Purity of Language

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend that said that they had been made afraid by political correctness, and that that was one of the ways things were getting better now. I was confused, but I didn't dig in at the time, and then my own concerns escaped my simple needs, and I never got back to it. For that I'm sorry. This is my woefully inadequate attempt to fix.

My earliest memory of "political correctness" would have been early high school. That puts me right into the middle of the second great debate. Most of the concern at the time was around our society grasping new words to try to be more inclusive of women in our discourse. As an antiquarian or paleophile at heart, I was on board with words like "chairperson" being an abomination. Until, one day, reading a book of essays on recreational mathematics (as one does for fun in high school), I read this by Douglas Hofstadter, and my mind melted and formed anew.


Go on, read that. I'll wait.

Anybody who was forced to (or for fun (hi!)) read 1984 should recognize that language has power. For me the danger presented by post-Regency English is pretending that people that are women, BIPOC, LGBTQ, disabled, poor, other/no religion, etc. don't exist. And that damage is what "political correctness" is working to undo. Now, I have to believe that this term has come to mean something else to the Fox presenters who yell it at me every day as I walk past the TVs at work. Those talking heads tell me that it somehow forces a uniformity of thought and action. That it threatens me, and those I love. I don't understand, and would love for those that pay more attention, or have felt afraid to help me there.

As I've taken Hofstadter's arguments to heart, I haven't seen increased uniformity in my life. Learning that different words mean different things to different people at different times. Choosing phrasing that includes people not like me within the realm of possibility. Thoughtfully listening to the pain of others mocked and ostracized for not fitting in with our default American image. These experiences have made me better (not good, just better), and given me a richer, more colorful, joyful life. Seeing the options available to my wife and son and daughter, compared to then gives me hope. I assert that having society ask me (an introvert) to get to know and pay attention to people is an improvement for me and for it. Pretending we're all the Cleaver family and nothing else exists is so much less interesting and less true.

So please, those of you that disagree with me. Let's have a conversation. I promise not to mock or make afraid. I promise to make angry eyes at those that do. If we're lucky, it'll be a fruitful discussion, and we'll both learn something new.