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The Origin of "Politically Correct"

Discussion in 'World History' started by YNCS, May 13, 2006.

  1. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    I came across this on another website. The author is a political scientist.

    The term "politically correct" was first used in Communist Party - USA circles back in the 1930s. It served as part of a disciplinary process intended to see that CP members stuck to the party line. (Calling the Communist Party "CP" or "CP-USA" was another usage of insiders -- relevant to the later history of "PC.") I don't recall seeing any attestations of the abbreviation "PC" dating to this first appearance of the phrase as an ideologically significant term. In any event, "politically correct" fell into disfavor as part of the many factional disputes that characterized ideological communism in the 30s. The reappearance of the phrase in English translations of the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao probably was due to a translator grabbing what was by then an obsolete usage in US communist circles. It did not lead to resuscitation, even in the cramped ideological speech of hard-core communists.

    "Politically correct" was resurrected by people who were conscious propagandists for right-wing groups. (The groups I have in mind were far more radical in their views than even the strongest advocates of mainstream conservatism in the US.) I seem to recall that the latter-day usage of the term pointed to individuals who had been communists in the 1930s but had become converted into hard-line anti-communists by the 1960s. They thought it was clever to refer to the phrase by the initials "PC" because the initials recalled "CP," then still a widely recognized label for the Communist Party. This time, the term was deliberately used to suggest that whatever was being called "PC" really was the result of a deliberate communist plot.

    The term, and frequent use of the initials "PC," migrated from what I think of as "crazies of the right" to the political propaganda of conservatism. Its use became notable in conservative journals. Then "PC" began turning up in lists of words Republicans were advised to use consciously to attack members and policies of the Democratic Party. (I believe that the almost-universal use of "Democrat Party" by Republicans was the predecessor of such lists. Another word, "liberal," gained such pejorative connotations from this sort of campaign that people who once might have been proud to call themselves "liberals" now reject the label.) This was the campaign that led to widespread recognition of "PC."

    The campaign's success is clear in today's two streams of usage for "PC." For some, it serves as an accusation that someone else is blindly following the political line of some alien left-wing mob, party, or philosophy. Others see it as a possibility to be denied: "It's not that I want to be PC or anything, but could we stop calling people 'gimpy' or 'crippled' and say, instead, that they have trouble walking?"

    Nobody wants to be called "PC." The term is pejorative, not descriptive.
     
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Interesting article. I didn't know that the contemporary use of the phrase was an invention of the right wing - I'd always assumed that it was a self-applied label (as it were) which had been turned into a term of abuse by others. Personally, of course, in common with one or two other regular posters who won't be named, I'm perfectly happy to be "politically correct". It's interesting, in particular, that this phrase is typically pejorative on both sides of the Atlantic - compare "liberal" which, as you say, has become an insult in America but is basically positive in Britain (even Tories like to call themselves "liberal" where appropriate) - it sounds all grand, very Locke and Mill.

    It would be interesting to examine precisely how the phrase is used today, in both the media and everyday speech. In particular, I'm always fascinated (and repelled) by the way in which anyone can damn anything simply by labelling it "political correctness" (or, if a stronger damnation is required, "political correctness gone mad"). Reference to barmy bureaucrats in Brussels always helps here. And simply invoking the Dreaded Phrase is enough - you don't have to go on to explain why the described act is bad. As long as you can call it PC, everyone will hate it. Just like calling someone a witch, once upon a time.
     
  3. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    thats funny, because nowadays people "want" to be PC; in that manner its almost a cliche, as people dont get the original understanding anymore... i bet if they knew it was communist theyd not worry so much about calling short people "vertically challenged"
     
  4. Verbose

    Verbose Deity

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    Do people really want to be PC?

    I've always understood it as one of these labels specifically designed to undercut the credibility of anything an adversary may be saying. It's a discussion killer.

    The liberal (in the US sense) equivalent is the concept of "moral panic". People worried about abortion etc. can be written of as just suffering from irrational "moral panic", i.e. there's no need to take what they are saying seriously as they aren't actually thinking, just emoting.

    But I haven't seen that one for a while at least in US public debate. I'd assume it's because the liberals are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the US?;)
     
  5. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    There's almost a Godwin's Law aura about labelling something or someone "politically correct." The label is either a dismissal of an argument as being so trivial as to not require a real reply, or else it's used because the argument can't be refuted.
     
  6. YNCS

    YNCS Ex-bubblehead

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    Perhaps you haven't seen "moral panic" because it's only been used by conservatives trying to pretend that liberals are using the phrase. The only time I've heard or read that phrase is when a conservative or religious fundamentalist is denying that he's suffering from "moral panic." YMMV.
     
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I don't understand this - most people don't want to be PC, or at least to be labelled PC. Similarly, the article states that the phrase "politically correct" is communist in origin, but not its current meaning, which was attached to it by American right-wingers.

    Being PC doesn't really mean coming up with cute new names for midgets any more than it means being communist. That's just an idiotic caricature that I would have hoped no-one on this forum would be stupid enough to fall for. In a positive sense, political correctness today means basically two things: first, a desire to avoid giving unnecessary offence, and second, a recognition that it matters what words you use. I don't really see how anyone can disagree with either of these aims. Certainly both are sometimes carried too far or to a counterproductive degree. But really, "political correctness" is no different from basic old-fashioned politeness.
     
  8. Cheezy the Wiz

    Cheezy the Wiz Socialist In A Hurry

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    im sorry, the way i explained it was the only way ive ever heard of it or seen it used. thank you for exposing me to the broader picture plotinus & verbose :)
     
  9. Keshik

    Keshik TJ's Daddy

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    I disagree with this. What is commonly referred to as "political correctness" can be used to advance an agenda, rather than just to spare someone's feelings. Case in point, the raging debate over illegal aliens in the US. Those who are not in favor of the enforcement of our laws refer to these people as "undocumented workers", removing the "illegal" connotation and creating a more benign description. This is just one example of the language being used in the debate. The fact is they are in the country illegally, but not commonly described as illegal by those defending them.
     
  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    But is that really "political correctness", or the use of language to advance an agenda? I'd say it's the latter but not the former. True "political correctness" is about aiming to avoid giving offence.
     
  11. mrtn

    mrtn Shaven not stirred

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    Ah, it's good that we have Plotinus and Verbose here, thus I don't have to get off my lazy behind and formulate my views in an articulate way. :thumbsup:
     

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