A Rose by any other Name...
Shakespeare and "Political Correctness"
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What's in a name? That which we call a roseBut did the Bard get it all wrong? Was he really just unwittingly consolidating an ideology, expressing the domination of DWEM's (Dead, White, European Males) over language and culture?
By any other name would smell as sweet.
By any other name would smell as sweet.
In the name of "political correctness", some have said so – and in doing so, have provoked the anger of others who do not share their views. In recent years, particularly in the USA, the spread of political correctness has been denounced as an attack on free speech.
The idea behind "P.C." is that some words offend people, and should be avoided. While avoiding offensive vocabulary is, in itself, is an excellent principle, the excesses it has led to, notably on university campuses, have been counterproductive, bringing the whole idea into derision. A lot of people – not just political conservatives – fear that political correctness on campuses, in the media, and in intellectual circles is a serious threat to freedom of thought.
Opponents of P.C. claim that it defies the First Amendment to the American Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech and ideas. For example, a leading California newspaper was rebuked for restricting free speech, when it circulated a list of "unacceptable" vocabulary to journalists. In an absurd case in New York, a famous English brass band was asked to change its name before playing in a concert. Concert organisers said that the name Blackdykes Brass Band could offend, because in American slang "black dykes" could mean "Afro-American lesbians". Blackdykes in this case is really the name of a mining village in the North of England, where the band comes from. Black refers to the coal-coloured earth, and dyke is an old English word meaning ditch or barrier, like dijk in Dutch or digue in French ! One wonders what would happen if an American museum advertised an exhibition of paintings by the great Anglo Flemish artist Van Dyke, whose works hang in the world's top art galleries, including New York, Chicago and the National Gallery in Washington ! Now a van is a van, and a dyke is a ..... ?
Originally, a "P.C." speaker was just someone who avoided using offensive, discriminating or sexist language; words like chairman were replaced by neutral terms like chair or chairperson, words which are now well accepted in the English language. But when ordinary words such as deaf were outlawed (aurally challeged was invented as a euphemism), many people agreed that things had gone too far! Though "deaf" and "dumb" can be used as abuse when refering to someone who can hear and speak normally... (Well Homer Simpson is called the dumbest man on the planet, but he can speak, sort of) they have no insulting overtones when refering to a person who cannot do so; calling someone aurally challenged in no way reduces his handicap; on the contrary, as a longer expression than deaf, it draws attention to the disability and may sound deliberately facetious.
Political correctness is not just an American phenomenon; there was a case where (according to some newspapers) a headteacher in London caused a scandal by refusing to take her pupils to see Romeo and Juliet, because, she claimed, it was too openly heterosexual, (and thus discriminated against homosexuals and lesbians). Maybe she also disagreed with the line about the rose......
And talking of Shakespeare again .... 200 years ago a famous Englishman called Thomas Bowdler rewrote Shakespeare's works, changing all the vocabulary which he considered could not "with propriety be read aloud in a family". No offensive words, no embracing, no debauchery. Bowdler gave his name to a new word in the English language: to bowdlerize.
No-one today (and least of all a progressive intellectual) would dream of recommending the bowdlerized version of Shakespeare; yet in his way, Bowdler was only being politically correct, by the standards of his time.
► More on Shakespeare : Shakespeare 400 years on
Bard: poet - unwittingly: without realising it - be counterproductive: produce a result which is the opposite of the result desired - derision: ridicule - defy: go against - brass band: musical ensemble with trumpets, trombones etc. - euphemism: an inoffensive alternative - facetious: mocking, satirical - overtone: meanings - propriety: modesty -
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A rose by any other name..
For teachers:Discussion: what do your students think of "political correctness". What does the writer think of it? What points in the article allow us to gauge the writer's viewpoint?
Take the word correctness. The root word is correct. Have students pick out all the other nouns in this text that are derived from adjectives or verbs; there are plenty! What other words belong to each "family" of words? Derived nouns in the text include:
meaning / wisdom / expression / superiority / anger / attack / excess / derision / conservative / freedom / thought / amendment / constitution / organiser / expression / disability / propriety / embracing / debauchery /
Other language points:
What's in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.
Note the expression that which, which in modern English would normally be replaced by what, as in What we call a rose.....
Unwittingly : an interesting word, as it is one of the rare surviving words in Modern English that is derived from the old English verb witan, meaning to know (like the German verb wissen). We find it also in the nouns a halfwit or a dimwit... but these are not very PC. The adjective witty is also related, but the meaning has changed.
Aurally challenged : note the spelling of aurally, which means pertaining to the ear. It is not a synonym of orally, meaning from the mouth. The expression Oral comprehension, commonly used in language classes, is a misnomer, as it is really a student's ability to understand by hearing that is being referred to. Strictly speaking, "oral" comprehension would be an ability to lip read ! We use the expression as if it meant understanding the production of someone else's mouth.