It was 1959, and I was a young boy living in Brooklyn. I had an Aunt Jean who played outdoor handball every Sunday morning with all these macho guys — whom she regularly beat the pants off.
When the games were over, she’d take off her sweaty gloves and become the stunning, nurturing mother her children waited to embrace. Aunt Jean was known affectionately as the “girl” handball player. And she relished that title.
Aunt Jean had no time for language modification. She was too busy proving her point.
Speaking of language modification, I’m here to tell you I’ve got some issues with it.
My first issue is with the word “issue.” When did it become synonymous with the word “problem?” If an airline loses my baggage, it may be an issue for the airline — but it’s a real problem for me.
Baggage? That’s another word. It used to be that baggage was something you carried with you on a trip. Now it’s something you carry into a relationship to be analyzed and dissected over and over while quaffing espresso.
Espresso? Whatever happened to just coffee? You remember coffee, don’t you? Good to the last drop? Nowadays it’s latte or mochaccino. Or, if you’re really hip, a tall, double Belgium rain forest, almond espresso sprinkled with Madagascar cinnamon. Sheeesh!
Imagine someone walking into a fancy pants coffee bar and saying, “A large coffee with cream, please.” The barista — don’t get me started on that word — can only be thinking, “He’s a real loser.”
Actually, to be politically correct, I should’ve just written, “He or she is a real loser.” New grammar. The English pronoun is now an equal opportunity employer.
No problem. I can adjust my writing habits. It’s my speech habits I’m having trouble with. You see, I spent the first half of my life learning to talk one way, only to have the goal posts moved in the second half.
One false move, and I’m in the politically incorrect doghouse. Or is it now the “canine house”? Or the “feline-challenged house”?
Growing up in the Father Knows Best ’50s, my only linguistic challenge was to avoid swearing in front of my parents, teachers, cops or a girl I was trying to impress. Uh-oh. Did I just use the “G” word instead of woman? Busted!
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “This guy’s a white, middle-class American male. What does he know about persecution?”
Are you kidding? I’m Jewish. We invented persecution. Five thousand years of it. Things might have turned out differently if only the Egyptian Pharaohs had embraced politically correct language instead of those golden idols.
“I agree, Moses. The Egyptians have a few human rights issues. But what about your people? Have the Hebrews ever looked at their own issues of enabling and codependency? I know a good counselor.”
Let’s face it. Politically correct language can also have its downsides.
Remember that great Temptations’ song, “My Girl”? I can only assume that if it were written today, the title would need to be changed to — what else — My Person. It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, now, does it?
And what about all those job title changes? Mailmen are now postal workers. Policemen are now law enforcement officials. Stewardesses are now flight attendants. Are nurses still nurses?
And who decided that hurricanes needed to alternate between female and male names? If you’re thinking about evacuating your beachfront home, which name is grabbing your attention? Bob or Bertha? Mitch or Desdemona? Skippy or Elvira? Exactly my point.
Oh, and can we dial back the word “challenged”? As in, Democrats are Republican-challenged. Vegetarians are steak-challenged. Confirmed bachelors are commitment-challenged. Junk food junkies are nutritionally challenged.
Writing this piece is challenging enough.
So, what’s the legacy of all this politically correct lingo? Hopefully a more equitable and compassionate world. But, in the end, there’s no assurance that behavior modification will automatically follow on the heels of language modification.
The real change has to come from the heart. And the heart is a language-free zone.
There — was that PC enough to get the chicks?
Eddie Adelman is a writer who lives in Belfast.