Sunday, August 15, 2010

PC Language: A Rant That Will Probably Not Go In the Direction You Think It Will

Someday I really will be done with grammar rants for awhile.

But today, I have a problem with PC language.

Not the problem that most people have, though.

The problem that most people have is that PC language can be... annoying. How are you supposed to keep track of what is the least offensive term to use for a particular group if that term keeps changing? What if you don't *mean* any harm (and you certainly don't think of yourself as any sort of "ist") and yet people get all offended because you haven't kept up to date with the latest PC term? Isn't that odious?!

That's not my problem with it.

The problem I have with PC language is about connotation. (So, so, so many problems of language are problems of connotation!)

See, the reason that people think of new terms for things--terms that are supposed to be more "PC"--is essentially just a connotation thing. Words have negative connotations and people want to get rid of them by inventing a new word. And there's some logic to this.

Every word that's ever used carries with it the weight of every time anyone has ever used it. In fact, every time *you* use a word, you are oh-so-subtly shaping it's connotation. Connotation is about *use.*

The reason that people feel the need to change terms--"I'm not a homemaker, I'm a stay-at-home-mom," for example--is that negative and/or unwanted connotations have built up around the primary term.

You don't want to be a homemaker if people talk smack about homemakers.

The way that the word has been used shapes its meaning and when the *meaning* becomes odious, you want a different word.

The problem is, though, that changing the word does not change the underlying problem. The underlying problem with "homemakers" was actually that homemakers weren't respected. Their lives and duties were trivialized. People would use the word and preface it with terms like "just." "I'm *just* a homemaker." And every time it was used that way, the original term would become more and more pejorative.

Enter a new term.

But you can change the word, it won't change the underlying problem. Because the problem was never the word, it was the lack of respect for homemakers.

The thing that annoys me about when people complain about the "burden" of having to learn the "latest PC term," is the lack of recognition that the reason the term needs to be changed over and over and over is *real.* It's not that racism would go away if only we could finally settle on one non-offensive term for each race. The terms keep changing *because people keep abusing them.* If people had stopped using terms like "homemaker," "colored," "handicapped," etc. in negative ways, there wouldn't ever have been a need to change the words in the first place. (In fact, you can often tell just *how* big a problem is by how many times the term has had to change. If it goes through three, four, five iterations and more seem eminent, it's because the sentiments *behind* the words haven't changed yet. If it only has to go through one or two iterations and then one sticks for awhile? Chances are there has been some evolving in the society and the lack-of-language change reflects that.)

Words, themselves, aren't the problem. And struggling to "learn the newest non-offensive terms" isn't necessarily going to solve the problem, either.

If you don't like PC language, well, stop being mean to people. Stop marginalizing groups. Stop *using terms pejoritavely.*

There's no need to change words that are universally used with love and respect.


CSIowa said...

Having spent several years describing myself as a "professional mother" (because it was never about the house), I love this rant.

I think all iterations should be eminent. It just might solve the whole problem.

Swanky Mommy said...

I love your love of pejorative. Reminds me of the love of hegemony in days gone by. Geez. What's with me reminiscing about grad school. Prolly cause it's been MUCH longer for me than for you. Plus I'm dumber. :)