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Sep 08 2017
by Anne Marie Yurik

In Defense of Politically Correct Language

By Anne Marie Yurik - Sep 08 2017

I was driving with my dad to work when a radio station began talking about modern lingo and how things that are and aren't acceptable have changed.

The hosts criticized millennials for making words once perfectly acceptable words taboo or offensive of connotative of ignorance and bigotry. Words such as "blind," "transvestite" and "sexual assault victim" were among those mentioned.

According to the hosts, using transvestite instead of cross gender or transgender, blind instead of visually impaired or sexual assault victim instead of sexual assault survivor makes little to no difference. They thought that the new generation essentially nitpicked words that were perfectly acceptable in order to create unnecessary issues.

In order to justify their argument, they said that when millennials are older, their kids will tell them that the words they use are outdated, ignorant and offensive, just like we are saying now. And while I have my own opinion about their comments, I would rather highlight the importance of a constantly developing vocabulary.

Words are constantly changing and what they mean and represent changes too. So why should we refuse to change as well? The ability to rephrase things in a way that makes people feel safer or more welcome is something we should always strive for, and I believe that is what we are doing  by using more acceptable words which show more tolerance and understanding.

All words carry a connotation based on the environment they are said in. When visiting Germany, it is advised that tourists should avoid talking about the war as it is seen as an embarrassment to Germans, and that wearing or carrying Nazi memorabilia or doing a Nazi salute is an "imprisonable" offense. 

This shows that the weight of the our words is not only defined by updated speech, but also the environment and history they invoke. I cannot argue with the point that the words we currently use will be replaced by a more politically acceptable vocabulary in the future. But what is wrong with that? What is wrong with updating our personal dictionary to be more polite and kind to others?

Can we not see the beauty that is an ever changing language? Slang is the root of our language. Why else would it be so difficult to read Shakespeare or other old documents written around the time of colonization in America? Language changes.

Our day to day sentence structure and greetings will change overall, as it has since evolutionary times. It is quite fascinating to be able to watch history through through the lens of linguistic development. It reveals much more than we think about a certain period of time.

So now why in the 21st century must we dig our heels into the mud and refuse to change our words to be more caring and sensitive? If there is a better and more caring way to say something, why must you insist on the old way?

The bottom line is that the evolution of terminology is essential to our lives today, and the ability to keep up is necessary. These new terms and phrases were not unnecessarily created, they were created so we can show compassion. We are the ones that felt the need for labels in order to categorize things, so why are we now refusing to update the files?

This applies even to us at the college age. Although we are mostly updated on political correctness, or should I say compassionate vocabulary, we are definitely fooling ourselves if we think that what we know now is how things should stay. We need to be aware of insensitive language in our day-to-day lives because even if it doesn't make a difference to you, it makes a difference to someone else.

If we are advocating for a more tolerant use of vocabulary, the duty is on us not only to to keep moving forward with change but also to try to explain to others why this change is so important. We are old enough to be advocates for ourselves, so we can also help others. 

Whether we like it or not, things are changing, and they will continue to change. This change sometimes makes the world uglier and sometimes it makes the world so much more beautiful. I  argue that an updated and tolerant vocabulary is an amazingly beautiful thing. It's about time everyone else thought so as well.

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Anne Marie Yurik - University of Pittsburgh

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