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Political correctness

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Political correctness (or PC) is a term, generally a negative term, for use of language, or sometimes policies in general, that is sensitive to identity concerns. Sometimes it is a term for anything identified as feminist, anti-racist and so on.

The term "political correctness" is generally used to describe others. It has connotations of:

  • Bending to the will of progressive politics, implying that the politically correct person does not honor their own opinions
  • Censorship or silencing of speech opposed to progressive politics
  • Suppression of "harmless" individuality and existing cultural traits
  • Support for affirmative action at the level of individuals as well as organizations
  • Humorlessness, especially if the objection is to potentially marginalizing humor which often upholds the status quo at the expense of others. ("Punching down" vs "punching up".)
  • 'Unnatural' use of language

Political correctness is positioned as opposed to personal autonomy by its critics. Commentators may use 'political correctness' to imply the existence of mainstream legal or political power structure enforcing politically correct behaviour or even thought. Examples of such structures in reality (for example, anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws) may be portrayed as unacceptable infringements on personal autonomy.

Acts that might be described as "political correctness" include:

  • any call for less of certain kinds of speech (for example, pejorative speech)
  • using gender neutral terms, or even gender-agreeing terms, for roles that might be occupied by a woman (eg "chair" or "chairperson" or "chairwoman" for "chairman")
  • describing a person or their behavior as sexist or racist or otherwise discriminatory it contains usage of negative stereotypes, or pejorative terms/descriptions of women and/or other minority groups
  • any opinions supportive of anti-oppressive behavior, people, or movements

Accusations of political correctness can be used disingenuously to silence people, since being "politically correct" in some circles makes one automatically in the wrong. In geek circles where complete personal autonomy is frequently viewed as the ultimate good, this is particularly so. Accusations may also be used by people who believe mindfulness of others when choosing language and terminology is somehow harmful to public discourse. Sometimes users of political correctness equate it with censorship, even if they are objecting to a call for voluntary silence, rather than actual silencing.


The term political correctness was first used by the radical left (e.g. socialists, communists) to joke about the rise of academic feminist and socialist terminology seeping into their everyday lives. Nowadays, the term is a hallmark of the political right. People with right-wing views frequently use it to criticize changes from less-respectful to more-respectful language.

Reclaiming the term Edit

Some people have claimed the term politically correct as a description of themselves:

If you are tempted to begin an argument against something we’ve said here with, “God, stop being so PC!” just stop right there. We are proudly PC and have absolutely no intention of stopping. Racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, and sexist comments are as unwelcome here as sizeist ones. Comments policy, Shapely Prose

Others point out that the term "PC" can be replaced with the simpler term, "polite".  You can substitute some form of the word "polite" (eg, "politeness", or "impolite" for non-PC) into virtually any sentence using the term.

"Stop being so PC about sexism!"
"You mean, stop being so polite about sexism?"

Further ReadingEdit

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