Prosecutors in Manhattan and the Bronx have recently liberated hundreds of justice-involved youths who faced potential legal consequences for their participation last year in mostly peaceful protests aimed at dismantling systems of oppression. If you don’t speak “woke” — the new name for the same old scourge of political correctness — all that piffle means the city let looters off the hook. Meanwhile, prosecutors are preparing to hold insurrectionists and traitors accountable for their attempted coup d’état at the Capitol on January 6 — or, in English, the feds are throwing the book at trespassers in horn helmets who made a mess of Nancy Pelosi’s desk and stole her lectern.
The power of political correctness lies not merely in what leftists insist we cannot say but also what they make us say instead. Polite societies use euphemisms. We refer to old women as “women of a certain age.” We mourn those who have “passed away” rather than those who died. In prior ages, ladies went to “powder their nose” and still use the “bathroom” or the “restroom” rather than the toilet. Those euphemisms soften harsh realities, but they don’t contradict them. The old woman is indeed a woman of a certain age. The poetical “passing away” describes the spiritual fact of death. Women may indeed powder their noses after they’ve done whatever else they would do in rooms that often include a bath and in which anyone might rest.
Political correctness goes further, not merely softening reality but inverting it — a process I describe in my new book Speechless. A “justice-involved youth” — formerly known as a juvenile delinquent — is not involved with justice but rather injustice, no matter how the woke wordsmiths want to spin him. Yet one can no longer call a spade a spade. One can hardly even utter the phrase “to call a spade a spade” without being accused of racism by the most excitable speech police. These linguistic enforcers punish perpetrators of political incorrectness through “cancel culture.” But they focus most of their efforts on making sure transgressions never take place at all.
Brandeis University’s “Prevention, Advocacy, & Resource Center” offers an extensive, if not exhaustive, “oppressive language list” to warn students, faculty, and staff of which words to avoid and how they ought to replace them. “PARC recognizes that language is a powerful tool that can be used to perpetuate oppression,” the center begins without the slightest hint of self-awareness. Brandeis sorts the taboo terms into five categories: “violent language,” “identity-based language,” “culturally appropriative language,” “person-first alternatives,” and “language that doesn’t say what we mean.”
The latter category is the most amusing because it ironically describes the entire project of political correctness. “Using euphemisms, vagueness, and inaccurate words can get in the way of meaningful dialogue,” the oblivious center warns before instructing readers to replace clear language with vague euphemisms. “Himself” and “herself” must become the illiterate “themself.” “Female-identifying” — itself a concession to woke ideology — now becomes simply “woman,” even if the female-identifying individual is a man. A “homeless person,” Brandeis informs us, should now be called a “person experiencing housing insecurity” — a phrase that doubles down on the denial of moral agency once acknowledged in tramps and bums.
No reasonable person objects to mercy for peaceful protesters or women in the ladies’ room. But descriptors be damned, the protesters in question aren’t peaceful, and the ladies aren’t women. The Left can censor speech with its institutional power in classrooms, boardrooms, media platforms, and the halls of government. More insidious still, leftists can redefine our very perception of reality by smuggling in whole premises through the subtle transformation of the words that make us say, encouraging cacophony while they steal our capacity for meaningful speech.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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