"Political correctness" has long been considered a pejorative, an accusation hurled at those of us who choose our words carefully so as not to insult others. "It is invoked as a justification for some of the coarsest expressions of hatred and intolerance," Daniel Letwin, an associate professor of history at Pennsylvania State University, told me. Over the past year, I've written a number of columns that have provoked such allegations, notably when writing about language or why words matter.
Personally (and as a journalist) I prefer the Economist's style guide for reporters, which advises: "Avoid, if you can, giving gratuitous offence . . . you risk losing your readers. . . . But pandering to every plea for politically correct terminology may make your prose unreadable, and therefore also unread. So strike a balance. If you judge that a group wishes to be known by a particular term, that the term is widely understood and that using any other would seem odd, old-fashioned or offensive, then use it."
Far from restricting debate, the language of political correctness has returned a new dignity to formerly marginalized groups. "People who argue that political correctness is hijacking candid, unabashed observations aren't considering how their words are being perceived by all rather than just some others," said Robert Connelly, an adjunct professor of women's, gender and sexuality studies at American University.
In other words, "Shut up!" So, nothing new then.