"The skittish are coming! The skittish are coming!"
JOE KLOCK SR.
May 17, 2003
"Political correctness," the mother of all oxymorons, is the stamping ground of excitable nitpickers who get their shorts or panties in a bunch at any reference that can, however remotely, be inferred as a verbal slap at any person, place or thing in the universe.
I join them, of course, in condemning the use of such ugly pejoratives as the "n" word, although I note with some dismay the fact that it is being perpetuated by many of the black stand-up comedians on cable TV.
Neither have I any fondness for boorish references to physical, mental, emotional, or ethnic characteristics that are hurtful to others.
That said, there is such a thing as well-intended campaigns that go too far, as is demonstrated by extreme do-gooders and Pecksniffian finger-pointers on a daily basis.
As a working wordsmith, I am resistive of those who mess with the tools of my beloved trade. I have gone along with most quarantines of words and phrases that were formerly acceptable, but are now frowned upon in polite and politic society, although admittedly pushing the envelope when some regressive devil makes me do it.
Some of the restrictions being suggested by the linguistic superscrupes are downright silly, and I will continue to ignore and/or poke fun at them - such idiocies as referring to a meeting leader as "the chair" and banning the use of "lady" when describing a "woman." (Sorry, folks, but there always was and always will be a distinction!)
Occasionally, and perhaps deservedly, I have been taken to the woodshed of propriety for excessive envelope-pushing, but it was always in pursuit of innocent merriment, legitimate satire, or both. Mea culpa - it's who and what I am, and writers who can't take the heat should hang up their goose-quill pens. (Okay, a strained metaphor, but I couldn't work in "kitchens.")
Gotta tell ya, though, I was both taken aback and affronted when, for the first time in hundreds of submissions, my column was rejected recently by a publication's filter, which "detected sensitive content," non-specifically citing a violation of the paper's policy on "dirty words."
Well, now, I'll confess to a few brief strolls across the border of good taste, but every word of my every column is reviewed by my first wife and next-to-last daughter, neither of whom has ever hesitated to take me to "Tsk!" when they thought I needed it.
But dirty words? I hastened to scan the offending column and found only one suspect reference.
The offending term, apparently, was "boob tube," innocently intended to describe the electronic baby-sitter-for-all-ages that has supplanted conversation and human (make that "huperson") bonding in American family life.
The pectoral connotation of "boob," however, got caught in the newspaper's filtering craw, which rejected the column with nary a stroke of the editor's blue pencil, since shehe never got to see it..
This projects the horrifying image of a future time when only words with single entendre will slip by the cyber-sentry that will have replaced live newspaper monitors.
Might be an unrelated matter, but a sneak attack is being mounted on our young people by "The Language Police," according to a new book by Diane Ravitch. In it, she charges (and documents) that the skittish alarmists cited above are systematically purging K-12 reading materials of all words that can be inferred as insensitive to people who are male, female, old, short, tall, fat, skinny, handicapped, weak, stupid, or of any identifiable ethnic origin.
They not only favor deletion of the blatantly coarse epithets mentioned at the top of this piece, but recommend such ridiculous substitutions as "framers" for the supposedly sexist "founding fathers" and "woodcutter" for "lumberjack."
Other sanitized substitutions include community for brotherhood, one-person performance for one-man band, elf for fairy, snowperson for snowman, intellectual for bookworm, more mature for elderly and a switcheroo of billing for the stars in the biblical story of creation, henceforth to be known as "Eve and Adam."
That last adjustment supposedly would "demonstrate that males do not take priority over females" (as if we didn't already know this in our heart of hearts). What this does to the story about Adam's rib is not mentioned, nor is God as yet known to have weighed in on the subject.
Other traditional figures criticized include Disney's seven dwarfs (unkind to the vertically challenged) and Mickey Mouse (rodents perceived as frightening to youngsters).
Hey, I don't mind it too much when political correctness erodes my repertoire of Mike-and Ike jokes, or attacks my latent male chauvinism, but I rebel when my wonderful world of words is subverted by every Tom, Richard and Harry who thinks he smells a rat in the Magic Kingdom...or should that be "Imaginary Commune?"