Wednesday, May 04, 2005

For PC and sexy talk

Max does the conservative thing where you criticize politically correct language reforms. Really, I think a lot of the terms he rejects are better than the ones he likes. Take, for instance, "Christian name" versus "given name." If I hadn't heard the terms before, I wouldn't say that anyone in my family ever had a "Christian name," but I'd know what a "given name" was. And then there's his preference for "cleaning lady" over "housecleaner." The specifically feminine connotations of "cleaning lady" are unnecessary. Unless she cleans in a particularly exciting fashion, her gender is irrelevant to the job. Does Max want the notion that cleaning is women's work to gain sanction from our most ready expressions? (If he thinks so, Liz had better do something about that.) Furthermore, I see no reason to prefer "man-made" to "synthetic".

Overall, I'm pretty happy with the trade society has made over the past few decades. I have no desire to use language that perpetuates unwholesome stereotypes. I do, however, like to talk about sex. My sense is that the norms for casual conversation have shifted so that it's more generally permitted to say fun raunchy things. (In particular, the permissions have expanded for women, and both my feminist side and my horny single guy side rejoice at that.) Despite all the occasional excesses of political correctness, we've got a better deal now.


Neil Sinhababu said...

Well, I don't know many people who clean houses for a living, so I don't know how this breaks down. Let's be good analytic philosophers here -- if the transworld set of people covered by the concept is mixed in gender, we'll say "housecleaners." If it's all female, "cleaning ladies." I think housecleaners works.

I wouldn't take offense if you said that about "Neil." If I hadn't heard the term, though, it would take me a while to figure out what you meant. This wouldn't happen with "given name."

It's perfectly fine for a dictionary to do this thing. People (especially foreign speakers coming here on business) need to know what connotations their words will have, and the dictionary is simply reporting which terms might annoy the people being referred to and which won't.

I actually thought you might like "synthetic" more than "man-made" -- "synthetic" actually sounds kind of, well, synthetic. Besides, I'm a good Celt, and I have no love of your Saxon tongue. Póg mo thóin, Sassenach! (joking)

Blue said...

Shrug, complaints "political correctness" is one of the things that has bugged me more about the right, and also bugs me when I see my friends on the left say similar complaints.

Saying that things are taboo to say or discuss because they are beyond the pale or have bad indirect consequences, is one of the ways culture defines itself. And it's one of the ways culture changes itself too. Discussing what is offensive, inaccurate, or boorish is not new to post-60's liberalism.

The best (but not only) contra-example would be that conservative influences make taboo in our society just as much. Neil discussed sex. Not to mention questioning patriotism/nationalism is out of the realm of reasonable discourse these days, even more so than Christianity.

I was always wry at Bill Maher's show "politically incorrect" because i disliked that type of attitude of "being oppressed by PC-ness" embodied in that. But then one day he did cross the line, saying "we can call the 9/11 terrorists lots of things, but not cowards" and he found himself insulted by the Administration, and lost his network show.

(For my own side, I am rather annoyed at how my non-heterosexual friends can't understand why most of America doesn't like to talk about sex the way they do.)

More specifically, a) Random wasn't saying don't use them, but what to say when you want to be offensive and b) you're "sense" of the gender ratios in various professions is far far from convincing.

Anyway, any thorough linguistic understanding of culture makes someone who complained about PC-ness look like a partisan hack.