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Political Correctness

Garner’s Modern English Usage

Bryan A. Garner

Political Correctness 

today primarily refers to the phenomenon of stifling views and attitudes contrary to those of the enlightened intelligentsia of the left, especially as regards social and political issues. It is a kind of planned intolerance for the expression of ideas that run counter to liberal orthodoxies. One sees it in language, when a vocal minority insists on the avoidance of certain terminology considered discriminatory or offensive, and especially insists on the use of euphemisms and doublespeak; in debate, when contrarian views are excoriated for their very utterance; and in everyday life, when the timid refuse to express an idea in any but the most anodyne way. A host of new sensitivities have been launched: ableism, ageism, lookism, sizeism, weightism, and the like.

Of course, the phrase politically correct in its modern applications was originally intended as a kind of self-mocking oxymoron, since political views by their nature cannot be “correct” or “incorrect.” Surprisingly, the phrase dates back to the 1930s, but it wasn't until the late 1980s that the idea spread and came into vogue. The abbreviation PC or P.C. spread with equal rapidity.

In all social arguments in which not just public intellectuals but also propagandists become embroiled, words and phrases get distorted as accusations and counteraccusations are hurled by one side against the other. Meaningful debate can become impossible. Even the phrase political correctness sometimes seems to lose all meaning.

For two entries in which the question of political correctness is at the fore, see anchor baby and illegal immigrant.