In recent years and decades, we’ve been paying more attention to our words. Society in general has been moving towards non-discriminatory language.
How did this come about? Why do we consider some words more ethic than others? What does this mean in our everyday life? How has this influenced translators?
Read on for a list of day to day examples in personal life and the workplace as well as in social life.
Political Correctness Definition
What is politically correct language?
The definition of politically correct language (abbreviated to PC) is choosing and using words that focus on empathy, fairness and justice. Word and phrases that have been accepted and entered into our day to day vocabulary that enhance the inclusion of individuals or groups of people, usually found in minorities in our societies and communities.
Therefore, it is both an active behaviour as well as an intentional avoidance of using words and expressions which could imply a sense of exclusion and marginalization of people who are considered to be socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.
Words that were commonly used in the past are nowadays completely out. Different organizations and authorities have also come up with language, policies, and measures that are considered as alternatives to old-fashioned words, pushing out language discrimination and always adding to the ever-growing politically correct language list.
What is political correctness (PC) in language?
Politically correct language is based on the idea behind the belief that words shape our reality and so the philosophy of language behind it gives weight to words.
On a general note, to be politically correct you need to avoid using:
- male-only terms, pronouns or titles Manpower is now Human Resource
- stereotypes woman doctor is now Doctor
- victimization suffers from (ailment) is now has (ailment)
- implications towards sexual orientation partner to refer to significant other
- generalizations of ethnicity and race She is Asian. (Be more specific – Is she Japanese? Thai?)
See examples of all the above in our downloadable list here
The aim of politically correct language revolves around empathy, fairness and justice.
In many countries it has become a legal requirement to use certain alternatives to words or phrases that have been declared derogatory.
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The History of Political Correctness
Since when has the term been used? Since when has it had any relevant social significance?
Political correctness the politics of culture and language emerged in Western societies around the 1970s through what seemed a self-parody by activists of a good number of new social movements. It all started with the English translation of Chinese Communist texts, in particular the Cultural Revolution, which was seen as “the correct line”, or even “ideologically sound”.
By time, as we walked through the 2000s, this higher sensitivity towards disadvantages of minorities in our society has been given ample attention by significant and influential authorities that have demanded that politically correct language for disabilities, for example, is made part of legislations.
How has political correctness changed language?
By now, politically correct language has been embedded in everyday words and expressions. We have all become much more aware of what is politically correct language, even when we’re doing something as relaxing as socializing with friends.
How has political correctness changed language?
While it was okay to ask someone if they were married or if they had a boyfriend or a girlfriend in the past, we now refer to their significant other as their partner. Apart from opting for gender-neutral language which avoids the implication of sexual orientation, the word “partner” also moves away from discussing if the person decided to get married or not. Here’s a glossary of Terms about Sexuality.
When we are discussing other social situations such as homelessness, we no longer use ‘the homeless’. This term conveys generalization of all the different “persons who are homeless” at present. By using this term, we are prioritizing that they are persons first and foremost, who are homeless right now. Another way of making this clearer is by saying “persons experiencing homelessness”;
Politically correct language is such a complexity of underlying accepted manners or unacceptable behaviour or choice of words that sometimes the same word can be deemed correct or derogatory, depending on the tone of voice or facial expression a person uses when saying the word.
This is why, at EHLION we make sure that copy editing and professional translation services that work on content for your company are in the loop of what is culturally accepted in your target market.
Contact us today for a free consultation of how we can make your site, services and products politically correct.
Political correctness with Ethnicity and Race
Say I’m describing a person. If I say someone is “a Chinese”, it is perceived that I am implying that he is one of the many migrants, generalizing all of the individuals having those origins and removing merit to their personal situation nowadays. However, if I say someone is “Chinese”, this is deemed to be politically correct as I’m describing their origin.
What’s more – it is socially expected to try and swerve away from generic terms like Asian.
Let’s have a look at the size of Asia in comparison to the whole world map.
Therefore by saying someone is Asian, it seems impersonal and uninterested. The politically correct way to do it is to be as specific as possible. Are they Indian? Bengali? Thai? Khmei?
Make sure you avoid these politically incorrect gaffes with our Cross Cultural Training.
Political correctness in Business
When dealing with multicultural workplaces and business clients the mist of what is politically correct and what isn’t gets thicker and can make or break deals.
In Japan for instance, business etiquette has a name – Omotenashi.
In China, Guanxi is a complex and powerful concept in the business culture and forms an integral part of negotiations and behaviour in general when dealing with Chinese companies in which hierarchy is absolute key.
On the other hand Swedish culture and customs are so much more laid back.
Pros and Cons of politically correct language
Criticism of Political Correctness
Opponents of politically correct language claim that substituting what are considered hurtful or offensive words by their alternatives trending at the moment, doesn’t lead to anything as they are still focusing on that supposedly wrong, offensive or harmful title. Ben O’Neill has claimed that politically correct language is useless as long as the social stigma is still real in our societies.
Others on this side of the spectrum, argue that politically correct language is selective on who or what group deserves more respect.
Pros of Political Correctness
Supporters of politically correct language have claimed that its use by the grand majority of society, including entertainment outlets such as parks, restaurants and venues but also in schools and workplaces have most certainly brought more awareness to making all citizens feel included and respected. PC has made and keeps making the rules clear on what is acceptable and what isn’t.
A lot of spokespersons for minority groups emphasize how this has, although not mitigated the disadvantages, made it okay to demand respect and in the case of abuse or misuse of language, being backed by the legislations around what is politically correct language has made them feel more secure in their everyday life.
Political correctness in translations
In the translation profession, words are what stones are for a builder.
Let’s think of the story of The Three Little Pigs for a moment. Depending on what words you use, you can have a hay house, a wooden house or a brick house.
If the translator picks a poor choice of words, the quality of the content will be as strong as the hay house. An improved choice of words will turn your content into a wooden house, while a professional who is aware of political correctness specific for the region for which you are preparing the content, will lead to the very successful and sturdy brick house.
The choice of words can absolutely and directly influence your sales or business negotiations.
Contact us today to see how our experts can assist you with Professional Translation Services and Copy Editing.
List of politically incorrect words and their correct alternatives
Wouldn’t it be handy to have a list of politically correct language examples and examples of politically correct expressions?
We’ve done just that for you, here is a politically correct language list with 40 alternatives to politically incorrect words and phrases.
|Alternatives||Terms no longer in use|
|Average Person||Man in the Street|
|Best Person for the job||Best Man for the Job|
|Chief assistant||Right-hand man|
|Cosmetic Surgery||Plastic Surgery|
|Person with a disability||Cripple|
|Economically deprived area||Slum|
|First name||Christian name|
|Flight Attendant||Steward, Stewardess|
|Gender reassignment||Sex change|
|Has (e.g. asthma)||Suffers from (e.g. asthma)|
|Intellectually disabled||Mentally handicapped|
|Mail carrier / Postal Worker||Postman|
|People with disabilities or disabled people||The disabled|
|Person with a mental health disability||Schizo, mad|
|Police Officer||Policeman, Policewoman|
|Irregular Immigrant||Illegal immigrant|
|Wheelchair user||Wheelchair-bound / Confined to a wheelchair|
PDF for download
Here is a politically correct language pdf of 40 alternatives to terms that are no longer in use, for you to download:
Rules and trends that define politically incorrect language seem to change faster as time goes by and people are more open about what they consider to be offensive to them and what they deem acceptable.