PC Today, Taboo Tomorrow
The Fickle Nature of Language
It can be difficult to keep up with what words are acceptable, what words may be considered outdated, and what words some people are likely to find downright offensive. Many of us have felt the squeeze of the politically correct acculturation in different ways, and many long for a world where we can speak openly without worrying about inadvertently offending someone.
As a friend of mine once said, "Offense is seldom given, but often taken." When I heard this, I realized something important about the current state of our culture. By and large, people are not walking around trying to insult or offend one another. And yet, there is a lexicon of words and phrases that are considered acceptable, and another list that is considered offensive. If someone innocently uses a "wrong word" in the workplace, for example, it can lead to many different negative consequences.
This would all be fairly straightforward if the "acceptable" and "offensive" words remained the same over time. The words that were considered offensive in the 1950s, for example, would remain offensive in 2017. What we begin to see is that it is not necessarily the wordsper se that are the problem. It is the judgment and negativity that can attach itself to certain words, at certain times.
If we look at a dictionary we can see that all words are neutral in their essence; we simply have a book using words to define other words. I once did an experiment using dictionary.com. I looked up a word I didn't knowandthen proceeded to look up a key word in the resulting definition.
I repeated this process until I ended up back at the first word I had entered.This confirmed something I had suspected for a long time; Language is inherently self-referential. It is only human beings that ascribe greater meaning to words, often based on our emotional reactions, judgments, and cultural conditioning.
Enter Trump 2016. Love him, hate him, or anything in between, he knew as a candidate how to speak to people in such a way that many found refreshing. He would bypass PC language as a matter of course. Continuing this manner of speech as President has been highly controversial at best, and yet The Donald goes so far as to suggest that PC language can compromise peoples' security.
"The Swamp" has typically been inundated with politicians and representatives of Big Business using language in ways to disguise their true intentions and actions. People are routinely criticized from deviating from the currently accepted PC lexicon, and yet acts of corruption may go unnoticed as people focus on words more than on investigating actions.
The key distinction we can make is discerning whether or not someone's speech has the intent to offend, slander, insult or belittle someone. Some people use swear words in a very casual manner in everyday speech; this is part of their lexicon and they aren't using the words in a vitriolic way.
Similarly, people can be well-versed in the PC lingua franca of the day and speak very eloquently. And yet, they may have an intention to slander, besmirch and defame others—often political candidates. Words are only as meaningful as the people behind them; they have no real power of themselves.
I encourage everyone to look past the words people use and investigate deeper, both in politics and in everyday life. PC language is often the whitewash that can keep people stuck in circular arguments and miss the deeper realities that are going on. Words are only as meaningful as the people using them and are only as truthful as the actions behind them.