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Labels help us think

April 9, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
Political correctness started as a simple move to change a word or two here and there a couple of decades ago.

And, like many societal changes, there was some good work to be done, but then it all sort of went south.

Several days ago, the Associated Press revamped a bit of its Stylebook, the bible of grammar and how to refer to just about anything when writing for a mass audience. Newspapers and radio and TV news departments follow the book. There also is the Chicago Manual of Style used by many other publications and academics.

The AP, in apparent zeal to give thought to things most of us don’t consider, decided that labeling people is not a good idea. Thus, the whole “illegal immigrant” thing which got much attention, including in this space ( last week.

But the more I’ve thought about it, it’s much more than just the whole politically correct illegal immigration terminology that this policy hits.

Is a person of a nationality really allowed to be called that nationality? Is an Italian an Italian? Is a Greek a Greek? Or are they more correctly described as “persons of European lineage who specifically live in Italy or Greece (or who at least have some kind of domicile for those nations.)”

Is a juror a juror or “a person selected to serve on the jury”? Is a police officer a police officer or “a person who earned a passing grade at a peace officers’ academy and who subsequently passed a community examination for people who are hired to enforce the law”?

And heaven help us when it comes to identifying physicians, surgeons, nurse practitioners and various medical specialists, all of whom have different certifications, degrees, experience and about 4,127 sets of acronyms, initials and accreditations with which the label “doctor,” “surgeon,” “nurse practitioner” and “specialist” can suffice.

Is Jerry Sandusky rightly called a pedophile? (He is rightly called a scourge to humanity, but that is editorializing, eh?)

The point here is that we open a slippery slope when we try too hard to think about things that are not worthy of consideration.

If we cannot simply call someone by a grouping (is my editor the editor or is he rightly called “A person who earned a degree in journalism and subsequent experience which enabled him to be promoted to sit in the glass booth where he now stares at me as I type”?), thoughts will become quite jumbled. It will become impossible to think, let alone commit our thoughts to coherent sentences for print or broadcast publication or distribution on the Internet.

Go ahead. Try to think of anything about another person without labeling them. Your wife is not allowed to be labeled “wife,” because that can sound subservient to some ears. Your son is so much more than your “son.” Ditto your “daughter,” your “father,” “mother,” the guy in the red Pontiac cut you off in traffic.

This isn’t just about the cause of the moment. Your cause could be next.


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