In this day it’s amazing anyone can get through the day, let alone a conversation, without saying or doing something to offend someone. It doesn’t matter how innocent the context or how far back into ancient history we have to delve, but I guarantee you I cannot make it through the day without “stepping in it,” or so the saying goes. That saying is sure to offend someone too — “it” being poo — because bathroom humor just isn’t funny.
Except it is.
I recently heard of yet another innocuous term, now deemed taboo, within the halls of the City of Seattle, Washington. The term, “brown bag lunches” was nixed after the Public Information Officer (PIO) in the city’s Office of Civil Rights decided, “it used to be a way people could judge skin color.” Huh? What? The PIO, Elliott Bronstein, really had to dig deep and take a trip in the way-back machine to find any connection between the term and skin color. Apparently the term was used in the early 20th century — in New Orleans — to screen party attendees by their skin color. Nothing like creating controversy for no reason.
This shining example of governmental political correctness gone wild got me thinking of all the ways our ability to carry on simple conversations has deteriorated over the years. It’s pretty tough to have fun with words when you have to worry someone within earshot might know an archaic derogatory meaning of a seemingly harmless word, and is just waiting to seize on the unsuspecting sap who utters it. Remember, our words continue to evolve and take on different meanings all the time.
I dare you to write a 100 percent politically correct sentence these days: too many people seem hell-bent on finding ways to be offended. Instead of focusing on who said what, we simply punish everyone and forbid them from saying certain things. It’s easier that way — dumb it down so the offendee doesn’t have to quantify the problem of a particular offender.
Throughout my police career I could’ve chosen to be offended by words many times. Admittedly, I was sometimes offended by others’ words said directly to my face or about me to someone I knew. The words on their own were not offensive — the people using them were — and I had to learn to quit giving the creeps (and their words) power. I still occasionally let someone get the best of me with their words, but it’s still my choice to give them that power. The words have no power; only the people do.
Even talking on the air has gotten problematic. Every agency has their own variation of the phonetic alphabet, not only for spelling names and license plate numbers, but for identifying patrol units. We used a male-heavy phonetic alphabet, i.e. Charles, David, Edward, Frank, George, etc. A 2-officer primary unit was referred to as a “King” unit; an extra 2-officer unit was a “Queen” unit. Everything was hunky-dory-fine until it became politically incorrect to use that call sign. Like we really thought two male officers riding together meant they were gay? C’mon! In order not to offend anyone the proper word associated with “Q” became Quebec, which actually is pronounce “kehbeck.” If they were so worried about being offensive with a unit designator, then I’d suggest a female 1-officer primary unit be called “Jane” instead of “John.”
Why can’t we call prostitutes, whores or hookers on the air? Or transients, bums? Sometimes even calling them transients is a no-no; they’re homeless. And holy crap if you should call an illegal alien an illegal alien — they’re undocumented migrant workers. Really? They’re so well documented we can find several years worth of contacts in the blink of an eye — I’d say they’re very well-documented, undocumented migrant workers! But, alas, we keep tweaking words to prevent the perception of being offensive.
I ought to create a phone app where users only have to enter the word they aren’t sure is kosher to use/say, and as an added bonus the app will have a politically-auto-correct feature. Voila! Instantly know if and why your word is offensive, and the auto-correct feature will block out anything it deems offensive. Any text or email would look like a redacted FBI report — and make about as much sense as one, too.
What a huge database the app would have. It would make George Carlin roll over in his grave; his (original) list of Seven Dirty Words would pale in comparison. Better yet, maybe instead of Words With Friends, we could play Words Against Friends and people could do word battle and see how quickly they can offend each other — one word at a time.
Political correctness — taboo words, thoughts or actions — is a lot like gun control. The majority of society suffers through laws designed to protect the few who are unable to cope. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of walking on eggshells. What are some of the words or phrases you’re not allowed to utter? I’d love to know. I’m building a database for my new phone app. I’m telling you, it’d sell.
By Suzi Huntington