pacing the void

Politically correct speech handicaps the power of language


As a columnist, a student, and indeed, a human, I owe my life to words. We all do. Language is our lifeline to the world. All we feel and know, all we learn and like, is barred from the world until we tack letters to it. Words are a means to communication , and communication is a means to civilization. Therefore, there is nothing greater for society than the richness of words.

And nothing worse than their destruction.

This is because a language is only as effective as the range and clarity of its words. These words must describe everything before us, everything worth noting as real, but they must do so with accuracy, not ambiguity. "Cat" is a good term, but "Minx" and "Siamese" are better. The more specific our words, the more we can understand our world, our friends and ourselves.

But there is a great disturbance in the Force. It goes by the name "political correctness." It is out to destroy our words, to maim in the name of ignorance. The purported purpose of this beast is "equality;" I say to you it is power.

George Orwell understood that language is power. In his classic novel, "1984," the country of Oceania is ruled by a totalitarian government that controls history, media, and most of all, words. This new language, Newspeak, thrives on eliminating undesirab le words and, consequently, undesirable thoughts. Orwell knew that by controlling language, the code used to express consciousness, one controls minds. On the subject of language control, he wrote, "The purpose is not only to provide a medium of expressio n for the 'proper' world-view and mental habits, but to make all other modes of thought impossible." With the death of words comes the death of thoughts.

Political correctness capitalizes on this truth by killing words deemed insensitive, racist, or just plain immoral. It "corrects" a language that could be used to express "dangerous" ideas. Instead of addressing the true problems- insensitivity, racism, a nd immorality - political correctness goes directly to the existentialist source: language. Vaporize bad words and you vaporize badness. I'm only as racist as you say I am.

On the surface, this plan seems favorable, even if a wee-bit fascist. The problem, however, as with all centralized control, is who gets the power?

Throughout history, the course of language change has been the duty of the masses. Old words are chucked out as obsolete or unnecessary to everyone. Today, a small group of hypersensitive people are attempting to wield that power. Call them what you will - liberals, conservatives, moderates; it doesn't matter. All that matters is that they have every nerve ending on the tip of their skin, and they want you to be the same way.

This obscure medical condition, political correctness, does its evil by infecting plain, specific, useful words with vagueness and generality. Examples are abound. "Shell shock" becomes "post-traumatic stress disorder." "Freshman" becomes "first-year." "M ankind" becomes "personkind." Words are mutilated.

Again, this practice may seem fair because words like "mankind" are "biased" for men. But destroying the word infers a very foolish assumption. It assumes we all attach a masculine person to the word "mankind." It assumes we share the same limited vision of those demanding the change. In essence, it assumes our thoughts.

The fallacy of this is obvious, and in practice, ridiculous. Totally harmless words are bashed on any basis, from sound to similarity. "Manipulate" becomes "personipulate," even though the real root, manus, means hand. "Mailman" becomes "personperson." "M anhole" becomes "personhole." This is the victory of political correctness. We want our children to envision both men and women when they think of sewer covers. Lovely.

Besides this linguistic ignorance, political correctness must be defeated because it creates a society of fear. It infers that everyone is guilty of insensitivity, but that everyone is sensitive. Anyone might be offended by what you say, and anyone might offend you. The context of our words does not matter. The intent of our thoughts are irrelevant. We must worship sensitivity and sacrifice communication. In the words of Orwell, we must practice doublethink.

I refuse. Words are too sacred to me. They are the channel of communication, and communication is our key to understanding. Political correctness destroys this clarity and puts fear in its place. It skews our knowledge of the world by skewering our means of knowing it. It is a power play of the worst kind, and it must be stopped, lest our words be brutally chained, and our thoughts along with them.

Mark Joseph Goldenson is a freshman majoring in psychology and molecular and cellular biology. His column, 'Gold Standard,' appears every Friday.

By Mark Joseph Goldenson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 7, 1997

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