Word wise

penny mulveyBy PENNY MULVEY

Political correctness is defined by Wikipedia as follows:  “commonly abbreviated to PC, is a term which, in modern usage, is used to describe language, policies, or measures which are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society. In the media, the term is generally used as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive.”

The furore which erupted over offensive ‘banter’ between well-known football identities on a Melbourne radio station last month reinforced how careless we have become as a society in our use of words.

Comedians can be confronting in their ability to reflect society’s failings back onto itself, but they too can cross the line when they home in on the vulnerable and the voiceless, who cannot defend themselves against such verbal barbs.

Each of us is responsible for the words that come out of our mouths. However, we are all sponges of the culture that surrounds us. We casually use words and phrases without thinking about the impact of those words, and the hidden trauma they might be inflicting.

An ABC journalist in a story on past political manoeuvrings spoke about ‘knifing Kevin Rudd’. Does such a turn of phrase bring back painful memories for people who have literally experienced a knife attack or lost relatives and friends in such a manner? It certainly reinforces a violent society.

Putting aside the total inappropriateness of joking about drowning a female sports reporter in an icy pool as part of a fund-raiser, what trauma is inflicted on those listening who have a personal experience with drowning?

Is it political correctness ‘gone mad’ to be conscious of offense or trauma that we might cause because of our words?

I am grateful for people who have the courage to point out the distress my use of words might have. For example, ‘committed suicide’ implies a criminal act. More appropriate language is ‘died by suicide’ or ‘ended their own life’.

Being loose with gender descriptors for people within the LGBTI community can be incredibly hurtful.

Words are used as a weapon to cause hurt, as is evidenced by the deeply offensive and aggressive language often used in social media forums.  Words are used to give power and make others powerless.

“It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that.” (James 3:6, The Message)

Perhaps instead of being PC, we could strive to be WW (word wise).

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