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 Political correctness(adjectivally, politically correct; both forms commonly abbreviated to PC) is a term denoting language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social offense in gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, handicap, and age-related contexts. In current usage, the terms are almost exclusively pejorative, connoting “intolerant” and “intolerance”  whilst the usage politically incorrect, denotes an implicitly positive self-description. Examples include the conservative Politically Incorrect Guides published by the Regnery editorial house,  and the television talk show Politically Incorrect. Thus, “politically incorrect” denotes language, ideas, and behavior, unconstrained by orthodoxy and the fear of giving offense.


Early usages

In the USA

The earliest citation is not politically correct, found in the U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker decision Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), denoting that the statement under judgment is literally incorrect, as understood in the eighteenth-century US: “The states, rather than the People, for whose sakes the States exist, are frequently the objects which attract and arrest our principal attention. . . . Sentiments and expressions of this inaccurate kind prevail in our common, even in our convivial, language. Is a toast asked? [To] ‘The United States’, instead of [to] the ‘People of the United States’, is the toast given. This is not politically correct.”

In the UK

During the First World War, British Ministry of Information official Arnold Bennett used the expression politically correct in vetting language for “appropriateness”.

In Marxism–Leninism

In Marxist–Leninist and Trotskyist vocabulary, correct was the common term denoting the “appropriate party line” and the ideologic/ “correct line”. Likewise in the People's Republic of Chinamarker, as part of Mao’s declarations on the correct handling of “non-antagonistic contradictions”. MIT professor of literature Ruth Perry traces the term from Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book (1964).

In left-wing rhetoric

Even before the term PC appeared, the Left mocked its own language usage in the pamphlet Lifeitselfmanship or How to Become a Precisely-Because Man (1956), by Jessica Mitford, about “L and non-L” (Left and non-Left) English, mocking the Communist clichés used by her comrades when talking about fighting the class struggle. The pamphlet’s title refers to the Stephen Potter book series including the title Lifemanship, and replies to Noblesse Oblige, by Nancy Mitford, about the perceptible class distinctions in British English usage, that popularised the phrases “U and non-U English” (Upper class and non-Upper class).

In the 1960s, the radical Left adopted the term, initially seriously, then ironically, in self-criticism of dogmatic attitudes. By 1970, New Left proponents had adopted the term political correctness. In the essay The Black Woman, Toni Cade Bambara says: “. . . a man cannot be politically correct and a [male] chauvinist too” — a usage that widened the definition’s scope to include the politics of gender and identity to the politics of ideological orthodoxy in governing. The New Left later re-appropriated the term political correctness as satirical self-criticism; per Debra Shultz: “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”. Hence, it is a popular English usage in the underground comic book Merton of the Movement, by Bobby London, while ideologically sound an alternative term, followed a like lexical path, appearing in Bart Dickon’s satirical comic strips. Moreover, Ellen Willis says: “ . . . in the early ’80s, 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’ ”.

Current usage

Widespread use of the term "politically correct" and its derivatives began when it was adopted as a pejorative term by the political right in the 1990s, in the context of the Culture Wars. Writing in the New York Times in 1990, Richard Bernstein noted "The term "politically correct," with its suggestion of Stalinist orthodoxy, is spoken more with irony and disapproval than with reverence. But 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." Bernstein referred to a meeting of the Western Humanities Conference in Berkeley, Californiamarker, on " 'Political Correctness' and Cultural Studies," which examined "what effect the pressure to conform to currently fashionable ideas is having on scholarship". Bernstein also referred to "p.c.p" for "politically correct people", a term which did not take root in popular discussion.

Within a few years, this previously obscure term featured regularly in the lexicon of the conservative social and political challenges against curriculum expansion and progressive teaching methods in US high schools and universities. In 1991, addressing a graduating class of the University of Michiganmarker, U.S. President George H. W. Bush spoke against “ . . . a movement [that would] declare certain topics ‘off-limits’, certain expressions ‘off-limits’, even certain gestures ‘off-limits’ ” in allusion to liberal Political Correctness. The most common usage here is as a pejorative term to refer to excessive deference to particular sensibilities at the expense of other considerations. The converse term "politically incorrect" came into use as an implicit term of self-praise, indicating that the user was not afraid to give offense.

The central uses of the term relate to issues of race and gender, and encompass both the language in which issues are discussed and the viewpoints that are expressed. Proponents of the view that black people are less intelligent, on average, than white people, or that women are less intelligent than men, state that criticism of these views is based on political correctness.

Examples of language commonly criticised as "politically correct" include:

  • "African-American" in place of "Black", "Negro" and other terms
  • "Native American" in place of "Indian"
  • “Gender-neutral” terms such as "firefighter" in place of "fireman"
  • Terms relating to disability, such as "visually challenged" in place of "blind"

More generally, any policy or factual claim opposed by the political right, such as the claim that global warming is a serious problem requiring a policy response may be criticized as "politically correct".


The term politically correct is popular in Scandinavia (politiskt korrekt abbreviated PK), in Portugalmarker, Spainmarker, and Latin America (Sp., políticamente correcto | Port., politicamente correcto), Francemarker (politiquement correct), Germanymarker (politisch korrekt), Polandmarker (poprawność polityczna, poprawny politycznie), Sloveniamarker (politično korekten), The Netherlandsmarker and Flanders (politiek correct), Italymarker (politicamente corretto), Russiamarker (политкорректность, политкорректный), and New Zealandmarker, .


As Cultural Marxism

Right-wing, conservative and libertarian critics claim that political correctness is a Marxist undermining of Western values. In The Abolition of Britain, Peter Hitchens says: “What Americans describe with the casual phrase . . . ‘political correctness’ is the most intolerant system of thought to dominate the British Isles since the Reformation.” William S. Lind and Patrick Buchanan have characterized PC as a technique originated by the Frankfurt School, whose work aimed at undermining Western values, by influencing popular culture through Cultural Marxism. In The Death of the West, Buchanan says: “Political Correctness is Cultural Marxism, a regime to punish dissent and to stigmatize social heresy as the Inquisition punished religious heresy. Its trademark is intolerance.”

As a linguistic concept

In addressing the linguistic problem of naming, Edna Andrews says that using “inclusive” and “neutral” language is based upon the concept that “language represents thought, and may even control thought”.This claim has been derived from the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which states that a language’s grammatical categories shape the speaker’s ideas and actions; although Andrews says that moderate conceptions of the relation between language and thought are sufficient to support the “reasonable deduction . . . [of] cultural change via linguistic change”.

Other cognitive psychology and cognitive linguistics works indicate that word-choice has significant “framing effects” on the perceptions, memories, and attitudes of speakers and listeners. The relevant empirical question is whether or not sexist language promotes sexism, i.e. sexist thought and action.

Advocates of inclusive language defend it as inoffensive-language usage whose goal is multi-fold:

  1. The rights, opportunities, and freedoms of certain people are restricted because they are reduced to stereotypes.
  2. Stereotyping is mostly implicit, unconscious, and facilitated by the availability of pejorative labels and terms.
  3. Rendering the labels and terms socially unacceptable, people then must consciously think about how they describe someone unlike themselves.
  4. When labelling is a conscious activity, the described person's individual merits become apparent, rather than his or her stereotype.

Critics of such arguments, and of inclusive language in general, commonly use the terminology of "political correctness" [3754].

A common criticism is that terms chosen by an identity group, as acceptable descriptors of themselves, then pass into common usage, including usage by the racists and sexists whose racism and sexism, et cetera, the new terms mean to supersede. The new terms are thus devalued, and another set of words must be coined, giving rise to lengthy progressions such as Negro, Coloured, Black, African-American, and so on, (cf. Euphemism treadmill).

As an engineered political term

Some left-wing commentators claimed that after 1980, right-wing American conservatives re-engineered the term political correctness to ideologically re-frame US politics as a culture war. Hutton reports:

"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."

Moreover, the commentators claimed there never was a “Political Correctness movement” in the US, and that many who use the term do so to distract attention from substantive debate about racial, class and gender discrimination and unequal legal treatment. Similarly, Polly Toynbee argued that “the phrase is an empty right-wing smear designed only to elevate its user.”

Commenting on the UK's 2009 Equality Bill, Toynbee wrote that:

"The phrase "political correctness" was born as a coded cover for all who still want to say Paki, spastic or queer, all those who still want to pick on anyone not like them, playground bullies who never grew up.
The politically correct society is the civilised society, however much some may squirm at the more inelegant official circumlocutions designed to avoid offence."



University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors and lawyer Harvey A. Silverglate, connect political correctness to Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s claim that liberal ideas of free speech were repressive, arguing that such “Marcusean logic” is the base of speech codes in US universities, and later established the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which campaigns against PC speech codes.

The academic Camille Paglia said that PC empowers the enemies of the Left, and alienates the masses against feminism.

Critics of PC have been accused of displaying the same sensitivity to word choice that they claim to oppose, and of perceiving non-existent political agenda. For example, some newspapers reported that a school had altered the nursery rhyme “Baa Baa Black Sheep” to read “Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep”. But it is also reported that a better description is that the Parents and Children Together (PACT) nursery had the children “turn the song into an action rhyme. . . . They sing happy, sad, bouncing, hopping, pink, blue, black and white sheep etc.” That nursery rhyme story was circulated and later extended to suggest that like language bans applied to the terms “black coffee” and “blackboard”. The Private Eyemarker magazine reported that like stories, all baseless, ran in the British press since The Sun first published them in 1986.

Political correctness and science

See also: Politicization of science

Groups opposing mainstream scientific views on evolution, global warming, passive smoking, AIDS, race, and other contentious scientific matters argue that PC is responsible for the failure of their perspectives to receive a fair public hearing; thus, in Lamarck’s Signature: How Retrogenes are Changing Darwin’s Natural Selection Paradigm, Assoc. Prof. Edward J. Steele says: “We now stand on the threshold of what could be an exciting new era of genetic research. . . . However, the ‘politically correct’ thought agendas of the neo–Darwinists of the 1990s are ideologically opposed to the idea of ‘Lamarckian Feedback’, just as the Church was opposed to the idea of evolution based on natural selection in the 1850s!”

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, by Tom Bethell, is a comprehensive presentation argument that mainstream science is dominated by politically correct thinking. Bethell rejects mainstream views about evolution and global warming, and supports AIDS denialism.

Right wing political correctness

Accusations of political correctness, in the sense of enforced orthodoxy, have also been directed against the political right. Before the US invasion of Iraq, the Dixie Chicks country band played in London. During the 10 March 2003 concert, they introduced the song “Travelin’ Soldier”; The Guardian quoted Texan Natalie Maines: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

Newspaper columnist Don Williams described the resulting backlash against the band as the price for freely speaking political views disapproved by the Right Wing — “the ugliest form of political correctness occurs whenever there’s a war on. Then you’d better watch what you say.” He noted that Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly called the musicians’ comment treasonous.

Linguistic examples of right-wing adjustments to language, criticised as examples of political correctness include renaming French fries as “Freedom fries” on the model of US manufacturers renaming sauerkraut as “Liberty cabbage” during the First World War as a marketing tool to avoid potential public disapproval of a product with a German name.

In 2004, then Australian Labor leader Mark Latham described conservative calls for "civility" as "The New Political Correctness".

Satirical use

Political correctness often is satirised, for example in the Politically Correct Manifesto (1992), by Saul Jerushalmy and Rens Zbignieuw X, and Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (1994), by James Finn Garner, presenting fairy tales re-written from an exaggerated PC perspective.

Other examples include the television program Politically Incorrect, George Carlin’s "Euphemisms" routine, and The Politically Correct Scrapbook. The popularity of the libertarian South Park cartoon program on the Right led to the creation of the term South Park Republican by Andrew Sullivan, and later the book South Park Conservatives by Brian C. Anderson.

Replying to the “Freedom Fries” matter, wits suggested that the Fama-French model used in corporate finance be renamed the “Fama-Freedom” model.

See also


  1. Ruth Perry, (1992), “A short history of the term ‘politically correct’ ”, in Beyond PC: Toward a Politics of Understanding , by Patricia Aufderheide, 1992
  2. Schultz, Debra L. (1993). To Reclaim a Legacy of Diversity: Analyzing the “Political Correctness” Debates in Higher Education. New York: National Council for Research on Women. [1]
  3. Chisholm v State of GA, 2 US 419 (1793) - Accessed 6 February 2007. “The states, rather than the People, for whose sakes the States exist, are frequently the objects which attract and arrest our principal attention. . . . Sentiments and expressions of this inaccurate kind prevail in our common, even in our convivial, language. Is a toast asked? ‘The United States’, instead of the ‘People of the United States’, is the toast given. This is not politically correct.”
  4. Chang-tu Hu, International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale de l'Education, Vol. 10, No. 1. (1964), pp.12–21.
  5. Susan Biele Alitto, Comparative Education Review, Vol. 13, No. 1. (Feb. 1969), pp.43–59.
  6. Schultz citing Perry (1992) p.16
  7. Ellen Willis, “Toward a Feminist Revolution”, in No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays (1992) Wesleyan University Press, ISBN 0-8195-5250-X, p.19.
  8. D’Souza 1991; Berman 1992; Schultz 1993; Messer Davidow 1993, 1994; Scatamburlo 1998
  9. Remarks at the University of Michigan Commencement Ceremony in Ann Arbor, May 4, 1991. George Bush Presidential Library.
  10. Buchanan, Patrick The Death of the West, p.89
  11. Cultural Sensitivity and Political Correctness: The Linguistic Problem of Naming, Edna Andrews, American Speech, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp.389-404.
  12. Development and Validation of an Instrument to Measure Attitudes Toward Sexist/Nonsexist Language Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, March 2000, by Janet B. Parks, Mary Ann Roberton [2]
  13. Loftus, E. and Palmer, J. 1974. “Reconstruction of Automobile Destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory”. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 13, pp.585-9
  14. Kahneman, D. and Amos Tversky. 1981. “The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice”. Science, 211, pp.453-8
  15. Hutton W, “Words really are important, Mr Blunkett” The Observer, Sunday 16 December 2001 - Accessed 6 February 2007.
  16. Messer–Davidow 1993, 1994; Schultz 1993; Lauter 1995; Scatamburlo 1998; and Glassner 1999.
  17. Toynbee P, “Religion must be removed from all functions of state”, The Guardian, Sunday 12 December 2001 - Accessed 6 February 2007.
  19. Kors, A.C. and Silvergate, H, "Codes of silence - who's silencing free speech on campus -- and why" Reason Magazine (online), November 1998 - Accessed 6 February 2007.
  20. Camille Paglia says it best-- Accessed 2 February 2007. “My message to the media is: ‘Wake up!’ The silencing of authentic debate among feminists just helps the rise of the far right. When the media get locked in their Northeastern ghetto and become slaves of the feminist establishment and fanatical special interests, the American audience ends up looking to conservative voices for common sense. As a libertarian Democrat, I protest against this self-defeating tyranny of political correctness.”

Further reading


  • Aufderheide, Patricia. (ed.). 1992. Beyond P.C.: Toward a Politics of Understanding. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press.
  • Berman, Paul. (ed.). 1992. Debating P.C.: The Controversy Over Political Correctness on College Campuses. New York, New York: Dell Publishing.
  • Gottfried, Paul E., After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State, 1999. ISBN 0-691-05983-7
  • Jay, Martin., The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950, University of California Press, New Ed edition (March 5, 1996). ISBN 0-520-20423-9
  • Switzer, Jacqueline Vaughn. Disabled Rights: American Disability Policy and the Fight for Equality. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2003.



  • Debra L. Schultz. 1993. To Reclaim a Legacy of Diversity: Analyzing the "Political Correctness" Debates in Higher Education. New York: National Council for Research on Women.
  • Wilson, John. 1995. The Myth of Political Correctness: The Conservative Attack on High Education. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

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