Pejorative is one of those interesting Latin-based words that have been Anglicized into our vocabulary. In ancient Rome it meant to worsen. However, in our modern vernacular it has strayed into darker waters. My Rodale Synonym Finder lists some thirty words that connote things pejorative. Unpleasant words like disparaging, deprecatory, contemptuous, mocking, and ridiculing. None of the words are positive in any way, and oddly enough, fifteen of the thirty begin with the letter “d.” Go figure.
I find this word “pejorative” interesting within the context of an article on political correctness because there are almost no non-pejorative uses of the term or the concept of political correctness.
Those who use and embrace the term do so in order to isolate, pigeon-hole, derogate those who don’t think like they do. The non-users of the term seem to show unfailing contempt for the users. There is nothing warm and fuzzy here. It does not nurture, embrace, or support our basic humanity.
Nowhere is our antagonism with each other more evident than in the history of the notion, and eventually the term political correctness. Humans have for millennia demonstrated an ability and desire to identify and reject those who differ from themselves – that is a given. But let’s go to the more modern political systems for purposes of this work. Many political writers like to use the French Revolution as a jumping off point, or as an underlying base for modern political ideas and methods. That works well also for the concept of political correctness, if not the term itself.
The first modern use of the term is found in a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court (1793) in which an idea was deem not “politically correct.” However, in this instance, the usage was intended to be literal – they could just have well used the words “not accurate.”
It was during and following the French Revolution that political correctness reared what amounted a remarkably ugly head – or perhaps guillotine blade – resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of people who were deemed outside of the political pale of the day. However, the term political correctness didn’t come into use until the mid-1800s – again it was in America. Still, it was a rarely used esoteric term until the WWI British Ministry of Information used the expression in vetting language for “appropriateness.” Even so, the term was not placed in the hands of the people until the communists latched onto it – and latch they did. Firing squads were not uncommon for abusers in the Chinese communist movement of the 1920s. The Russian communists following World War I used the term in the heavy-handed manner at which they – then and now – seem so adept.
American Progressive/Liberals had a short love affair with the term in the 1920s and 30s but when the Progressive/Liberal Icon, Mussolini, fell out of favor, so too did that movement in America – along with its vocabulary. Americans, until recently, had a strong sense of the ridiculous, and the term political correctness was given a home by those with that sensibility. It became a term of mirthful scorn.
And then came the Sixties. Race relations, gender issues, minority strivings, handicapped issues, and so on – the reader knows the drill. Inherent to the “Issue Throng” was the desire to eliminate the pejorative labels that seemed to be affixed to almost all issue-worthy elements of our culture. Nowhere does the statement “If I hadn’t believed it I wouldn’t have seen it” seem more powerfully universal than in those seeking to right the ills of the world through the royal roads of linguistics and semantics. While the Issues People rarely used the term political correctness it was apparent to all that what they were about, and the term was thrust upon them by the infidels.
The battle was joined – with the conservatives calling the liberals politically correct at every turn of an issue – rather than bothering to argue the merits of the issues. Finally, the liberals turned the tables and began doing the same to the conservatives – or at least trying to. It has become one large ad hominem slugfest. All one has to do is to be more successful than one’s opponent in placing the politically correct tail on the donkey – or elephant as it were.
As a term, politically correct has out-pejoratived all comers. Why think when you can label?
Bart Bare’s next novel, Girl, will be released by Canterbury House Publishing in May 2010. After her mother dies, a precocious teen of 14, Loren Creek, flees the foster care system in Tennessee by moving to North Carolina. With the help of a curmudgeonly mountain man she manages to evade detection by assuming the identity of a boy. Having cared for her mother since the age of 11 and having studied dance and gymnastics at her mother’s insistence, Loren becomes a strong-willed, responsible, and physically capable girl, mature for her age. Lauren enters high school and her lean muscular appearance makes it easy to be accepted as a boy. She reluctantly, becomes the kicker on the school football team, and becomes popular with boys and girls alike, causing some stressful and confusing, even dangerous situations. Aldrich Herms, Loren’s foster care guardian takes her disappearance personally. He won’t give up until he finds her and places her with a good family according to his rules.