The basic wants in any social interaction are the two aspects of face. According to Brown and Levinson face is the public self image that every adult tries to project, and positive and negative face exist universally in human culture. Positive face is the want of every member that his wants be desirable to at least some others and refers to one’s self esteem, whereas negative face is the freedom of action or freedom from imposition. In order to avoid face threatening acts our society has come up with the phenomenon of political correctness.
The term ‘political correctness’ refers to a powerful political movement located on university campuses and in ‘alternative’ political or cultural institutions—for example, leftist, feminist, anti-racist or green organizations, and public service professions whose ethos reflects these ‘alternative’ ideologies. The most general aim of this ‘political correctness’ movement is to enforce a set of orthodox (‘politically correct’) views on class, race, gender and other forms of socio-cultural diversity. The movement’s specific objectives include giving preferential treatment to members of certain social groups (e.g. women, ethnic minorities) in schools and universities; constructing educational curricula in which the traditional ideas of cultural heritage and artistic excellence are replaced with an emphasis on non-western, non-white and female cultural contributions; and prescribing the kind of language that may or may not be used to talk about the differences between humans, especially gender and racial/ethnic differences.
According to Ruth Perry in a 1992 article entitled A short history of the term politically correct, the source from which these groups adopted the phrase was probably the English translation of Mao’s Little Red Book. Alternatively, Barbara Epstein (1992) has suggested a connection with ‘correct lineism’, a term used in the Communist Party. The earliest print citation Perry reports for ‘politically correct’ occurs in a 1970 article by the African-American feminist Toni Cade (later Toni Cade Bambara), which included the statement ‘a man cannot be politically correct and a chauvinist too’.
Although here the term is used straightforwardly to argue that sexism has no place in radical black politics, Perry points out that this was not the only way it was used, and as time went on it became less and less the dominant way of using it. The most common use of ‘politically correct’ was ironic—to quote Maurice Isserman (1991:82), ‘it was always used in a tone mocking the pieties of our own insular political counterculture, as in “we could stop at McDonald’s down the road if you’re hungry…but it wouldn’t be “politically correct”’.
In 1991 the University of Strathclyde’s Programme of Opportunities for Women Committee (POWC) published a leaflet ‘Gender free language: guidelines for the use of staff and students’. POWC knew that any guidelines they might issue would be essentially voluntary, and they therefore designed the guidelines to be maximally persuasive to their intended audience. The arguments they chose to emphasize have certain characteristics in common. Politically, they are moderate and not radical—their underlying philosophy is a liberal one of equal opportunities, and it is taken for granted that a basic concern to ensure equal treatment of men and women is axiomatic within the institution. The first of these beliefs is that public language should be civil, i.e. it should not give offence to actual and potential addressees.
But, according to David Conway and Anthony Brown is a system of beliefs and patterns of thoughts that permeates many aspects of modern life, holding a vice-like grip over a public debate, deciding what can be debated and what the terms of debate are, and which government policies are acceptable and which are not. It has grown an influence over the last few decades to...