Political Correctness Marches On

It’s interesting that Elon University no longer uses the word “freshman” when referring to a first-year student. These individuals are now “first-year” students. OK, so I’ve been teaching in college for 18 years, maybe 20, and I thought we had good names for undergraduate ranks (even though it drives me crazy when I hear “sophomore” pronounced “southmore”). So this is an interesting turn of events.

I distinctly remember when a manufactured housing association told me to “change the way weathercasters report a tornado hitting a mobile home park.” What the association wanted was the terms “trailer park” and “mobile home” eliminated from the language. Good luck with that. Same with “freshman.” Really?

When the PC police come knocking at the door, what should be the appropriate reaction? At our company, we changed our brown bag seminars into “lunch and learns.” I’m good with that. But the assault on language taking place has really gained some traction, and some if it is just strange. The appropriate reaction should be to consider each proposition thoughtfully and sensitively but also practically.

The Daily Mail reported, back in 2011, that a school in Seattle renamed Easter eggs “spring spheres” to avoid offending people who did not celebrate Easter. That’s odd because eggs aren’t even spheres. And eggs have nothing to do with the Christian understanding of the Easter holiday. Simply put, Easter eggs are a fun family tradition.

Washington state prisons no longer refer to their incarcerated residents as “offenders” because of that word’s negative connotation. They also don’t use the term “inmates” for the same reason.

Those serving time in prison are now called “students” if they’re in a prison class or “patients” if in the infirmary. Otherwise, they are called “individuals” or “incarcerated persons.” I don’t know about you, but referring to Gary Ridgway, a known serial killer, as a student just seems wrong.

One word I use that may spell trouble is “honey.” My apologies, I know it’s horrible. (I also use the word, “ma’am.” Ouch.) I’m still wrestling with “honey.” Recently at our friendly local tavern, a waitress commented on my order: “Honey, that’s a really good choice.” Should I have been offended? Considering the location and culture there, the answer is “no.” She was not using the term in a derogatory way.

Still, I am working hard to eliminate “honey” from my language unless, of course, I’m referring to what bees make.

When will this move toward total PC perfection end? It won’t. We have a long history of changing our minds and words. “Mod” was entirely acceptable in the sixties to mean modern. Bet you don’t hear that today. Some really bad terms got changed, too, such as “colored people” and “chick.” All to the good.

Times change, and so does our language. But sensitivity to words is at an all-time high. Let’s keep an open mind during discussions of long-held language and not resist too much when the current culture insists on appropriate and needed changes. But let’s not take offense where none is intended.

Above all, let’s be thoughtful and respectful of one another. And careful.

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