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check out chickHow are you?’ The checkout chick was efficiently processing my many purchases. The lengthening queue behind me was growing restless, but still she had time to show concern about my wellbeing. The butcher and the electronics salesman had already asked me, how I was, but I sensed their enquiries weren’t sincere. This motherly lady’s interest in my personal problems so touched me that I was tempted to tell her how my beloved parakeet had escaped its cage this morning and that my niece was marrying a loser who had been mooching off her for the past six months.  The man standing behind me sensed something was up and aimed some snarky remarks in my direction. I had to content myself with the traditional standby response of ‘fine thanks.’

It’s probably politically incorrect these days to say chick and definitely not appropriate in this case. This particular chick was sixty if she was a day. The term rolls naturally off my tongue, I find it hard to break old habits.  Maybe if I could think of a satisfactory replacement term. Check-out lady or person doesn’t have the same ring to it. And even though the electronics salesman was a man, I shouldn’t have called him salesman. Salesperson is the preferred gender neutral term.   

Political correctness is a minefield, don’t you think? Especially as the terms of reference are not only changing daily but also inconsistent. You say chairperson for a man but I’ve noticed some women prefer to be addressed as chairwoman. I’m not sure if it’s heroine for one or hero for both, but I’m hearing actor for both sexes. You can’t say guys any more. It used to be a generic term to address mixed groups. The best suggestions I found online were, ‘folks’, ‘people’ , ‘can I get everyone’s attention’ and ‘humans’. (Really. I think that person got it out of the Merriam Webster dictionary). My favourite, though, is Captain Picard’s announcement that he and his crew are heading to places ‘where no one has gone before.’ It surely predicts that future language will shift from gender neutral to gender nullius.  Perhaps that’s the answer to life, the universe and gender war.

I think the best way to keep up with the constant changes is to produce a 21st Century online manual that has the capacity to roll with the many and varied changes still to come. It’s obvious that we can no longer keep up with the changes. Perhaps  we can direct our electronically savvy children at it.

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14 thoughts on “Political Correctness is a Minefield.

  1. political correctness sound like a Bolshevik idea to me… not something I would want to follow. Our speech should reflect our feelings, and if we know we’re prejudiced about something or other, it’s in our own interest to examine those issue. But that doesn’t mean we have to wear a mask in order not to offend anyone. Honest straight forward speech will help us find those people with which we have an affinity, and help them find us. And we don’t have to be friends with everyone.

    • Not sure what things are like in Israel, Shimon, but we are so entrenched here that you would not have a choice if you lived in the West. It’s been going so long that we have gone beyond wearing a mask. Many of us have come to believe in everything politically correct.

  2. I remember when I was a waitress during my college days, I checked on a table of two men and two ladies, about my age, or slightly older, and said, “How are you guys doing?” One of the men was offended! “We’re not all guys,” he said, referring to the fact two females were in the group.

    I felt awful, but I meant no disrespect. In my experience, ‘guys’ is a friendly term that can be used for both males and females when in a group. This was about 20 years ago, so I can’t imagine how the use of ‘guys’ has evolved! Regardless, that was a life lesson for me in regard to slang words and political correctness. Not everyone is on the same page.

    • H Kate, I was inspired to write this piece when I heard a woman complaining on talkback radio about how offensive she found the term. I’m surprised it’s still an issue. 🙂 Thanks so much for dropping in.

  3. It may not be only the language that gets nulliused in the future Mary. Probably men and women will go the same way. I hope you like the word nulliused. I had to look nullius up in the dictionary.

    • I love the word nulliused, Bruce. I’ve only ever heard the term terra nullius. I thought I’d dust it off and give it an airing. You might want to send your word off to an online dictionary.

  4. Word continually tries to correct my political incorrectness – waitress to server, salesman to sales clerk, stewardess to flight attendant, etc. It all depends on my level of stubbornness at the moment as to whether or not I make the change. These are legitimate words in our English language, and I kind of like the old-school style of it all. I get tired of political correctness.

    However, I do think you are right, and we will be pushed more and more to non-gender words.

    • Maddie, I’ve just been reading a recipe on someone’s blog. It refers to the creator of this recipe as a farm woman. That’s definitely one I’ve not come across before.

      • I’ve known a few farm women in my day – my grandmother’s included. There’s a food show here that’s titled The Pioneer Woman. I suppose it’s better when you label yourself.

      • I guess I was just in the zone when I saw that recipe, Maddie. Wish I could be at the Pioneer Women food show. I love reading about how women canned and preserved everything. We’re so used to eating food out of season these days, we’ve stopped appreciating the hard work involved in keeping families fed all year round.

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