Discriminatory use of language

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Demeaning expressions
Political incorrectness in use of language
Biased words and phrases
Prejudiced language
Linguistic insensitivity
Etymological crisis

A local government council in the UK in 1993 took measures to eliminate the function of "manager" from its workforce because of the discriminatory emphasis on "man" in that term as a class-ridden authoritarian title. In 1994 a local headmistress in the UK refused to allow primary school students to attend a charity presentation of Romeo and Juliet because it placed excessive emphasis on heterosexual love.

According to a contemporary Concise Dictionary of Slovak Language (1997), the word Gypsy has these additional meanings (apart from the Gypsy person and language): liar, wanderer, someone who looks like a Gypsy because of his dark complexion or affection, animal of a dark or black colour (horse, dog), Gypsy life is a wandering one, Gypsy blood means intemperate nature of someone, Gypsy roasted meat is one that is roasted into a dark colour. Gypsy used as a verb unambiguously means to lie. It is also common to say about someone that he is dirty as a Gypsy. It is interesting to see some synonymous words and phrases presented by major English dictionaries: social gypsy, restless vagabond, idle stroller, wanderer, tramper, outlandish, uncultivated, medicaster, Rosicrucian, man of straw, conjuror, juggler, motley fool, pantaloon, gypsy; jack-pudding, jack in the green, nomad, Arab, Wandering Jew, Hadji, in later times often applied to an adventurer in art or literature, of irregular, unconventional habits, questionable tastes, or free morals. (She was of a wild, roving nature, inherited from father and mother, who were both Bohemians by taste and circumstances. - Thackeray.) Peculiar explanation of the term Gypsy is supplied by an edition of Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary: "One of a vagabond race, whose tribes, coming originally from India, entered Europe in 14th or 15th century, and are now scattered over Turkey, Russia, Hungary, Spain, England, etc., living by theft, fortune telling, horse-jockeying, tinkering, etc. Not all of the common meanings are negative." The only clearly positive example is usage of Gypsy for someone who is affectionate, or cuddling. But also wandering nature, intemperate nature, and dark colour of a person or animal did not originally have pejorative and certainly not racist meaning.

In 1995, the White House faced a severe etymological crisis over the difference between "funk" and "malaise". The national debate was set off after president Clinton explained that a major part of his job involved "trying to get people out of their funk". Later he was forced to acknowledge that funk "was a poor choice of words".


Language helps to define and structure reality. Thus the power of words over the personal and collective psyche is immeasurable. Whether language is subtly or overtly discriminatory, it can be a highly effective vehicle for racist, sexist and prejudiced sentiments. This necessitates a movement to reinvent language, to root our vocabulary of currently divisive terminology in attempt to embrace multiculturalism and equal representation. Political correctness in language is the first step towards societal equality for all.

Counter Claim:

The regulation of language use is a violation of free expression, and is in itself a manipulation of power. Political correctness in language is the first step towards euphemism, abstraction and consequential deception in human communications. The presence of "language police" suggests an exaggerated faith in the power of words, a belief that prejudice in individual minds will be eliminated by the destruction of existing terminology. Language regulation for the sake of societal equality places undue emphasis on semantics, while distracting attention from the actual source of inequality. Action, not language, is the herald of change.

Reduced By:
Language police
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Date of last update
11.06.2018 – 12:38 CEST