Eight words that reveal the sexism at the heart of the English language

Linguists call it collocation: the likelihood of two words occurring together. If I say “pop”, your mental rolodex will begin whirring away, coming up with candidates for what might follow. “Music”, “song” or “star”, are highly likely. “Sensation” or “diva” a little less so. “Snorkel” very unlikely indeed.

What do you think of when I say the word “rabid”? One option, according to the dictionary publisher Oxford Dictionaries, is “feminist”. The publisher has been criticised for a sexist bias in its illustrations of how certain words are used. “Nagging” is followed by “wife”. “Grating” and “shrill” appear in sentences describing women’s voices, not men’s.

One of the points of Oxford Dictionaries, part of Oxford University Press (OUP), is to show how words are used in the real world. And that is their response to allegations of sexism. “The example sentences we use are taken from a huge variety of different sources and do not represent the views or opinions of Oxford University Press,” they said in a statement.

In other words, it’s not the dictionary that’s sexist, it’s the English-speaking world. Why choose “feminist” over, say, “rightwinger”, “communist” or “fan”, though? As if not quite convinced by its own explanation, the OUP is now “reviewing the example sentence for ‘rabid’ to ensure that it reflects current usage”.

That can only be a good thing. But a word of warning: it might not deliver the answer you’d hope for. Perhaps “rabid” is collocated with “feminist” more often than with those other words (if the data the OUP uses includes online discussions, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case). Sexist assumptions find their way into speech and writing for the simple reason that society is still sexist.

Language, as the medium through which we conduct almost all relationships, public and private, bears the precise imprint of our cultural attitudes. The history of language, then, is like a fossil record of how those attitudes have evolved, or how stubbornly they have stayed the same.

When it comes to women, the message is a depressing one. The denigration of half of the population has embedded itself in the language in ways you may not even be aware of. Often this takes the form of “pejoration”: when the meaning of the word “gets worse” over time. Linguists have long observed that words referring to women undergo this process more often than those referring to men. Here are eight examples:


The female equivalent of “master”, and thus, “a woman having control or authority” – in particular one who employs servants or attendants. It came into English with this meaning from French after the Norman conquest. From the 17th century onwards, it was used to mean “a woman other than his wife with whom a man has a long-lasting sexual relationship”.


This once neutral term meant the female head of a household. Hussy is a contraction of 13th-century husewif – a word cognate with modern “housewife”. From the 17th century onwards, however, it began to mean “a disreputable woman of improper behaviour”. That’s now its only meaning.


The female equivalent of “sir”, a woman of high rank, is still used in formal contexts as a mode of address. From the late 18th century it was also used to mean “a conceited or precocious girl or young woman; a hussy, a minx”, alternatively, a kept mistress or prostitute, and finally, from the late 19th century, the female manager of a brothel.


From the 15th century onwards, “a woman who holds or exercises authority over a place, institution, or group of people”. Compare it with “governor”. Over time it drastically narrowed in scope and fell in status, coming to mean “a woman responsible for the care, supervision, or direction of a person, typically a child or young lady”.


This occupational term originally meant simply someone, usually a woman but possibly a man, who spun yarn or thread. Since a woman without a husband might have to rely on spinning as a source of income, the term became associated with unmarried women, eventually becoming the legal way to refer to one. The more loaded use of it to refer to “a woman still unmarried; esp. one beyond the usual age for marriage, an old maid” begins in the early 18th century.


One of the most dramatic shifts in meaning, from the female equivalent of “courtier” – someone who attends the court of a monarch – to a form of prostitute, which is now its only meaning.


A 13th-century word meaning a female infant or a young unmarried woman quickly acquired negative connotations: from the late 14th century, in Langlandand Chaucer it is used to mean “a wanton woman; a mistress”.


Collins dictionary says that this is a 19th-century contraction of “sweetheart”, a term of endearment, particularly to women. From 1887, however, it is attested as meaning “a female of immoral character; a prostitute”.

Thinking about the male equivalents of some of these words throws their sexism into sharp relief. Master for mistress; sir for madam; governor for governess; bachelor for spinster; courtier for courtesan – whereas the male list speaks of power and high status, the female list has a very different set of connotations. These are of either subordinate status or sexual service to men. The crucial thing to remember is that at one time, they were simply equivalents.

These eight words show how social conditions leave their mark on the language. The process of pejoration may take place below the level of consciousness, but in historical perspective, the direction of travel is obvious. Have the achievements of the feminist movement percolated down through the many layers of our language? The Oxford Dictionaries controversy suggests not. Can the words we use to describe women avoid the fate of hussy, mistress and courtesan? There’s hope, but only time will tell.



Young women, give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice

Patriarchy is inventive. The minute a generation of women has figured out how to not be enslaved by Ideology A, some new cultural pressure arises in the form of Internalisation B, making sure they don’t get too far too fast. The latest example: the most empowered generation of women ever – today’s twentysomethings in North America and Britain – is being hobbled in some important ways by something as basic as a new fashion in how they use their voices.

This demographic of women tends to have a distinctive speech pattern. Many commentators have noticed it, often with dismay. Time magazine devoted a column to the mannerism called vocal fry, noting a study that found that this speech pattern makes young women who use it sound less competent, less trustworthy, less educated and less hireable: “Think Britney Spears and the Kardashians.”

“Vocal fry” is that guttural growl at the back of the throat, as a Valley girl might sound if she had been shouting herself hoarse at a rave all night. The less charitable refer to it privately as painfully nasal, and to young women in conversation sounding like ducks quacking. “Vocal fry” has joined more traditional young-women voice mannerisms such as run-ons, breathiness and the dreaded question marks in sentences (known by linguists as uptalk) to undermine these women’s authority in newly distinctive ways. Slate notes that older men (ie those in power over young women) find it intensely annoying. One study by a “deeply annoyed” professor, found that young women use “uptalk” to seek to hold the floor. But does cordially hating these speech patterns automatically mean you are anti-feminist?

Many devoted professors, employers who wish to move young women up the ranks and business owners who just want to evaluate personnel on merit flinch over the speech patterns of today’s young women. “Because of their run-on sentences, I can’t tell in a meeting when these young women have said what they have to say,” confided one law partner.

Kim Kardashian.
 Kim Kardashian. 

“Their constant uptalk means I am constantly having to reassure them: ‘uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh’. It’s exhausting.”

I myself have inadvertently flinched when a young woman barraging a group with uptalk ran a technology-based conference call: “We’ll use Ruby on Rails? It is an MVC framework to support databases?” Well, will we?

One 29-year-old woman working in engineering told me it was easier for gatekeepers in her male-dominated field to disregard running-on, softspoken, vocally frying and uptalking women. “It is difficult for young women to be heard or even responded to in many male-dominated fields if they don’t strengthen their voices, That kind of disregarding response from men made me feel even softer and even lesser – in a vicious circle of silencing.” she said.

Style is content, as any writing teacher knows. Run-ons and “non-committal-ness” dilute many young women’s advocacy powers and thus their written authority. Many young women have learned not to go too far out on a limb with their voiced opinions; but the dilution of “voice” and the muddying of logic caused by run-on sentences in speech can undermine the power of their written thought processes and weaken their marshalling of evidence in an argument. At Oxford University young women consistently get 5% to 10% fewer first-class degrees in English – and the exams are graded blindly. The reasons? Even the most brilliant tend to avoid strong declarative sentences and to organise their arguments less forcefully. Elleke Boehmer, an Oxford English professor, says: “I often observe my female students’ silence and lack of confidence in class with concern. How anxious they are about coming forward to express an opinion, to risk a point of view, so often letting the male students speak first and second and even third. And in this way they lose out in the discussions that are going to help them hone their pitch, write winning essays, secure the out-and-out firsts that male students in Humanities subjects still are securing in far greater numbers, proportionately, than they are.”

Scarlett Johansson
 Scarlett Johansson at Cannes. 

The problem of young women’s voices is gaining new cultural visibility. Recent books and plays have dealt with the suppression of young women’s voices: Boehmer’s own recent novel The Shouting in the Dark narrates the inner life of a young woman in South Africa in the 1970s – and shows how abuse breaks such a voice. The hit play Nirbhaya, in which Indian actresses narrate stories of their own rapes, also shows how young women’s voices are stifled by cultural silencing, even today.

Voice remains political at work as well. A Catalyst study found that self-advocacy skills correlate to workplace status and pay more directly than merit. In other words, speaking well is better for your career than working hard.

But Amy Giddon, director of corporate leadership at Barnard College’s Athena centre for leadership studies in New York, found in original research that “there is a disconnect between women’s confidence in their skills and abilities – which is often high – and their confidence in their ability to navigate the system to achieve the recognition and advancement they feel they deserve. Self-advocacy is a big part of this, and identified by many women in the study as the biggest barrier to their advancement.” In other words, today’s women know they can do great things; what they doubt – reasonably enough – is that they can speak well about those great things.

When you ask young women themselves what these destructive speech patterns mean to them, you get gender-political insights. “I know I use run-on sentences,” a 21-year-old intern at a university told me. “I do it because I am afraid of being interrupted.” No one has ever taught her techniques to refuse that inevitable interruption. “I am aware that I fill my sentences with question marks,” said a twentysomething who works in a research firm. “We do it when we speak to older people or people we see as authorities. It is to placate them. We don’t do it so much when we are by ourselves.” Surely we older feminists have not completed our tasks if no one has taught this young woman that it was not her job to placate her elders.

Ally Tubis, a 29-year-old star in the male-dominated data analysis field, explained that at first sounding far younger than her years helped her to feel safe. But finally: “Admitting that I had a voice problem and then having the guts to practice strengthening it gave me confidence, as that process took a lot of courage.” Tubis took voice training, and her career soared.

“Why was it scarier to have a strong voice rather than a very breathy voice?” I asked her. “I would purposely do things in the past to detract from getting even positive attention,” Tubis explained. The breathier voice camouflaged her.

What is heartbreaking about the current trend for undermining female voice is that this is the most transformational generation of young women ever. They have absorbed a feminist analysis, and are skilled at seeing intersectionality – the workings of race, class and gender. Unlike previous generations, they aren’t starting from zero. They know that they did not ask to be raped, that they can Slutwalk and Take Back the Night, Kickstarter their business ventures and shoot their own indie films on their phones – and that they deserve equal pay and access.

Zooey Deschanel in Elf (2003)
 Zooey Deschanel in Elf (2003). 

Which points to the deeper dynamic at play. It is because these young women are so empowered that our culture assigned them a socially appropriate mannerism that is certain to tangle their steps and trivialise their important messages to the world. We should not ask young women to put on fake voices or to alter essential parts of themselves. But in my experience of teaching voice to women for two decades, when a young woman is encouraged to own her power and is given basic skills in claiming her own voice then huge, good changes follow. “When my voice became stronger, people took me more seriously,” says Ally Tubis. “When people feel from your voice that you are confident, they will believe that you are smarter, and that you are better at what you do – even when you are saying the exact same thing.”


Political Correctness – Theory

Political Correctness - TheoryLanguage and Reality: Who Made the World? – From Man Made Language – Dale Spender

Spender’s central contention: Our supposedly ‘objective’ reality is shaped by the categories which our language gives us to interpret it. The power holders in patriarchal societies have been able to embed sexist thinking into our language, which continues to influence the way we view the world.

  • ‘language is a powerful determinant of reality’,
  • ‘When there are a sexist language and sexist theories culturally available, the observation of reality is also likely to be sexist

‘the potential to create a world in which they [existing power holders] are the central figures, while those who are not of their group are peripheral’ (through language)

  • Male-as-norm, ‘nigger’, ’queer’

He/man language’

He/man becoming enshrined as the generic form ‘was neither insignificant or accidental’

  • Men have had the opportunity to consciously embed their ‘superiority’ into the language
  • C18th prescriptivist grammarian Kirkby argued for male as neutral – ‘more comprehensive’
  • ‘making his subjective meanings the decreed reality’
  • ‘the 1850 Act of Parliament which legally insisted that he stood for she
  • Engineered in exactly the same way that PC opponents rage against

‘today exerts a considerable influence over thought and reality by preserving the categories of male and minus male

‘literally a man-made product which serves to construct and reinforce the divisions between the dominant and muted groups

‘use of the [linguistic] symbol man is accompanied, not surprisingly, by an image of male’

  • ‘a pseudo-generic’
  • Allows us to eradicate women from our mental pictures of history
  • ‘the visibility and primacy of males is supported’
  • Studies (and jarring of sentences like ‘man as a mammal breastfeeds its young’) show that we think male, not neutral, when we hear ‘man’ – ‘the imagery which is operating’

‘For women to become visible, it is necessary that they become linguistically visible’

  • Continual use reinforces negative stereotype (male-as-norm, male supremacy)
  • Like ‘snowman’, ‘Oriental’


Language the Loaded Weapon by Dwight Bolinger (1980)

“the writer or speaker has to chose between perpetuating sexist language and making a mess of the grammar”

– ‘he or she’

– ‘they’

– ‘himer/hiser’ (suggested by feminist, Ella Flagg Young 1912)

An Act of Parliament in 1850 decreed that ‘he’ should be used for both sexes in all parliamentary language because men were the ones with all the power. Our language now reflects this male ‘superiority’ where the pronoun ‘he’ is  used when the sex of the subject is not known. It clearly shows that women are seen as on the sidelines  (the ‘deviant’ sex) because the mental picture we get when ‘he’, ‘him’ or ‘his’ is used is male unless it is -supposedly- likely that the individual referred to is female e.g. ‘the nurse put on his hat’.

“Linguistic asymmetry is everywhere”

– ‘doctor’ for male ‘lady doctor’ for female

– ‘actor/actress’

– ‘Mr’ for a male but women have two: ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’

The noncommittal ‘Mr’ implies that only men can be free agents in their sex lives. Language helps enact and transmit every type of inequality, and here women being treated as property is obvious as their title quickly reveals them  marriageable or not.

Not politically correct as it reinforced the idea women are ‘objects’ rather than ‘subjects’ – the ‘property’ rather than the ‘possessor’. Same goes for the distinction between ‘actor’ and ‘actress’, these sex-marked nouns are not necessary and provide nothing besides gender stereotypes.

“The gun of sex-biased language may be rusty, but it is there, and the greatest danger is unawareness that it is a gun, and is loaded”

– 320 terms in English for ‘sexually promiscuous woman’

There are no male terms to match the contempt embodied in the words ‘hag’, ‘crone’ and witch’ for an old woman. They have sexual connotations too: ‘old and unattractive’, ‘old and sexually useless’. Not particularly PC as it reinforces the idea women are just objects of attractiveness that become useless when they no longer have good looks.


Verbal Hygiene – Deborah Cameron

The meaning of political correctness must be inferred from context.

  • Does this imply that some words are okay to use in some situations but not others.
    • g “nigga” – Not politically correct in most situations yet appears in music. Is this okay?
  • The essay then goes on to mention that there is no one ‘standard’ definition of political correctness. It is very much judged by the individual.
    • Is this a problem? How can it be changed?

[Opponents of PC would argue] The elimination of gender distinctions such as the suffix –ess actually makes the language less accurate.

  • Hostess, stewardess – like French shows that a female is being spoken about.
  • Host, Steward – original form – Somehow better/more dominant?
  • Is this making our language ‘less efficient’ or more inclusive as a whole?

Whatever the ‘polite’ term is now, in a few years or decades will have acquired negative connotations that someone will feel compelled to propose a new one [word].

  • Handicapped – disabled – physically challenged
  • Language is constantly evolving and often very representative of the culture in which it is being used.
  • Does this mean that PC will always be an ‘issue’?



Dwight Bolinger – Language the Loaded Weapon (1980)

Chapter 10: Power and deception

“A damaging truth most people will naturally evade. Short of telling a literal lie, Western society generally permits this with a clear conscience.”

  • Leads to (excessive?) use of euphemism
  • Such euphemisms can encounter criticism as they are often, essentially, mistruths or falsehoods e.g. Kellyanne Conway’s coinage, “alternative facts”, is a euphemism for “lie”. This term is now the subject of much ridicule and is not very politically correct due to its implications of lying and deceit.

“Traditional authority … secures itself by ritualising what it approves and tabooing what it does not”

  • Bolinger speaks of the “privileged class” (conservatives/traditionalists) who are quick to place a taboo on ideas they consider to be threatening to their established social position, resulting in the coinage of derogatory terms like “snowflake” and “feminazi”.
  • Ironically, whilst such terms are intended to ridicule or deprecate the groups of society (millennials and feminists) who are supposed to be the most prone to taking offence, this in itself is offensive to traditionalists and the coinage of such terms is a reaction to this.

“Loaded words can influence memory as well as perception”

  • Language with heavy social implications can influence people’s attitudes in the long-term, not just their instant impressions.
  • For example, the perpetuated use of gendered expressions in everyday life such as the concrete nouns, “chairman”, “fireman” and “policeman”, can make woman in these professions feel undervalued and promote the idea that these are inherently male jobs.


Guy Deutscher’s “Crying Whorf” 


Man Up: This phrase isn’t seen as politically correct since it insinuates that there is something strong and stable about masculinity which everyone should strive for. Even if someone isn’t raised to believe that men are supposed to be strong, by using phrases like this throughout their lives they could subconsciously start to believe that men are inherently stronger than women, adopting a sexist view of the world. Russell claims that we “must be on our guard if our logic is not to lead to a false metaphysic,” such as the belief that masculinity and strength are correlated.


Snowman: Although it can be hard to see how words as innocent as “snowman” or “fireman” can be toxic, the incessant use of male pronouns in otherwise gender-neutral contexts can completely change someone’s worldview. Children are impressionable, and those who grow up believing that male pronouns and characteristics are default could end up believing that femininity is inferior which is a damaging idea for young girls in particular. This links to Whorf’s view that language “in itself is the shaper of ideas, the programme and guide for the individuals mental activity” because over time, this ‘male as norm’ belief can manifest itself into actual sexism.


African-American: Despite this being a commonly used adjective, it actually goes against all the rules of political correctness by not only suggesting that all black Americans are from Africa (when many, in fact, have no ties to the continent) but also by labelling them separately from white citizens, who are simply American. This treatment of black Americans as ‘others’ in the country can lead to the false narrative that they’re less deserving of their place in the country just because of their skin colour. Sapir calls this the “tyrannical hold that linguistic form has upon our orientation of the world,” because one simple adjective can lead to years of racial discrimination as seen in America today.

Some terms that raise Political Correctness issues


man upMan up” a slang expression used to mean you should toughen up, don’t be weak; effectively act like a ‘man.’  But as Vice puts it, ‘stoicism, courage, discipline, bravery, the ability to rise to the occasion and strength, are not the sole property of men.’ The expression is a cousin to “growing a pair,” which has a similar meaning, and the female derogatory expression “being a pussy” i.e. you’re being weak. Sexist language has been considered an example of subtle sexism (Swim et al., 2004) and is known to contribute to gender stereotyping (e.g. Maass and Arcuri, 1996.) But this language impacts women more negatively than men, as men are in the position of power.


Fireman” i.e. someone who puts out fires. However, the name suggests that its only men that have this job in the same way only men can be the “tax man” or “chairman.” It is not coincidence that these historically, and arguably still are, were jobs done by men, but these terms ‘belittle the feminist movement’ (Cameron 1995). Here “fireman” is the only one that appears to have moved into the 21st century with its general neutral equivalent “firefighter.” The generic use of masculine forms prevailing in many languages has far-reaching consequences in restricting the degree of female visibility (Ouellette and Wood 1998, Verplanken and Aarts 1999). This language disadvantages females as it means females may perceive a lack of fit between themselves and potential job prospect when masculine forms are used rather than gender inclusive terms.

Minority” although used to refer to ethnicities in a country that is in fewer numbers compared to the dominant ethnicity, this term makes people cringe. Its root is minor, which means unimportant, insignificant, inconsequential, and inferior. Referring to an ethnicity said way keeps social thinking that “minorities” are indeed ‘minor,’ which is not the case. Dale Spender says that ‘language is such an influential force in shaping our world it is obvious that those who have the power to make the symbols and their meanings are in a privileged and highly advantageous position’ when referring to our male-dominated language but the quote is also applicable to whites’ power in the past and the power that still exists today. It is a term in the same boat as “ethnic” if one is referring to people or “race” which as a biological category, a genetic typology or a scientific reality does not exist, yet both are still used to distinguish between people who look different. ‘Euphemism is everyman’s sin. Dysphemism is more selective’ (Dwight Bolinger 1980), these terms can de-humanise groups of people.


“Ethnic Cleansing” It implies that the victim of genocide is inherently “dirty.” Why is it O.K. to linguistically side with the perpetrator? 

Rule of Thumb” — Originates from the old English dictum that a husband could not beat his wife or children with any stick wider than his thumb. (Not seen as politically incorrect though?)

The term ‘actor’ for both males and females in the profession is preferable to the distinction which ‘actress’ makes, given that, as Merkel, Maass, and Frommelt observed (looking at Italian), feminised terms imply lower competence to listeners than gender-inclusive and masculine descriptions of occupations. The associations of ‘actor’, being a serious profession, and part of a grand tradition, contrasts the image of a sexualised Hollywood figure which ‘actress’ evokes, and use of this gender-exclusive language perpetuates this negative stereotype (argue Sczesny, Moser and Wood) that men are the best actors, or, similarly, for example, that only a man can be qualified enough to be a ‘chairman’. Crystal deems the movement towards gender-inclusive language, pushed by feminism, one of the most successful examples of prescriptivism, but where the push to ‘control’ language is a means by which to aid equal valuation of men and women, as opposed to being bent on preserving arbitrary distinctions and preferences, we can see a meaningful difference between political correctness and prescriptivism.

In the same way, inherent in ‘sportsmanship’ are the assumptions that a) that men are best qualified to participate in sport, and b) that the practice of being a gracious loser and a fair player is somehow more achievable as a man, or characteristic of men. Whorf lays the groundwork for linguistic relativism, and even determinism, which is later taken up by Spender when she terms language a ‘shaper of ideas’, even a ‘trap’, when he comments that ‘we dissect nature along the lines laid down by our native languages’; that these lines cause us to associate good qualities with men exclusively is problematic, and only builds on and entrenches the prejudices and misconceptions which shape sexist gender roles.

Finally, the politically-incorrect ‘queer’ has come largely to be replaced with the more respectful ‘LGBT person’ because its connotations of oddness and difference, as McConnell and Fazio notes, ‘convey[…] meaning about the persons involved’. The neologistic initialism not only is more neutral, but detaches the term of reference from historic intolerant attitudes towards the gay community. Cameron asks whether ‘we control language or does it control us?’ which raises the question of the potential influence of such language use upon our thinking about certain groups, and whether removing derogatory nouns like ‘queer’, or ‘retard’ for mentally-ill people (which implies a backward-ness and lower value) really can shape how we perceive and conduct ourselves towards the people which they refer to.

The pejorative term “Faggot” is used as a generic insult, mainly aimed at gay men which is in itself is viewed as politically incorrected as there is no similar term to insult straight men or women. This is a clearly indicates a minority group in society who are further distinguished through terms such as “coming out” which Cameron may claim highlights the “democracies made up of diverse populations subscribing to a variety of beliefs and customs to preserve a common culture.”  Which in turn also reinforces the belief that homosexuality is still, in the 21st century, separated from the traditional ‘expectations’.

Spender indicates that “We as humans have created the categories of male-as-norm and females as deviant.” through much of our language use, for example gendered language such as “man up”, “chairman” and “lady doctor”. All of which focus on male superiority and give the impression that women should strive to be like males who are clearly indicated to be in some way better than women, most notable “man up”, nobody is likely to tell a person to “woman up” never mind “person up” which in terms of Political Correctness would be the target statement.

Sexist language is often avoided as it is considered ‘politically incorrect’ however much sexist language is centred around women, with there being no male equivalent for “Whore, Bitch or Slag,” being just a few of the 200 derogatory terms used solely for women. If the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis of Linguistic Determination is to be believed then this language implies that women in the opinion of some who use such language are considered as less respectful of many. Pejorative language such as “Whore and Slag,” also have sexual connotations implying that women are more promiscuous than men further reinforcing the view that men should be ‘in control’ and women should be wives, just another attempt to restrict women.

political correct

Snowman – “representation of a human figure in compressed snow”

This term is politically incorrect due to its reference to snow figures as he. This, of which, subtly impacts the way we think, implying that all snow figures created are male. And so this generic masculinity form discourages gender neutrality and so leaves women at a disadvantage due to this type of language usage. In which, Sczesny, Moser and Wood (2014) states of how the root of such problem stems from the ideologies regarding women.  Therefore, suggesting that masculinity is the superior gender characteristic. This can also be seen with words like “airmen” or “policemen”.


Oriental “of, form, or characteristic of Asia, especially East Asia”

This term is considered offensive and so is politically incorrect by referring people, of a particular heritage, as something somewhat undesirable and are attached with further negative connotations. However, it liteally mean “orient, or of the East” This way of denoting people doesn’t necessarily degrade them. Within Dwight Bolinger (1980) Power and Deception theory, the concluded that “Euphemism is everyman’s sin. Dysphemism is more selective” Such words can “de-humanise” particular groups of people. His example, was referred to WW2 and how Hitler labelled Jews as “creatures” representing an image as them to vermin. Therefore, formed many opinions of Jews in the wrong way. In this case, all people from Asia, or Sian decent have been labelled as “Oriental” because of where they come from and who they are. Resulting, relatively similar, of negative opinions of this group of people.

Crazy – “mad, especially as manifested in wild or aggressive behaviour” 

Yet, I also mean “extremely enthusiastic”. Now, this term is used to stigmatise those who are mentally ill, just like how “nigger” stigmatises black people. This blatant type of language creates the opinion that some people are “insane” all because they have an illness. This term can be highly offensive, when in reference to this. Kate Burridge states that “Offensiveness is never an intrinsic quality of the word, but the way it is used.” This type of pejorative language can stigmatise groups of peoples, just like others terms such as “bitch” or “nigger” This creates a negative perception of this group of people such “contamination”  ranges on a scale and forms negative connotations.


A word which some may not consider to be politically correct is the qualitative adjective “manmade” which means produced or manufactured by people (as opposed to coming in to being naturally). This word is problematic as it generalises jobs in manufacturing as a male profession, potentially leading women in the field to feel undervalued compared to their male counterparts. “Manmade” is similar in its exclusionary nature to words such as the concrete nouns “fireman” and “policeman” which both imply that those professions are also inherently masculine. Such gendered terms can shape people’s attitudes negatively, reinforcing archaic gender roles. Sapir and Whorf’s hypothesising would support this evaluation, as Swim, Mallett and Stangor (2006) observed that their research “linked gender-exclusive language with sexist beliefs and attitudes”.


The use of “African-American” as either a noun or adjective to describe any and all black residents of the USA is not politically correct as it is a racist generalisation that all black Americans have an African identity, whereas most will have lived in the States their whole lives. Also, given the fact there is no equivalent term for white Americans (“European-American, for example) the term insinuates that to be American is to be white and so all black Americans are only half American. This is similar to the negative connotations of the adjective “half-cast”. Dwight Bolinger (1980) keenly emphasised how language has the power to influence people’s thoughts and attitudes, so going by this conclusion it would appear beneficial to replace the problematic term with another more neutral one. Sapir and Whorf’s hypothesising is also relevant here, as similarly to Bolinger they would argue that the perpetuated use of “African-American” would reinforce the negative attitudes already attached.


The noun “dyke” as a term for women attracted to other women would strike many as being utterly inappropriate to use in the 21st century. The term, although having been appropriated by the lesbian community, originated as an extremely derogatory term for the group and those on the outside would still seek to avoid using it unless they deliberately meant to cause offense. This example is similar in this way to others often deemed offensive by the LGBT community, such as “faggot” and “poof”. Opponents of political correctness would argue that these words should be able to be used by others if they can be used by the group themselves. But Deborah Cameron would point out, these opponents are only trying to avoid losing their “freedom to imagine that our linguistic choices are inconsequential” to political correctness.


Political Correctness getting madder…

Toby Young has defended his comments as ‘sophomoric’, as though that excuses comments he made when he was almost 50.

“Lauded in the rightwing press as a critic of “snowflake culture” and “no-platforming”, Young is the perfect fit for the board: a figure who has forged his career by deliberately seeking to inflame liberal sensibilities and taking great pleasure in offending as many people as possible while guffawing about political correctness.”




The comments on this article are worth reading to see the way this debate is going these days.