.
That meaning may not be what you intended. But the answer is not to bemoan the PC police.
It’s to educate yourself on the meaning of words. And simply do better next time at expressing your true meaning.
And stop blaming political correctness.
Otherwise, you owe me a dime.