"It's political correctness gone mad, I tells yer." So says Hull City Councillor, Carl Minns (well, sort of...) in an article in The Independent last week (and covered in a freely available form on the BBC website). So what's the cause of such consternation? Is it an insistence on calling manhole covers "sewage access conduits", referring to baby girls as "strong, independent pre-wymym" or giving Yorkshire folk the right to vote?
No, it's that old chestnut about what we should call birds...I mean ladies...no women...sorry wymyn. In an email to Hull City Council employees, a list of unacceptable words has been circulated, which includes such terms of endearment as "pet" (as in "Now then, pet, how's life?") and "love" (as in "Ay oop, love") as well as those terms already widely-recognised as being offensive.
But this email itself has caused offence and much spluttering into teacups, which highlights the sensitive nature of these centrally imposed outbreaks of political correctness - or linguistic engineering as some have called it - and the ways people feel about the policing of their language use. So what's wrong with "ladies" and why do some see it as old-fashioned, patronising or just plain offensive? Well, have a look at books like Deborah Cameron's Feminist Critique of Language, Dale Spender's Man Made Language, or Mary M Talbot's Language and Gender for some clues. Many feminist linguists would argue that ceratin terms are so historically loaded with negative connotations and assumptions about male superiority that they should be banished from the language; others argue that terms like "dear", "love" and "pet" aren't necessarily offensive in themselves, but that their use often signals an assumption of intimacy on the part of the addresser that can threaten women.
ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA6 - Language Debates
Ta to Chas for the link to this