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The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated to PC or P.C.) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society.[1][2][3][4][5] Since the late 1980s, the term has come to refer to avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as "excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered "disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race. In public discourse and the media, it is generally used as a "pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive.[6][3][7][8][9][10][11]

The contemporary usage of the term emerged from "conservative criticism of the "New Left in the late Twentieth Century. The phrase was widely used in the debate about "Allan Bloom's 1987 book "The Closing of the American Mind,[7][9][12][13] and gained further currency in response to "Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals (1990),[7][9][14][15] and conservative author "Dinesh D'Souza's 1991 book Illiberal Education, in which he condemned what he saw as liberal efforts to advance "self-victimization and "multiculturalism through language, "affirmative action, and changes to the content of school and university curricula.[7][8][14][16] The term was also the subject of articles in "The New York Times and other media throughout the 1990s.[17][18][19][20][21][22]

Commentators on the left contend that "conservatives use the concept of political correctness to downplay and divert attention from substantively discriminatory behavior against disadvantaged groups. [14][23][24] They also argue that the right enforces its own forms of political correctness to suppress criticism of its favored constituencies and ideologies.[25][26][27] The term has played a major role in the United States "culture war between "liberals and conservatives.[28]



The term "politically correct" was used infrequently until the latter part of the 20th century. This earlier use did not communicate the social disapproval usually implied in more recent usage. In 1793, the term "politically correct" appeared in a "U.S. Supreme Court judgment of a political lawsuit.[29] The term also had use in other "English-speaking countries in the 1800s.[30] "William Safire states that the first recorded use of the term in the typical modern sense is by "Toni Cade Bambara in the 1970 "anthology The Black Woman.[31]["clarification needed] The term probably entered use in the United Kingdom around 1975.[11]["clarification needed]

Early-to-mid 20th century[edit]

In the early-to-mid 20th century, the phrase "politically correct" was used to describe strict adherence to a range of ideological orthodoxies. In 1934, the "New York Times reported that Nazi Germany was granting reporting permits "only to pure ‘Aryans’ whose opinions are politically correct."[2]

As "Marxist-Leninist movements gained political power, the phrase came to be associated with accusations of "dogmatic application of doctrine, in debates between American "Communists and American "Socialists. This usage referred to the Communist "party line which, in the eyes of the Socialists, provided "correct" positions on all political matters. According to American educator "Herbert Kohl, writing about debates in New York in the late 1940s and early 1950s,

The term "politically correct" was used disparagingly, to refer to someone whose loyalty to the CP line overrode compassion, and led to bad politics. It was used by Socialists against Communists, and was meant to separate out Socialists who believed in egalitarian moral ideas from dogmatic Communists who would advocate and defend party positions regardless of their moral substance.

— "Uncommon Differences", The Lion and the Unicorn Journal[3]


In the 1970s, the American "New Left began using the term "politically correct".[32] In the essay The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970), "Toni Cade Bambara said that "a man cannot be politically correct and a "[male] chauvinist, too." Thereafter, the term was often used as self-critical "satire. Debra L. Shultz said that "throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the New Left, "feminists, and "progressives... used their term 'politically correct' ironically, as a guard against their own orthodoxy in social change efforts."[7][32][33] PC is used in the comic book Merton of the Movement, by "Bobby London, which was followed by the term ideologically sound, in the comic strips of "Bart Dickon.[32][34] In her essay "Toward a feminist Revolution" (1992) "Ellen Willis said: "In the early eighties, when feminists used the term 'political correctness', it was used to refer sarcastically to the "anti-pornography movement's efforts to define a 'feminist sexuality'."[35]

"Stuart Hall suggests one way in which the original use of the term may have developed into the modern one:

According to one version, political correctness actually began as an in-joke on the left: radical students on American campuses acting out an ironic replay of the Bad Old Days BS (Before the Sixties) when every revolutionary groupuscule had a party line about everything. They would address some glaring examples of sexist or racist behaviour by their fellow students in imitation of the tone of voice of the Red Guards or Cultural Revolution Commissar: "Not very 'politically correct', Comrade!"[36]

1980s and 1990s[edit]

Critics have pointed to "Allan Bloom's 1987 book "The Closing of the American Mind[12] as the likely beginning of the modern debate – about what was soon named "political correctness" – in American higher education.[7][9][13][37] Professor of English literary and cultural studies at "CMU Jeffrey J. Williams wrote that the "assault on...political correctness that simmered through the Reagan years, gained bestsellerdom with Bloom's Closing of the American Mind." [38] According to Z.F. Gamson, Bloom's book "attacked the faculty for 'political correctness'."[39] Prof. of Social Work at "CSU Tony Platt says the "campaign against 'political correctness'" was launched by Bloom's book in 1987.[40]

An October 1990 "New York Times article by "Richard Bernstein is credited with popularizing the term.[19][21][22][41][42] At this time, the term was mainly being used within academia: "Across the country the term p.c., as it is commonly abbreviated, is being heard more and more in debates over what should be taught at the universities".[17] "Nexis citations in "arcnews/curnews" reveal only seventy total citations in articles to "political correctness" for 1990; but one year later, Nexis records 1532 citations, with a steady increase to more than 7000 citations by 1994.[41][43] In May 1991, The New York Times had a follow-up article, according to which the term was increasingly being used in a wider public arena:

What has come to be called "political correctness," a term that began to gain currency at the start of the academic year last fall, has spread in recent months and has become the focus of an angry national debate, mainly on campuses, but also in the larger arenas of American life.

— "Political Correctness: New Bias Test?" – Robert D. McFadden[18]

The previously obscure far-left term became common currency in the lexicon of the conservative social and political challenges against "progressive teaching methods and curriculum changes in the secondary schools and universities of the U.S.[8][44] Policies, behavior, and speech codes that the speaker or the writer regarded as being the imposition of a liberal orthodoxy, were described and criticized as "politically correct".[14] In May 1991, at a commencement ceremony for a graduating class of the University of Michigan, then U.S. President "George H.W. Bush used the term in his speech: "The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones. It declares certain topics off-limits, certain expression off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits."[45]

After 1991, its use as a pejorative phrase became widespread amongst conservatives in the US.[8] It became a key term encapsulating conservative concerns about the left in culture and political debate more broadly, as well as in academia. Two articles on the topic in late 1990 in "Forbes and "Newsweek both used the term ""thought police" in their headlines, exemplifying the tone of the new usage, but it was Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (1991) which "captured the press's imagination."[8] Similar critical terminology was used by D'Souza for a range of policies in academia around victimization, supporting multiculturalism through affirmative action, sanctions against anti-minority "hate speech, and revising curricula (sometimes referred to as "canon busting").[8][46]["not in citation given] These trends were at least in part a response to multiculturalism and the rise of "identity politics, with movements such as feminism, gay rights movements and ethnic minority movements. That response received funding from conservative foundations and think tanks such as the "John M. Olin Foundation, which funded several books such as D'Souza's.[7][14]

"Herbert Kohl, in 1992, commented that a number of "neoconservatives who promoted the use of the term "politically correct" in the early 1990s were former "Communist Party members, and, as a result, familiar with the "Marxist use of the phrase. He argued that in doing so, they intended "to insinuate that egalitarian democratic ideas are actually authoritarian, orthodox and Communist-influenced, when they oppose the right of people to be racist, sexist, and homophobic."[3]

During the 1990s, conservative and "right-wing politicians, think-tanks, and speakers adopted the phrase as a pejorative descriptor of their ideological enemies – especially in the context of the "Culture Wars about "language and the content of public-school curricula. "Roger Kimball, in Tenured Radicals, endorsed "Frederick Crews's view that PC is best described as "Left Eclecticism", a term defined by Kimball as "any of a wide variety of anti-establishment modes of thought from structuralism and poststructuralism, deconstruction, and Lacanian analyst to feminist, homosexual, black, and other patently political forms of criticism."[15][38] "Jan Narveson wrote that "that phrase was born to live between scare-quotes: it suggests that the operative considerations in the area so called are merely political, steamrolling the genuine reasons of principle for which we ought to be acting..."[6]

In the "American Speech journal article "Cultural Sensitivity and Political Correctness: The Linguistic Problem of Naming" (1996), Edna Andrews said that the usage of culturally inclusive and gender-neutral language is based upon the concept that "language represents thought, and may even control thought".[47] Andrews' proposition is conceptually derived from the "Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis, which proposes that the grammatical categories of a language shape the ideas, thoughts, and actions of the speaker. Moreover, Andrews said that politically moderate conceptions of the language–thought relationship suffice to support the "reasonable deduction ... [of] cultural change via linguistic change" reported in the Sex Roles journal article "Development and Validation of an Instrument to Measure Attitudes Toward Sexist/Nonsexist Language" (2000), by Janet B. Parks and Mary Ann Robinson.["citation needed]

"Liberal commentators have argued that the conservatives and reactionaries who used the term did so in effort to divert political discussion away from the substantive matters of resolving societal discrimination – such as "racial, "social class, "gender, and legal inequality – against people whom conservatives do not consider part of the social mainstream.[7][23][48] Commenting in 2001, one such British journalist,[49][50] "Polly Toynbee, said "the phrase is an empty, right-wing smear, designed only to elevate its user", and, in 2010, "the phrase 'political correctness' was born as a coded cover for all who still want to say "Paki, "spastic, or "queer".[51] Another British journalist, "Will Hutton,[52] wrote in 2001:

Political correctness is one of the brilliant tools that the American Right developed in the mid–1980s, as part of its demolition of American liberalism.... What the sharpest thinkers on the American Right saw quickly was that by declaring war on the cultural manifestations of liberalism – by levelling the charge of "political correctness" against its exponents – they could discredit the whole political project.

— "Words Really are Important, Mr Blunkett"  —Will Hutton, 2001

"Glenn Loury described the situation in 1994 as such:

To address the subject of "political correctness," when power and authority within the academic community is being contested by parties on either side of that issue, is to invite scrutiny of one's arguments by would-be "friends" and "enemies." Combatants from the left and the right will try to assess whether a writer is "for them" or "against them."

— "Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of "Political Correctness" and Related Phenomena"[53]

Modern usage[edit]


In the US, the term has been widely used in the intellectual media, but in Britain, usage has been confined mainly to the popular press.[54] Many such authors and popular-media figures, particularly on the right, have used the term to criticize what they see as bias in the media.[6][14] William McGowan argues that journalists get stories wrong or ignore stories worthy of coverage, because of what McGowan perceives to be their liberal ideologies and their fear of offending minority groups.[55] Robert Novak, in his essay "Political Correctness Has No Place in the Newsroom", used the term to blame newspapers for adopting language use policies that he thinks tend to excessively avoid the appearance of bias. He argued that political correctness in language not only destroys meaning but also demeans the people who are meant to be protected.[56] Authors David Sloan and Emily Hoff claim that in the US, journalists shrug off concerns about political correctness in the newsroom, equating the political correctness criticisms with the old "liberal media bias" label.[57]

Jessica Pinta and Joy Yakubu caution against political incorrectness in media and other uses, writing in the Journal of Educational and Social Research: "...linguistic constructs influence our way of thinking negatively, peaceful coexistence is threatened and social stability is jeopardized." What may result, they add as example "the effect of political incorrect use of language" in some historical occurrences:

Conflicts were recorded in Northern Nigeria as a result of insensitive use of language. In Kaduna for instance violence broke out on the 16th November 2002 following an article credited to one Daniel Isioma which was published in “This Day” Newspaper, where the writer carelessly made a remark about the Prophet Mohammed and the beauty queens of the Miss World Beauty Pageant that was to be hosted in the Country that year (Terwase n.d). In this crisis, He reported that over 250 people were killed and churches destroyed. In the same vein, crisis erupted on 18th February 2006 in Borno because of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in Iyllands-posten Newspaper (Terwase n.d). Here over 50 people were killed and 30 churches burnt.

— "Language Use and Political Correctness for Peaceful Coexistence: Implications for Sustainable Development"[58]


Much of the modern debate on the term was sparked by conservative critiques of "liberal bias in academia and education,[7] and conservatives have used it as a major line of attack since.[8] University of Pennsylvania professor "Alan Charles Kors and lawyer "Harvey A. Silverglate connect "speech codes in US universities to philosopher "Herbert Marcuse. They claim that speech codes create a "climate of repression", arguing that they are based on "Marcusean logic". The speech codes, "mandate a redefined notion of "freedom", based on the belief that the imposition of a moral agenda on a community is justified", a view which, "requires less emphasis on individual rights and more on assuring "historically oppressed" persons the means of achieving equal rights." They claim:

Our colleges and universities do not offer the protection of fair rules, equal justice, and consistent standards to the generation that finds itself on our campuses. They encourage students to bring charges of harassment against those whose opinions or expressions "offend" them. At almost every college and university, students deemed members of "historically oppressed groups" – above all, women, blacks, gays, and Hispanics – are informed during orientation that their campuses are teeming with illegal or intolerable violations of their "right" not to be offended. Judging from these warnings, there is a racial or sexual bigot, to borrow the mocking phrase of McCarthy's critics, "under every bed."[59]

Kors and Silverglate later established the "Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which campaigns against infringement of rights of due process, in particular "speech codes".[60]["unreliable source?] Similarly, a common conservative criticism of higher education in the United States is that "the political views of the faculty are much more liberal than the general population, and that this situation contributes to an atmosphere of political correctness.[61]["how?]

Jessica Pinta and Joy Yakubu write that political correctness is useful in education, in the Journal of Educational and Social Research:

Political correctness is a useful area of consideration when using English language particularly in second language situations. This is because both social and cultural c