LINGUIST List 7.862

Mon Jun 10 1996

Disc: PC

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  • Frederick Newmeyer, the term 'politically correct'
  • Rebecca Larche Moreton, Re: 7.848, Qs: "PC" origin
  • Charles Rowe, Re: pc, the lexical item
  • Jussi Karlgren, "PC" origin
  • Guy Modica, LSA & PC
  • Dennis Baron, politically correct
  • Jila Ghomeshi, History of 'PC'
  • Jie Li, Re "PC" origin

    Message 1: the term 'politically correct'

    Date: Sat, 08 Jun 1996 09:56:38 PDT
    From: Frederick Newmeyer <>
    Subject: the term 'politically correct'
    In the United States anyway, the term 'politically correct' goes back at least to the early 1970s. Then it was used, without irony, by members of Maoist-Stalinist groups (Progressive Labor, the October League, the Revolutionary Union) to describe the positions taken by their organizations. So, one would talk about the 'politically correct' position on black nationalism, on Bangladesh, etc. As a member of a Trotskyist group in that period, I remember being amused at how what was 'politically correct' changed every time China's foreign policy changed.

    Gradually throughout the 1970s the term 'politically correct' began to be used by non-affiliated leftists (and those influenced by the left), and especially by feminists. And more and more it became used, not to refer to political positions, but to *behavior*, especially verbal behavior. So by the late 1970s it was common to hear people say, without irony, that it is not politically correct to let your dinner hosts wash all the dishes themselves, it is not politically correct to refer to someone as being 'overweight', and so on.

    I'm not sure when the term was co-opted by the right as a rhetorical device against the left -- mid 1980s I would guess. But by that time the term had all but stopped being used by anybody in the leftist/liberal milieu.

    - fritz newmeyer

    Message 2: Re: 7.848, Qs: "PC" origin

    Date: Sat, 08 Jun 1996 10:40:07 CDT
    From: Rebecca Larche Moreton <>
    Subject: Re: 7.848, Qs: "PC" origin
    Up til now I have avoided joining in the discussion about the time of origin of the term PC, since I was and am so far out of the loop that the string doesn't even reach here. But James Myers' comments agree with my own recollection of the first time I heard the expression: in December of l985, our son returned from his first semester of college in Pennsylvania with two new phrases:"as well"(a tag replacing "too"), and "PC". PC he explained the same way Myers does: people who were PC or politically correct were liberals who expected other liberals to toe the line in matters political, and social and literary, as well. The best I could tell, all his friends there started at liberal and shaded off toward the left. In our family, both "PC" and "as well" have served since that time as verbal emblems of that college.

    Rebecca Larche Moreton

    Message 3: Re: pc, the lexical item

    Date: Thu, 06 Jun 1996 23:00:55 EDT
    From: Charles Rowe <>
    Subject: Re: pc, the lexical item

    Benji Wald's comments on the meaning shift of the term "politically correct" are thought-provoking. I would like to go one step further and assert that it is perhaps the restrictive adjective in the term which in this case opens the phrase up for rejection from many conservatives.

    In my view, to term something "politically" correct is to juxtapose "political" correctness to "correctness" in other arenas; ie, "politically" correct, yet--in the mind of some--socially, ethically, morally, semantically, pragmatically (etc.) INcorrect. Thus B.Wald's observations--and he is quite right, I believe--that the term "pc" is linked with hypocritical mindsets follows naturally from this juxtaposition. It would be interesting to trace the origin of this term; it may have its beginnings in legal jargon, where its usage would not need to betray contradictory ideals.

    Perhaps this is where the rhetorical battle between liberals and conservatives (in the American political arena, anyway) fires up: the battle ultimately becomes one of "individual(ized)" designations versus "globalized" designations. If this is correct, then at least the rhetoric is being applied consistently with the ideals that each camp (or better: each party platform) purports to uphold.

    C. Rowe

    Message 4: "PC" origin

    Date: Sat, 08 Jun 1996 23:09:01 EDT
    From: Jussi Karlgren <karlgrenTOMEK.CS.NYU.EDU>
    Subject: "PC" origin
    Scripsit ("James T. Myers"):

    > The recent discussions of the LSA's policy on meeting locations have > raised some ire over the phrase "politically correct." There seem to > be two assumptions made about the use of this phrase and its > abbreviation "PC":


    LINGUIST List: Vol-5-1230. Fri 04 Nov 1994. ISSN: 1068-4875. Lines: 231 Subject: 5.1230 Sum: Political correctness From: Subject: "Politically correct": summary

    Message 5: LSA & PC

    Date: Sun, 09 Jun 1996 15:45:00 +0900
    From: Guy Modica <>
    Subject: LSA & PC
    A (short?) comment on LSA venue policies and the meaning of PC has been brewing in me while I read the discussion we've been having.

    The head printer at my undergrad school taught me (along with how to operate a Chief 17x22 press) to "Buy where you see a rainbow." This essentially meant that one sends money in the direction of organizations that improve humanity, not exploit or demean it. This has been sound guidance for me over the years. So the criterion for rejection is/should be an overt expression of discrimination against an undeserving group, and we should be active in opposing this discrimination.

    If this policy is to have real effect (besides depriving that ENTIRE community of income from the conference), LSA should follow up on the rejection with letters to the mayor/governer/chambers of commerce/hotels stating: 'Your city/state was among the candidates for our annual conference, which brings $X to the hosting community, and regrettably your venue was rejected because of the enactment of <legislation>, which violates LSA principles and standing rules. We sincerely hope that when your city/state is nominated again, this legislation will have been eliminated.' Without publicity, we fail to stimulate change in the offending communities. Informing the offending community is as essential as the policy itself. If the LSA simply avoids venues where discriminatory policies have been enacted, its effect is merely to penalize members in those areas, who constantly spend greater amounts on transportation to the conference. The venue itself doesn't even know what it's missing, or why.

    Second, there has been some discussion of the origin of PC, and characterization of what it now means and how it is used. I consider myself a liberal, a radical even. I rarely have the normative view, and even more rarely am in consonance with the conservative or rightest view on a subject. However, I find those who wield (what I call) political correctness to be offensive on two counts: they make self-righteous (and often absolute) judgements about the meaning of one's actions, following those up with value-laden prescriptions about one's behavior, exercised at every opportunity; they dissipate their energy trying to enforce conformity with standards of superficial behavior they dislike, ignoring activities that could bring about real change in the policy areas they are interested in.

    Some examples: Who decides that "No way, Jose" (out of context) is an inherently racist expression and cannot be simply a creative rhyme? Hang a cigarette in your mouth in a restaurant and see how many people rush up to you with the information that smoking is not permitted - using maximally agressive language. Try sitting through the national anthem at a basketball game sometime (even if you LOOK like a 'foreigner') - see what politically correct reaction you experience. Let's say that Squaw Valley is berated into changing its name to (?) Cayouse Valley. Will this have improved the lot of the Native American in this society? It is much easier to harrass sponsors into curtailing ads with swimsuited women than to obtain equal pay for equal work.

    Fervent PCers are more interested in obediance than improvement. Their confrontive and rude manner ensures that they will not convert others to their viewpoint, but rather alienate the very audience they wish to affect. So PC is about demonstrating one's commitments, feeling empowered, and getting others to pay lip service to one's dictates. It isn't about instigating meanful change, but looking 'good'. That is what I identify as PC.

    My conclusion? Let's encourage the LSA to work productively for real change and avoid symbolic stances that only make us proud of our nobility.

    Guy Modica, Associate Professor Department of English and American Literature Seikei University 3-3-1 Kichijoji-kitamachi Musashino, Tokyo 180 Japan Office telephone: +81-422-37-3608 Home fax: +81-425-23-5437

    Beyond the bright cartoons Are darker spaces where Small cloudy nests of stars Seem to float on the air.

    These have no proper names: Men out alone at night Never look up at them For guidance or delight,

    For such evasive dust Can make so little clear: Much less is known than not, More far than near.

    'Far Out' by Philip Larkin

    Message 6: politically correct

    Date: Sun, 09 Jun 1996 12:05:00 CDT
    From: Dennis Baron <>
    Subject: politically correct
    Here are some early cites for politically correct/political correctness/politically incorrect. The earliest came to me from Jesse Sheidlower at Random House. The first seems to be literal

    Jesse Sheidlower writes: Fred Shapiro of the Yale Law Library, who's the editor of the Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations and a top quotation researcher, has called my attention to this 1793 (!) example. The use refers to linguistic etiquette, and is quite close to the modern use. This is from the Supreme Court decision _Chisholm v. Georgia_:

    "The states, rather than the People, for whose sakes the States exist, are frequently the objects which attract and arrest our principal attention....Sentiments and expressions of this inaccurate kind prevail in our common, even in our convivial, language. Is a toast asked? 'The United States,' instead of the 'People of the United States,' is the toast given. This is not politically correct."

    "Some organizations used to be pretty bad and are forbidden today, but nevertheless it is better for a man to have belonged to a politically incorrect organization than not to have belonged to any organization at all." [Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister, 1947, p. 168]

    earliest cite:

    Phrygia was famous for its slaves-so famous that the name Phryx denoted a slave all over the empire-and Lycaonia was notorious for bandits and thieves. To use such words would have been equivalent to calling his audience "slaves and robbers." But "Galatians," a term that was politically correct, embraced everyone under Roman rule, from the aristocrat in Antioch to the little slave girl in Iconium.

    [H. V. Morton, In the Steps of St. Paul (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1936), p. 24= 4.]

    Here are some other examples I got from Lexis/Nexis (dates are all 1995), showing a variety of uses for the term:

    Right-wing or conservative political correctness:

    In the Reagan transition, politically correct thinking was required on issues such as abortion [Business Week] 8. [In the 1950s] political correctness meant voting a straight Republican ticket. [Newsweek] 9. America is divided into opposing camps of "political correctness." One stresses legally enforced "fairness" and tolerance in race, gender, and sexual orientation. The other worships individual rights and "traditional" religion and family values. [Newsweek] 10. [An anti-flag-burning amendment] would be tantamount to imposing a "speech code" and our own conservative brand of political correctness. We freely criticize liberals for their litmus tests; let us be wary of adopting our own. [Forbes ASAP]

    political correctness as euphemism:

    companies continue to be fascinated by- pick your own politically correct term-downsizing /rightsizing/ RIF (reduction in force). [Forbes ASAP] 20. [Of resale shops]: Now, the politically correct term for such stores is consignment shops and owners say business is brisk. [Parenting Today] 21. [on Arnold Schwarzenegger's movie, "Eraser."]: There's a rush to set up the buffet line as some background actors (the politically correct term for extras) begin trickling into the film's designated holding area, a church basement on Central Park. [Times Picayune] 22. Much of the PC activity . . . on our campus comes from the Student Activities Office. The housing folks have long been into euphemism/revisionism. We can't call the dorms anything but "residence halls." [ADS-L]

    political correctness as doing the right thing:

    =46or all 3 methods, your code simply needs to trap the WM_NOTIFY:TTN_NEEDTEXT message, fill out the structure, and then return any value (although returning =D8 is politically correct). [Microsoft Systems Journal] 60. Then there's Markoff's role. As Littman tells it, the Times reporter was obsessed with the hacker. "I've thought about trying to catch Mitnick," he allegedly told Littman on two occasions. "But I guess that wouldn't be politically correct." [Newsweek] Sending an [email] memo to the CEO of your company is as easy as sending one to the mail clerk, if not always politically correct. [Information Week]

    - ------

    Dennis Baron Department of English office: 217-333-2392 University of Illinois fax: 217-333-4321 608 S. Wright Street home: 217-384-1683 Urbana, IL 61801

    Message 7: History of 'PC'

    Date: Sun, 09 Jun 1996 22:16:49 EDT
    From: Jila Ghomeshi <>
    Subject: History of 'PC'
    With regards to the history of the term 'political correctness', there is a discussion of precisely this in Deborah Cameron's book 'Verbal Hygiene' (1995, Routledge). There is also a discussion of recent debates over 'grammar' (standard vs. non-standard, etc.) in Great Britain and Wales.

    Message 8: Re "PC" origin

    Date: Mon, 10 Jun 1996 16:29:47 BST
    From: Jie Li <>
    Subject: Re "PC" origin
    - --------------------------------------- James T Myers wrote on 08 June 1996

    I suggest that the terms >"politically correct" and "PC" both appeared on college campuses in >the mid-1980's among more LEFTIST students. The terms were originally >used by left-leaning students to poke gentle fun at other specific >leftists or leftist campus groups, not to make fun of non-sexist >language, etc, in general.

    I think James is right. Long time ago, maybe a year or so ago, I happend to read an article on the phenomenon "political correctness" either in News Week or in Time. It was mentioned that this term is borrowed from the Chinese Cultural Revolution where Mao required people to be "politically correct". Of course, this term was used in a different sense than it is right now. I have remebered it because it was so striking to me to bring it into connection with Mao. Maybe someone who has easy access to these two journals can check it.

    - J.L