Bankruptcies, foreclosures, surgeries, illness and death, family and business worries, cranky letters to the editor in our weekly local newspaper. So many people are in full-blown crisis or just plain bad humor as the holidays approach. Why shouldn’t I go on a little rant, too? I’d like to purge myself of any residue of grinchiness before it’s too late. So here are my top three most-detested phrases in current usage:
1. “POLITICALLY CORRECT/POLITICALLY INCORRECT”
A nationally syndicated columnist recently complained bitterly, in print, that “Merry Christmas” is now “politically incorrect,” joining legions of vague speakers and writers who prefer to make accusing statements in veiled terms and cloak insults in the armor of self-righteousness. Both sins fall under the use--usually accompanied by a snide smirk--of this ubiquitous and annoying term, “PC” for short. Let me state my own position clearly. I do not greet or take leave of people whose beliefs are unknown to me, much less those whose beliefs would make the greeting inappropriate, with “Merry Christmas.” And that’s not because I’m quivering in fear of thought police but because I want to express seasonal goodwill to all, regardless of belief, neither excluding nor insulting. To me, that’s what goodwill is all about. Talk of PC is not limited to the holiday season. Those who take pride in being “politically incorrect” see themselves as courageous defenders of besieged positions, but I’ve heard the phrase and seen the smirk when the language being used and labeled, proudly, “politically incorrect” was language I would not use in any arena, words one would expect to see in the worst graffiti or hear in the most outrageous rap lyrics. Nowadays, instead of expecting to have their mouths washed out with soap, big boys and girls with naughty pre-adolescent urges intact spew profanity and racist and sexist remarks while waving a banner proclaiming their courage in the face of PC-ness. I’m not buying it. It’s true, of course, that people sometimes use words timidly. Sometimes, though, what the snide denigrate as timidity may be intentional goodwill (rather than exclusion) or reason (rather than insult) or plain, old-fashioned civility. I don’t think there can be an excess of civility in public discourse.
2. “ETHNIC CLEANSING”
I blame journalists for this one. What are they thinking? The phrase originated in countries run by monstrous dictators who didn’t want to call their deadly policies by the correct name! In the mildest forms, policies called EC constituted oppression; at worst, they are out-and-out genocide. When free men and women of goodwill and concern for the downtrodden buy into the metaphorical language of “cleansing,” they give up their ability to frame outrage in meaningful terms. If ethnic groups are being oppressed or harassed or denied justice or deprived of their very lives, let’s say so, straight out. Don’t help bullies reframe their bullying in cleaner terms.
3. “TOOK RESPONSIBILITY [FOR KILLING/ACT(S) OF TERRORISM]” )
Again, journalists! Think about the language you use! The statement behind statements of this kind is simply “We did it!” That’s the bottom line, and there are more ways than one to translate such a statement into news-talk. Why not frame it as an admission of guilt? Why not call it a confession? Why give murderers, of whatever political stripe, a phrase that glorifies their deeds? Whose side are you on, anyway, guys and gals?
Okay, there it is. One last thought: wishing peace only to men of goodwill isn’t asking for the world to change very much. So I say, Goodwill to all! Happy holidays!!!