Monday, October 20, 2008

The Guardian joins the speech police

In a recent edition of The Spectator, columnist Rod Liddle listed words and phrases that have been banned by the left-leaning, politically correct British daily newspaper the Guardian. They include active homosexual, career women, Third World, blacks, Asians, Australasia (apparently Oceania is preferred), crippled, in a wheelchair, hare lip, ethnic minorities, handicapped, spinster, committed suicide, gypsies, Siamese twins, illegitimate daughter, deaf ears, illegal asylum seeker and grandmother.

According to Liddle, the outlawed terms are set out in a free style guide that the Guardian gave away to readers “just in case they were mystified by its occasional weird language”.

Some of the unmentionable expressions on the Guardian’s list are frowned upon by the speech police here too. “Blacks,” for example, is increasingly rarely seen, having been replaced by the cumbersome “African-American”. (It’s worth recalling that “blacks” was itself originally embraced as a less discriminatory term than “negroes”, indicating that political correctness is a work in progress.)

“Crippled” is virtually extinct here and “handicapped” is likely to go the same way. “Air hostess” is almost obsolete too, at least in print, having become a victim of the feminist assault on the use of any word containing the “-ess” suffix, on the false premise that it’s somehow belittling. “Actress” and “waitress” have suffered the same fate, thereby stripping the vocabulary of a convenient and non-discriminatory means of distinguishing a female wait-person from a male wait-person.

It’s also worth noting that there are bureaucrats, academics and possibly even a politician or two in New Zealand who would sleep more contentedly if the media pretended there was no such thing as suicide.

At first glance, it’s difficult to detect any logical pattern in the Guardian’s list. Some of the banned terms reflect the ascendancy of identity politics, that baneful ideological phenomenon in which people who are in any way “different” are encouraged to think of themselves as members of an oppressed and persecuted minority – whether it be ethnic, gender-based, handicapped (whoops!) or whatever – and thus unavoidably at odds with the “mainstream”. That mindset then becomes the basis for an entire worldview and a handy platform from which to promote a culture of grievance and entitlement.

Other Guardian prohibitions reflect the PC view that no one should ever say anything that someone else might decide to find offensive, and to hell with the implications for freedom of expression.

A few – like “Australasia” – defy explanation. And it can only be described as bizarre that the word “grandmother”, a label proudly embraced by countless women of a certain age (my own wife among them), should be seen as somehow demeaning.

What’s notable about the list is the failure (perhaps intentional) to distinguish between words that are plainly and deliberately derogatory – words meant to arouse hostility and contempt, such as “wog”, “nigger” and “faggot” – from those that are simply functional and innocent, such as most of those above. It’s typical of the excesses of political correctness that malevolent ideological meaning should be read into expressions that are neutral and intrinsically harmless.

Admittedly there’s a good argument for discouraging the use of “illegitimate child”, given that changing social and moral attitudes have rendered the term virtually meaningless. Even so, it’s a great worry that a newspaper – especially one with such a proud reputation as the Grauniad (so named for its legendary misprints) – is actively abetting the enemies of free speech by placing restrictions on the language used by journalists. Limitations on what one can say or write are among the most pernicious forms of political correctness, and newspapers should oppose them with all the strength they can muster.

Footnote: A friend of mine whose work brings her into contact with impeccably PC quangos and government agencies in Wellington tells me the latest word on the verboten list in such circles is “brainstorming”. Apparently epileptics object to it. Good grief.


Will de Cleene said...

Welcome to the non-threatening, unoriginal, asexual world of unmeaning, Karl.

As for the Australasian ban, I think the logic behind the censorship is to avoid describing NZers as Australians. Very soon you will see the word American added to the list, so Canadians are not offended by grammatical association with the USA.

macdoctor said...

Damn. I had this really great article about this lesbian unmarried, oriental business woman and her dark African lover who applied for refugee status in Australia, even though they were not refugees. She was a bilateral amputee and had to be wheeled around and he had a cleft palate and was hard of hearing. Because she had a female Romany Grandparent and they were both disabled, they were not considered part of the cultural majority and were shunned. Eventually, they had conjoint twin daughters out of wedlock and, in shame, ended their own lives.

It's a very sad story.

Derek Seymour said...

I think you might get a kick out of this review by P.J O'rourke on the feminist book : "Guidelines for Bias Free writing".

Post the above into a brower and enjoy.