Social Question

incendiary_dan's avatar

What are you defining as "political correctness"?

Asked by incendiary_dan (13352points) June 26th, 2011

Occasionally people will refer to something as “politically correct” or say (usually derisively) “that’s just political correctness”. It seems not everyone is using the term the same way, so I was wondering how it is you define the term.

Examples are welcome. Perhaps against my better judgement.

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72 Answers

incendiary_dan's avatar

I tend to use it to describe instances in which colorful language and euphemisms are used to obscure something.

Alternatively, I also use it simply to mean the use of language appropriate to respectfully representing or referring to people or groups, particularly in terms of oppressed peoples.

_zen_'s avatar

It’s a way of re-phrasing and re-using, indeed recycling the language to reflect a modern perception of sensitivity and politeness, perhaps etiquette.

Inuit is how they have asked to be called – so calling them Eskimo is not PC.

If a gay person asks to capitalize it, or prefers to be called queer, that would be PC to oblige. PC is a lot about listening to the other person, and using his terminology to put him at ease.

Anything challenged, as opposed to crippled (remember – the 60’s) handicapped or even disabled – is saying that the person is like us – a part of society – bu physically or mentally struggling with a challenge. Challenge is positive, perhaps even rewarding. It’s hopeful, optimistic.

Able and disable – that’s harsh and a one-way sounding ticket kind of a term.

PC is listening, the opposite of labeling.

Kayak8's avatar

I agree with both answers above. I particularly liked @zen ‘s “PC is listening, the opposite of labeling” as I think that pretty much sums it up in a single sentence.

SABOTEUR's avatar

I don’t describe it if I can help it.
I can use those brain cells for more useful purposes.

Read something a long time ago that had a great impact on me.

It went:

Imagine you kill a minute of your life with every thought you produce.
Chances are you’d become very particular about the kind of ideas you invest in thinking about.

That shifted something within my consciousness.

Upon reading that, I started down the path of learning to master not thinking about things.

If I can help it.

Especially things that serve no useful purpose.

jaytkay's avatar

I like @zen ‘s definition, that was how the term was used in the 80s.

However, today it usually means “I am not a bigot. You are intolerant of my intolerance. You are the real bigots!”

“I know this isn’t PC, but women are terrible drivers and should not be allowed on the road.”

CaptainHarley's avatar

Look up “Newspeak” in George Orwell’s popular book about totalitarianism, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Substitute “political correctness” for newspeak and you have your definition.

It is midless speech derived from government propaganda.

filmfann's avatar

@zen I like what you had to say, but sometimes it isn’t that easy.
In the 60’s, an American minority wanted to be refered to as “Colored”.
In the 70’s, that changed to Afro-American.
Soon, it was People Of Color and Black-American.

I want to be sensitive to others feelings, but I have a hard time adjusting to the flavor of the day.

Mikewlf337's avatar

To me political correctness is just an attempt to appease everyone. I don’t care if you don’t like the wordse I use. I have tried really hard in the past to not offend anyone and despite my best efforts, I still offend them. So to hell with it. It is impossible to appease everyone and not offend anyone. Don’t like my words? There are two things you can do. You can tolerate it or you can piss off and leave me alone.

_zen_'s avatar

@filmfann I am reminded of the numerous discussions here on fluther regarding the Gay community – I forget the PC term for them – LGBT or something – I really don’t remember; but that’s my point. If you ask what someone should be called, you are missing the point – listen first – they’ll tell you. Til then, it’s just Bob or Janet.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

The attempt to not offend the greatest number of people.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Being PC, to me, means you have to go against all your common sense and just say, “Yes maam” or “Yes sir.”

SABOTEUR's avatar

@filmfann Slight correction…and I may very well be incorrect…

…but I don’t believe Black people wanted to be referred to as “colored”. The word “colored” was assigned to non-white people of African descent to assist them in determining the correct public facilities they were allowed access to.

Like the word “nigger”, unfortunately, it was often used to denigrate or insult those individuals.

“African-American” and “Black” were chosen by the people themselves to instill pride for those who were striving to be recognized as more than second-class citizens.

“People of color” appropriately refers to “non-white” people, not just Blacks.

tinyfaery's avatar

Political correctness used to mean being sensitive to people who have experienced a different world, and therefore, do not hold the same values and definitions as you do.

Now it is a buzzword used by those trying to cover up their prejudice by placing the blame on the people who do not have the same privileges as they.

flutherother's avatar

I think of PC as labelling, the opposite of telling it as you see it. Language doesn’t take to being controlled. I mean even African Americans call themselves ‘niggers’. To me, political correctness is superficial, like painting over a rotten fence. I don’t mean we should be insensitive or disrespectful but I don’t think problems are best dealt with by manipulating language.

woodcutter's avatar

It’s the kind of language we use to avoid getting into a fight about….nothing.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I like @zen‘s definition the best.
Whenever I hear someone bitching about being PC, I tend to hear it more as “Oh my gawd, do you have any idea how inconvenient it is for me to have to show basic respect for people instead of getting to be a selfish ass all the time?”

_zen_'s avatar

Words are all we have really, the pen is mightier than the sword. Words can hurt, words can heal.

A woman was pulled over by a cop, and when she produced her ID – the cop says: it doesn’t say anything on your license, ma’am. She replies that it isn’t maam, it’s Sir. He says sorry, from your name and appearance, I’d think you were a woman, and an attractive one at that.

He replies that he is indeed a man, was a woman, then genderless, and now is happy as a clam as a man – but the ID doesn’t have gender anymore – it isn’t PC.

To be PC, the ID would also not include height, weight, colour, nationality and religion. Some people are sensitive about their age – so no age either.

The photo, if old, might not identify you at all – especially if you have changed your sex recently.

So PC sucks – for cops.

_zen_'s avatar

Being Politically correct here, where all we have are our words and silly avatars – means being respectful of people – not even knowing what gender they are sometimes.

In short, it’s Fluther to Answerbag.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

People who have good intentions, don’t say stuff to piss off other people on purpose. If they do, they apologize and rephrase.

People who are resentful, often will say something nasty. When challenged on their nasty comment, they demean whoever challenges them. ‘I’m sorry I am not politically correct.’

Whatever the term originally meant, the only people who frequently use that phrase now are attempting to demean those who would ask them not to sound so angry.

woodcutter's avatar

nobody has the right to not be offended, has nothing to do with respect. There are those who are like a coiled spring just waiting for someone to say just the wrong thing to make an issue of a non issue. to those who practice that…piss off.

filmfann's avatar

@SABOTEUR I think the NAACP might disagree with you.

Think about it.

woodcutter's avatar

Tell us something the NAACP agrees with.

jaytkay's avatar

@woodcutter Obviously you don’t like the NAACP. Why is that?

woodcutter's avatar

Got nothing against them really. or the ACLU. With both __who have access to top lawyers__ you almost need to walk like on eggshells.

jaytkay's avatar

@woodcutter More vague disparaging comments.

woodcutter's avatar

Intentionally so.. This is not the thread to get that discussion going, out of respect to the OP. But you know what I mean…you do.

athenasgriffin's avatar

PC helps people express themselves in ways that do not offend other people.

I like political correctness. Although, really, I wish we could all just be polite to each other and not need a special word for it.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@filmfann Please elaborate.

SABOTEUR's avatar

Oh…I get it.

You wouldn’t happen to be under the misapprehension that the “C” in NAACP represents Black people only, would you?

You might want to consider that at the time of it’s inception (1909), Black people were referred to as “colored”. Wikipedia, describing the pre-history of the organization, describes a group of “outspoken African-Americans” meeting to discuss the challenges facing “people of color” (a term used to describe people who were not white).

Political correctness in 1905?

Seems they might have changed the name since we now longer use that would to identify our race, but it would be inappropriate since the NAACP currently (as in 1909) represents people of color other than Black.

SABOTEUR's avatar


My last sentence of my previous post should read ”...the NAACP currently represents people of color as well as Blacks.”

SABOTEUR's avatar

You know, this subject has been brought up before. And it usually shifts to the topic of someone expressing frustration of what to call someone. I’m continually amazed at it.

What’s so hard about calling people what they want to be called?

Why is this a problem for you?

If you have nothing to do with these people, why call them anything?

I personally don’t know or associate with any people of…say…Puerto Rican descent. I don’t sit around agonizing over what they want to be called. I don’t even know what they want to be called. But if I did know or associate with people of Puerto Rican descent, I’d make it my business to refer to them in whatever manner they considered respectful.

Big deal.

I think anyone who makes issues out of this reveals more about their own insecurities and small mindedness than anything they say concerning the people they mock.

Dutchess_III's avatar

To me, PC means…don’t get involved with others or you will get sued. Don’t help a student out, even in a small way, with their personal finances or you will get sued. Don’t give them a ride on a snowy, cold day because of the liability. Things like that.

woodcutter's avatar

Lots of people don’t really care what they are called. They’ve gotten past it. It’s that small percentage that feel the need to go on the fake outrage ride and make a big deal out of nothing. They should enroll in the seminar called “How to get over yourself already”

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Dutchess_III I really don’t see the connection between people being sue-happy and political correctness. They’re just not the same things.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@woodcutter Interesting. Do you have data to back that up, or are you just grabbing statistics out of you…eh…thin air.

SABOTEUR's avatar

I always find it interesting when people present statements as if they are fact…especially when they start throwing statistics and percentages around.

I always reply, “Talk is cheap…test your theory.”

Go to the nearest mall and say the most offensive things you can call someone to as many people as you can, and tabulate the percentage of people who are not offended vs. the number of people who try to rip you a new a-hole.

Then report the real data to us.

woodcutter's avatar

@SABOTEUR What you are doing there is trying to incite a riot. Any idiot can do that. There are always going to be crack pots from every corner that would be willing to do that just to be asses. This is what I’m talking about. You want to prove a point by going over the top. Really guy , if you gotta go that extra mile to get the results you want then more powwa to ya. You know damn well What I’m referring to. A perceived mis- speak that was not intended at all to offend and you want to lump that into the same ilk as those who do hateful things on purpose. I don’t know, maybe you are in an area where your “peeps” will resort to violence if you don’t walk on eggshells around them. These people will never be satisfied no matter what.
Go to the seminar dude. Sleeves are for wiping boogers on, not for slapping your religion or ethnicity on.

woodcutter's avatar

@SABOTEUR Thin air is in the Rocky Mountains. I don’t mind losing a bet from time to time. I probably am with more “non white” people in a given week than you are. These people have expensive homes and educations and don’t mope around bitching about how unfair things are. They have money, kids that are polite and respectful, and they are really interested in what i have to say. They know my cell # and they want me to help them with their homes. They pay me well. I never hear a peep about this political correctness bullshit some people tuck under their pillow at night for fear they will lose it. These people are winners and they aren’t afraid to show it. These people played the game and did well for themselves, not like the losers who wallow in their own misery pissed off at the world and think somehow they are entitled to respeck just because.
I work hard at my craft and its no accident that I’m good at it. I don’t do work for losers I am invited into the winners’ homes because with me they get the good stuff and they can afford me. Pulling stuff out of thin air? Really? Change the caliber of people you associate with and you will see…it ain’t thin air, it’s life.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@woodcutter What the hell are you talking about?

woodcutter's avatar

I’m replying to your posts^^ that were obviously intended for my consumption. You want to be presented with published statistics to be satisfied that what I say is genuine. I don’t need no stinkin stats. My life experiences are what get taken to the bank. They are real. because I was there to see them. I get what you were trying to do but it was bush league contradicting. C’mon man iv’e read almost everything you have donated to this site…I watch people, and you went cheap on us right there. I just thought those comments were out of character for you is all.

SABOTEUR's avatar


Didn’t mean to offend you…that wasn’t my intent.
Please accept my apology.

woodcutter's avatar

I wasn’t offended at all we’re good

blueiiznh's avatar

It is a way to phrase something so you don’t hurt someone else’s itty bitty feelings.

my sincere apologies to those challenged by size

Dutchess_III's avatar

@incendiary_dan I’m talking about your superiors, your bosses at work. “No, you can not give that person a ride if you see them walking in the rain. They are one of our clients/students (whatever.) If you get into an accident they could sue us.”

I mean, that’s the result of being PI, isn’t it? Getting sued over some stupid shit?

@SABOTEUR I have to admit, your post had me scratching my head too. If I was at the mall and someone said the most insulting thing they could think of to me, even if it wasn’t true, I just might be inclined to have a chat with them. I might be inclined to go have a chat with them in defense of other people, people I don’t even know. So..I didn’t understand your point….

Dutchess_III's avatar

; ). I teach in a jail. I’m not afraid to have ‘chats’ now an’ again!

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Dutchess_III I still don’t think that’s exactly political correctness, but I get what you’re saying now. :)

Dutchess_III's avatar

@incendiary_dan You’re probably right. It’s just the first thing I think of when I hear of being politically incorrect. You have to go against all of your common sense in some situations.

filmfann's avatar

@SABOTEUR You said: I don’t believe Black people wanted to be referred to as “colored”. The word “colored” was assigned to non-white people of African descent to assist them in determining the correct public facilities they were allowed access to.

I said: I think the NAACP might disagree with you.
Think about it.

You said: Please elaborate.

My response: The NAACP stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It’s not National Association for the Advancement of African American People, or any variant. They put the word Colored in their name. They wouldn’t do it if it was offensive.

SABOTEUR's avatar


(I thought my participation in this discussion had ended.)

Go back 25 comments for my followup comment.
(Beneath “Please elaborate.)

incendiary_dan's avatar

Wait, people are still debating an anachronistically named organization? It’s just an outdated name, for fuck’s sake.

filmfann's avatar

@SABOTEUR Thanks. Missed that comment.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@filmfann Not a problem, sir.


Political correctness is the way we speak in America so that we don’t offend whining pusses.

laureth's avatar

Here’s how I see it.

First, because some folks have been the culturally dominant force for quite some time, they spoke and acted as if they were the only cultural force. All others, if they were somehow noticed, were referred to with belittling language, and since they weren’t dominant, they could do very little about it. It kept them “in their place.”

Slowly, demographics changed. Attitudes adjusted. The dominant culture, while still being the largest, has had to cope with the up-and-coming minority groups gaining political, economic, and social power. The dominant group seems to have split into two factions over how to cope with this, as defined by their strategy:

The first faction has decided to play nice with the newly empowered minority groups. Instead of using the older, perhaps insensitive language to refer to minority groups, they began to embrace a more inclusive language, designed to be less offensive, perhaps even what the minorities wish to be called, or at least taking into account that differences don’t make someone necessarily less-than.

The second faction, unwilling to recognize (out of habit? fear? denial? jealousy? insecurity?) that the minority groups are slowly but unstoppably gaining ground, laughs at the first bunch, and mocks inclusive language as “Politically Correct.” Perhaps they believe that if they just keep up with the mockery, their cultural hegemony will remain intact. Good luck, I say.

I will say that both factions often go too far in their polarized directions, since that’s what binary systems tend to do to people. On one hand, the first bunch sometimes goes to ridiculous lengths to avoid offense, coming out sounding just silly. However, the second bunch could gain a lot by, instead of mocking, learning from the first. Hopefully, from my point of view, the two factions of the culturally dominant group will somehow average out someday, and once again, we’ll all just be people.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Political correctness is a boatload of pig vomit shoved down the throats of Americans to get them all to use language at is what it is most of the time, that was not made or created to slight anyone but was misused for such, to be used with something that sounds more pleasant or agreeable.

Maybe I didn’t play enough attention back in school but in anthropology I believe they classified three main paths of human racial development as Caucasoid, Mongoloid and Negroid.. I don’t know if that is where Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negros came from, but I am not an anthropologist so it seemed logical to me. Now seeing the Caucasians were the ones mainly traveling the earth acquiring land and territory for this making and that I could logically assume they misused some of that terminology or they way they used it cause the term negroes and Mongoloids to mean something negative, but the words are the words. We could say the words came to be because Caucasian anthropologist came up with them. It seem stupid to me to get upset over the use of the word Negro when so many young and dumb Black people use the worse variety like water from a fountain. Or complain about the use of the word negro on a census form but not say anything about the United Negro College Fund. We don’t like the term ”Colored People”, truth is everyone has a color. White people are not white! Actually color wise you can make flesh tone with 60% white, 20% red, and 20% yellow. Then it is a matter of adding bits of certain browns, or greens to get from there to Hispanic, Inuit, Native American, and African shades. Where this ”White People” term came from photography’s early days when the plates were B&W so Caucasians came out looking white are to darker races looking ”colored” I don’t know, but it seems plausible to me.

Just a boatload of pig vomit trying to use universal words no one has polluted with negative connotations.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central Are you completely ignorant of the history of racial terms, or just choosing to be so?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@incendiary_dan I know racial terms, I probably had as many or more than you ever had slung at you. The question was political corectness, I can take a word from the dictionary that is quite normal and been used for centuries but because certain people believed certain other people used it in a negative way towards them, they get offended and want an alternate word, one that peope had not traditionally use, to take its place. If we are simply talking racial terms and slurs, let me know so I know what we are actually speaking about here.

laureth's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central – You seem to be making the point that words cannot have power, because they’re just words. Am I reading you correctly?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@laureth You seem to be making the point that words cannot have power, because they’re just words. Look at it, words are for the most part just words unless specifically coined to be a derogatory attack. Like the word ”cripple” for centuries it had its standard and excepted meaning. Because certain people used in it a way to devalue those with physical limitations those who fit under the definition wanted a new definition that cleaved the negative connotation off of it, like ”handicap”. Even as handicap started to be widely used and associated with limitations some want to move the bar over to ”Handicapable”, because people do not want or like to accept that many not all with physical limitations cannot do everything that people with non-physical limitations can do, or as fast, or as well. But because some mean people try to equate physical prowess with importance and worth society tries to come up with a political correct way to say that those people fit under the long-standing definition of cripple but not limited and important also. Some dictionaries has “to make useless or worthless”, as part of the definition, so naturally a person who does not have full function of the limbs would not want to be seen of or thought of as ”worthless”, not that that particular part of the definition goes to humans with limb problems. The 1st known use was before the 12th century, all this time it was used and accepted. The word didn’t change nor the definition, just how people wanted to view it. There are a whole host of words that way, how people see it today was not how they seen it decades or centuries ago.

Not to say some words were not created or coined solely to insult, one cannot mistaken those for word IMO that would fall under the political correct usage. I am sure you know them, and the many races, etc, they are aimed at so no need for me to dignify them by repeating them here. There is no mistaken them for words that have existed but their interpretation being seen differently.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central That doesn’t really address the history of those terms.

And I’m Filipino, Italian, Scottish, French-Canadian, Mohawk, and Cree. You wanna know how many racial terms I’ve had applied to me? I had one guy nickname me “All-of-the-above”.

laureth's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central – I agree with you that some words were not originally meant to be weapons. However, just like a hammer (meant to put nails in wood) can become a weapon (as it brains you in an alley), words, too, can change meaning and become agents of pain. It doesn’t matter how they’re born, necessarily, it’s how the culture uses them against you.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@incendiary_dan And I’m Filipino, Italian, Scottish, French-Canadian, Mohawk, and Cree. Many of those carry some racial slur with them, not sure what a French Canadian would have been called, but that wasn’t right. The words created as slurs and could not be mistaken for anything else, by anyone not living under a rock. They were not words that had a life before someone decided, _”lets make ________ stand for a derogatory term for ________ people”. Some words you could never hide under political correctness because they never had a legitimate life of their own from the start.

@laureth However, just like a hammer (meant to put nails in wood) can become a weapon (as it brains you in an alley), words, too, can change meaning and become agents of pain. The hammer, regardless of how misused, it was is still a hammer even if some one used it as a weapon. It will still drive nails for most other people. Because some thug wanted to use it as a weapon calling the hammer a ”nail pounder” will not change the hammer from what it is, or outlawing hammers because someone used it as a weapon will do more harm than good.


@Hypocrisy_Central Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s ridiculous and outrageous how far political correctness can get.

By the way, French-Canadians are often derogatorily called “frogs” by the English in Canada.

laureth's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central – True. But what I’m hearing here is that you can tell someone who was beaten up by hammer-wielding thugs, “Those things can’t do any damage, they’re only hammers.”

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@laureth True. But what I’m hearing here is that you can tell someone who was beaten up by hammer-wielding thugs, “Those things can’t do any damage, they’re only hammers.” That would happen when people mistake what the hammer is. A physical hammer will hurt my head should some one whack me with it. A word like ”cripple” or ”negro” is more like a bread stick or a cotton ball. If I chose to let the word, which was in wide circulation before I was even born, hurt or annoy me by how people choose to misuse it, I am making a cotton ball into more than it actually is. The word itself is neutral, powerless, and generic; whatever power it has is what I give it. Some words are created as slurs and have that sole intent, they can’t be applied or used in any other way, those would be words created to be more inline with emotional or metaphysical hammers.

laureth's avatar

Well, @Hypocrisy_Central – Clearly not everyone is as high-minded and magnanimous as you, as far as this subject goes. If everyone were, nobody would ever be hurt by language!

But since, for some people, those words represent a system that systematically kicks them in the gut at every opportunity (and sometimes wishes them dead), perhaps it behooves us to look at these symbols of hatred and see if, by changing the tools that many people use to represent their hate (whether or not you choose to receive it as such), perhaps the haters, or their descendants who don’t know any better yet, can be gentled. As they say, it’s easier to behave yourself into a new way of thinking, than to think yourself into a new way of behaving. Orwell knew that by changing language (the symbols of thought), you can change the way people think. That in itself is knowledge that can be used for good or evil ends. While I would never advocate for a first amendment violation on the users of these words, I do advocate for a more gentle, cultural shift towards inclusiveness instead of hostility.

SABOTEUR's avatar

One of my son’s said pretty much the same thing as another jelly here when he recently tried to justify calling women bitches and hos (whores). Guess I was being politically correct in calling him on it.

In fact, he went so far as to say one of his female (another pet peeve….referring to women as if they were dogs) friends likes being called a bitch. Says it stands for

B eautfiul
I individual
T hat
C hecks
H oes

I threw the bullshit flag. Just because you’re not offended doesn’t mean someone else won’t be. There’s a little thing called respect I personally don’t hear enough of.

And even though it’s pretty much in vogue to march around saying how unnecessarily politically correct somebody else is, I daresay you’ll censor yourself when you’re not in a social forum or standing next to that ignorant, easily offended, narrow-minded individual you’re so casually defending the right to insult. IMHO, most of what’s being written here is nothing more than the steadfast refusal to consider how anyone else feels. And since you can’t say what you really want to say in public, you’ll say it on the internet.

Whatever floats your boat.

So I say to my son, if you really feel comfortable using those words, go call your mother or grandmother a whore or a bitch and see if either of them agree.

(Damn…I thought this whiny puss was through with this discussion!)

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@SABOTEUR One of my son’s said pretty much the same thing as another jelly here when he recently tried to justify calling women bitches and hos (whores). Guess I was being politically correct in calling him on it. There are some words which are created or used for the sole purpose to inflict; they have no other legitimate usage. A bitch is a female dog, that is what the word is. To use it to mean all women in generic fashion is an attempt at weaponizing the word outside its original and understood fashion. There are real whores, or women who would fit the description, but their actions more then them just being would attest to that. But then with the changes in values what was a whore back in the day might today be a free-spirited woman exercising her right to sow her wild oats.

Words like ”colored” might be less relevant because we don’t have black and white film and TV anymore so there is more than just black and white appearance for people on the screen.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central I miss your point. Can you simplify it for me, please?

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