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Political Correctness in the Media and Societal Vernacular

Still reeling from the Charlie Hebdo massacres in Paris, the debate about what specific terms to use in reference to different races, cultures, and more recently, religions, has been rekindled.


For centuries, we have removed and amended words in our cultural vernacular due to offense, blaspheme or simple ridiculousness. The current discussion that can be found on any major news network concerns the term ‘Islamist’. With respect to both sides of the argument, the term itself has gained a negative connotation due to the high tensions and numerous military actions taken on by a great majority of Western powers.

Though the proper term for one who practices the religion of Islam is ‘Muslim,’ ‘Islamist’ functions as an adjective that in its linguistic nature refers to one who also practices the religion of Islam. Thus, this is the debate. Should we keep a term in our regular speech due to linguistic virtue, or should we rid ourselves of it due to its dangerous reputation (which, it must be noted, was encouraged and arguably almost created by western powers in our long entanglement in the middle east)?  

This discussion causes me to consider the long list of terms we have banned from our vernacular, deeming them unfit for proper or public conversations.


Therefore I must pose the question: why do we ban certain words from our language? A great deal of ‘curse words’ have either been used in the Bible or other classical literature, some examples being the reference of an ass to a donkey, or a b*tch to a female dog. One of the words considered most offensive in our society today is ‘f*ck’. The origins of the word, however, have existed since the fifteenth century and were spelled in several different manners by use of code for the true word. Furthermore, the true etymology of the word originally referred simply to the act of procreation, with the same meaning still existing today. The conversion from a simple word to vulgar speech is still unclear to etymologists today.

One theory suggests that during the middle ages and proceeding into the following centuries, English speaking countries spoke French, Italian and other Latin-based languages in order to place themselves above their society’s commoners. The lower classes, however, were unable to learn a second language and so were reduced to speaking the harsh Germanic-based language of English.

If one were to pay close attention to the great majority of ‘curse’ words in use today, they are harsh-sounding with the integration of hard consonants, and are usually short and four-lettered. Thus historians have theorized it is possible that the stigma against ‘cursing’ developed due to the vernacular of the commoners of many years ago.

In a world that currently places political correctness above all other forms of expression, it would be helpful if instead of simply banning words that are deemed ‘offensive,’ we looked instead at the history and the meanings behind these words we are erasing from our tongues. Meaning is everything, while vernacular is only superficial.

Hi! I'm Emily king! I'm a Junior at CNU and I'm an English major, but I enjoy writing more than reading. I write songs, play a couple instruments, paint, draw, do graphic design, write poetry and anything else thats creative i guess. I am also a founding member of Delta Gamma, CNU's newest sorority. I was born and raised in the Hampton Roads area but my roots go all over the place, from Europe to Boston to California.
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