An acrolect is a register of a spoken language that is considered formal and high-style. In the early 1970s, Derek Bickerton proposed the words acrolect, mesolect, and basilect...
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A euphemism is an expression intended by the speaker to be less offensive, disturbing, or troubling to the listener than the word or phrase it replaces, or in the case of doublespeak to make it less troublesome...
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Profanity is a word choice or usage which its audience considers to be offensive. The original meaning of the term was restricted to blasphemy, sacrilege or speaking God or Jesus's name in vain...
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Political correctness is a term used in English-speaking countries to describe real or perceived attempts to impose limits on the acceptable language and terms used in public discussion...
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In sociolinguistics, a T-V distinction describes the situation wherein a language, unlike current English, has pronouns that distinguish varying levels of politeness, social distance, courtesy...
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Political correctness (also politically correct, P.C. or PC) is a term used in English-speaking countries to describe real or perceived attempts to impose limits on the acceptable language and terms used in public discussion. While it usually refers to a linguistic phenomenon, it is sometimes extended to cover political ideology or public behavior.
In numerous English-speaking nations, the term often has a pejorative or ironic meaning typically connoting an excessive attempt by social or political liberals to alter language and culture. It is also sometimes used to describe attempts to respect marginalized groups (e.g., the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (Oxford University Press Canada 2001) defines political correctness as "the avoidance of forms of expression or action that exclude, marginalize, or insult certain racial or cultural groups" ).
According to predominantly conservative critics of what they call the "political correctness movement," PC involves censorship and social engineering, and has influenced popular culture, such as music, film, literature, arts and advertising.
Liberal and Progressive commentators, however, argue that the term "political correctness" was hijacked by conservatives around 1980 and redefined as a way to reframe the debates over diversity and unequal distribution of power and privilege in the United States. They say that there never was a "Political Correctness movement" in the United States, and that many who use the term are attempting to distract attention from substantial debates over discrimination and unequal treatment based on race, class, and gender (Messer-Davidow 1993, 1994; Schultz 1993; Lauter 1995; Scatamburlo 1998).
The term PC is often used to mock either the idea that carefully chosen language can encourage, promote, or establish certain social outcomes and relationships, or the belief that the resulting changes benefit society. This mocking usage often targets certain forms of identity politics, including gay rights, feminism, multiculturalism and the disability rights movement. For example, the use of "gender-neutral" job titles ("firefighter" instead of "fireman," "chairperson" or "chair" instead of "chairman," etc.), the use of the expression "differently abled" rather than "disabled", or the systematic use of "Native American" rather than "Indian", are all sometimes referred to as "politically correct" to characterise proponents as overly sensitive or even coercive.
The term PC is frequently used in a manner that implies, first, that there are a significant number of people who make conscious political choice of the words they employ in their speech and writing, with the intention of influencing broader usage and, through that, social outcomes; second, that this group is roughly equivalent to the political left, or some large sector of the left; third, that these conscious political choices of words constitute a single phenomenon, designated as "political correctness"; and fourth, that these usages are enforced in a manner that is repressive to freedom of speech.
Some people whose language choices and/or politics are so characterised argue, in turn, that the term "political correctness" is part of larger attack on social equality or policial progressivism (Messer-Davidow 1993, 1994). They argue that expressing an opinion about, or making a public argument about, the use of language cannot in itself constitute intolerance or censorship.
Those who use the term in a derogatory fashion often express a concern about the potential dilution of speech and the failure to articulate important societal problems. They argue that the political criticism of diction may inhibit freedom of speech, particularly the expression of opinions that risk offending some group. It is often suggested that politically correct speech constitutes an excessive indulgence of some particular minority group, and that it is used to avoid acknowledging any misconduct or shortcomings of individuals belonging to such a group.
Having been used in Marxist-Leninist vocabulary to describe the Party Line following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the term was transformed and used jokingly within the left by the early 1980s, possibly earlier. In this context, the phrase was applied to either an over-commitment to various left-wing political causes, especially within Marxism or the feminist movement; or to a tendency by some of those dedicated to these causes to be more concerned with rhetoric and vocabulary than with substance.
The term again became popular in the early 1990s as part of a conservative challenge to curriculum and teaching methods on college campuses in the United States (D'Souza 1991; Berman 1992; Schultz 1993; Messer Davidow 1993, 1994; Scatamburlo 1998). Conservatives picked up and once again transformed the notion of political correctness to claim that a left-wing movement based in liberal academic circles was attempting to create a new doctrinaire political orthodoxy through social engineering which included changing words and phrases that some groups found offensive.
Use of the term then declined in the late 1990s, and it is now mostly seen in comedy or as a political slur with questionable meaning. More recently, the term has been reclaimed by a tiny subset of multiculturalist writers and speakers who reject (or are oblivious to) its controversial connotations and origins. In a bit of tit-for-tat inversion, it is also occasionally employed by leftists to deride what they regard as clichéd or disingenuous conservative themes such as "family values" or "God and country".
The literal phrase "politically correct" has earlier citations, leading the concept's supporters to suggest that linguistic sensitivity to political expression is nothing new. The often quoted "earliest cited usage of the term" comes from the U.S. Supreme Court decision Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), where it clearly means that the statement it refers to is not literally correct, owing to the political status of the United States as it was understood at that time:
- 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.
The first recorded use in the twentieth century was in 1912 in Chapter 1 of Senator Robert La Follette's autobiography. Speaking of his education at the University of Wisconsin, he says:
- In those days we did not so much get correct political and economic views, for there was then little teaching of sociology or political economy worthy the name, but what we somehow did get, and largely from [John] Bascom, was a proper attitude toward public affairs. And when all is said, this attitude is more important than any definite views a man may hold.
Again, this clearly refers to what, in the speaker's own opinion, are incorrect political views, as opposed to the current usage of "politically incorrect".
Another example of the same literal use of the term is from a passage of H. V. Morton's In the Steps of St. Paul (1936):
- To use such words would have been equivalent to calling his audience 'slaves and robbers'. But Galatians, a term that was politically correct, embraced everyone under Roman rule, from the aristocrat in Antioch to the little slave girl in Iconium.
One argument for using language dismissed by critics as politically correct is to prevent the exclusion or the offending of people based upon differences or handicaps. Another involves the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which states that a language's grammatical categories shape its speakers' ideas and actions. In both cases the goal is to bring peoples' unconscious biases into awareness, allowing them to make a more informed choice about their language and making them aware of things different people might find offensive.
Two common examples of this practice are to use the word disabled in preference to crippled, and mentally ill in preference to crazy.
However, critics of political language choice argue the new terms are often awkward, euphemistic substitutes for the original stark language concerning differences such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion and political views.
Proponents argue that the goal of changing language and terminology consists of these four points:
- Certain people have their rights, opportunities, or freedoms restricted due to their categorization as members of a group with a derogatory stereotype.
- This categorization is largely implicit and unconscious, and is facilitated by the easy availability of labeling terminology.
- By making the labeling terminology problematic people will be made to think consciously about how they describe someone.
- Once labelling is a conscious activity, the individual merits of a person, rather than their perceived membership of a group, will become more apparent.
In linguistics, the strong form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds that a language's grammatical categories control its speakers' possible thoughts. While few support the hypothesis in its strong form, many linguists accept a more moderate version, namely that the ways in which we see the world may be influenced by the kind of language we use. In its strong form, the hypothesis states that, for example, "sexist language" promotes sexist thought.
The situation is complicated by the fact that members of identity groups sometime embrace terms that others seek to change. For example, deaf culture has always considered the label "deaf" as an affirming statement of group membership and not insulting or disparaging in any way. The term now often substituted for the term "deaf", hearing-impaired, was developed to include people with hearing loss due to aging, accidents, and other causes. While more accurate for those uses, the term "hearing-impaired" is considered highly derogatory by many deaf people.
Criticisms of political language choice
Critics of political language choice argue that it amounts to censorship and is a danger to free speech. Some argue that limits placed on language and the boundaries of public debate will inevitably lead to limits on conduct. Some conservatives would also view many "politically correct" terms as linguistic cover for an evasion of personal responsibility, for instance when "juvenile delinquents" become "children at risk".
Some on the political left reject the conservative definition of the term when applied as a blanket political epithet to all liberals and leftists, but do hold that there is indeed a political correctness which has become a problem on the left. They argue that the emphasis on the left has shifted in recent years away from traditional left concerns of social class, socialism, labor unions, ecology, ending discrimination, and related issues, and has instead turned toward such things as postmodernism, post-structuralism, multiculturalism, academic theories of structural or institutionalised oppression such as white privilege and heterosexism, all of which are seen as either antithetical to the traditional left emphasis on the working class, divisive, exclusionary toward the white working class, or incomprehensible to most of the general public outside of academia.
Politically motivated changing of terminology, where, for example blind becomes visually impaired, has been compared to Newspeak, a bowdlerised form of English predicted by George Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which eliminates any words that might conceivably have meanings against the state. Some critics allege that this kind of terminology represents an Orwellian attempt to make "bad" or "incorrect" thought difficult and achieve a form of mind control (see doublespeak and thoughtcrime). "Political correctness" has been compared with Orwellian ideas such as communist and fascist propaganda. However, Orwell's vision is of a language reduced to very few words, while most examples of politically selective language are much longer than the words being replaced.
In his essay Politics and the English Language, though, Orwell described actual trends in the use of language that follow the pattern of using long and scientific-sounding words and phrases to hide or dull meaning. In a well-known example, he "translated" a passage from Ecclesiastes to "modern English", turning "I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all" into "Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account."
The use of political language modification has a history in satire and comedy. One of the earlier, and most well-known, satirical takes on this movement can be found in the book Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Gardner, in which traditional fairy tales are rewritten from an exaggeratedly-PC viewpoint. The roles of good and evil in these PC stories are often the reverse of those in the original versions, with the goal of showing that political correctness ignores or inverts morality. For example, in the "politically correct version" of Hansel and Gretel, Hansel, Gretel, and their father are evil.
Politically Correct Fairy Tales, by John Hawkins, consists of very brief satires . In Hawkins' version, Hansel and Gretel are not evil. They make the ultimate sacrifice:
- Hansel and Gretel were lost in the woods when they came upon a house made of candy and cake. An old witch invited them in and then captured both of them intending to eat them. Gretel had a chance save both of them by pushing the old woman in an oven but she decided that it would be wrong not to respect the witch's cultural traditions. So Gretel and her brother allowed themselves to be cooked and eaten. The witch was so happy with the children's actions that she invited all of her witch friends to the area. Soon thereafter, they ate every child in a hundred mile radius. Soon the whole area was filled with nothing but child eating witches and all the witches were very happy!
The practice of satirizing so-called politically correct speech took on a life of its own in the 1990s, though its popularity in today's media has largely declined. Part of what it is to understand the meaning of political language modification is to be familiar with satirical portrayals of political correctness. Such portrayals are generally exaggerations of what actual language modification looks like. For example, in a satirical example of so-called political correctness speech, the sentence "The fireman put a ladder up against the tree, climbed it, and rescued the cat" might look like this:
- The firefighter (who happened to be male, but could just as easily have been female) abridged the rights of the cat to determine for itself where it wanted to walk, climb, or rest, and inflicted his own value judgments in determining that it needed to be 'rescued' from its chosen perch. In callous disregard for the well-being of the environment, and this one tree in particular, he thrust the mobility-disadvantaged unfriendly means of ascent known as a 'ladder' carelessly up against the tree, marring its bark, and unfeelingly climbed it, unconcerned how his display of physical prowess might injure the self-esteem of those differently-abled. He kidnapped and unjustly restrained the innocent feline with the intention of returning it to the person who claimed to 'own' the naturally free animal.
Examples of language modification
- The term server is increasingly used for a person of either gender who waits tables.
- Chairman was replaced by chair, chairperson (or president or some other term). (The term chair has its own history within academia.)
- Fireman was replaced by fire fighter
- Congressman was replaced by member of congress. The former remains in use for male members of congress, however.
- Policeman became policewoman when referring to females; then the term police officer was introduced for both genders.
- Likewise, Army wife, Navy wife, etc., are now Army spouse, etc. (Occasionally male civilian spouses of military members will ironically refer to themselves as Navy wives, etc.)
- "Man does not live by bread alone" became "People do not live on bread alone" in the 1996 NIV Inclusive Language Edition of the Bible, Matthew 4:4.
- Airlines no longer use the term stewardess (nor steward for men), partly due to disparaging stereotypes and the condescending nickname stews. Thus they have replaced it with the gender-neutral term flight attendant. As is the case within nursing, male members of the profession, who are the minority, are typically referred to by their gender (e.g. male flight attendant as opposed to flight attendant for females.)
- The word sex has largely been replaced with the word gender, though gender classically did not mean male/female, but rather it referred to grammatical masculine/feminine constructs ("steward" vs. "stewardess", or "actor" vs. "actress", for example). The word sex seems to have become an impolite or emotion-charged term, at least in part because it is prevailing verbal shorthand for sexuality and sexual intercourse.
- Lacking a gender-neutral alternative, many actresses now prefer the term "actor" when defining their profession, thus eventually likely rendering the term gender-neutral through common usage.
- TIME Magazine's Man of the Year became Person of the Year (which has since included non-people and non-individuals, such as "The American Soldier" or "The Endangered Earth" as "Planet of the Year")
- The phrase "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me", attributed to Jesus, is frequently changed to "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me."
- Miss and Mrs. have been supplemented by Ms., providing a word that does not indicate marital status. The term was ridiculed by many when it was first introduced in the 1970s, but over time it has become common usage.
- The 1960s-1970s TV show The Dating Game needed terms for unmarried contestants; bachelor was obvious, but the feminine "equivalent" was the negatively-charged term "spinster", which was only more slightly polite than "old maid"; so the show either coined or popularized the term bachelorette, which has since come into common usage.
- The time-honored "I now pronounce you man and wife" at weddings has largely been replaced by "I now pronounce you husband and wife". Some etymologists find this amusing, as "wife" is Old English for "woman", while "husband" is Old English for "householder"; the original expression was meant to define a moment when both members of a couple officially and legally became equally committed to adulthood.
- A cripple became an invalid, and proceeded through a long sequence of euphemisms, including disabled, handicapped, then disabled again, people with disabilities, differently abled, and physically challenged. In 1991, the National Cristina Foundation offered $50,000 to the person who came up with the most empowering term for people with disabilities. The winning entry was "people with differing abilities," and is seldom used by researchers, the disabled, or their care providers. Another entry in that contest was "severely euphemized."
- Backward, imbecile, moron, and idiot became mentally retarded, which in turn became slow, then mentally handicapped, then mentally disabled, then mentally challenged. Modern terms used by health and social care professionals include special needs and learning difficulties, although both of those terms are more general than mentally retarded.
Many terms that were once considered acceptable, even in the medical profession, are now considered out-of-date and offensive. These include spastic for a person with cerebral palsy and mongolism (sometimes mongolian idiocy) for Down Syndrome.
An unintended consequence of the euphemisms for "crippled", a term which merely describes a physical condition, is that the euphemisms contain a message that subliminally tells the persons so-labeled that they should feel resigned to their fate. Famous Baseball team owner Bill Veeck, who had lost a leg due to an injury incurred during World War II, took notable exception to that viewpoint, writing the following in the last chapter of his 1962 autobiography, Veeck - As in Wreck, titled "I'm not handicapped; I'm crippled":
- A cripple cannot coddle himself. Once you coddle yourself, you're admitting you can't do what anybody else can do, and then you're through... You will notice I always use the term 'cripple'. It isn't a word you normally hear, is it? It has become customary, in our euphemistic world, to describe us cripples as 'handicapped'... Webster defines 'handicapped' as 'to place at a disadvantage'. I don't believe I am. I believe I can do anything that anybody else can do that doesn't involve quick sprints, high jumps and a fast buck-and-wing. And so, although I am crippled, I am not handicapped.
In more recent times, Christopher Reeve very publicly adopted a similar attitude, and was a hero to many other paralysis victims, much to the chagrin of what could be called the "physically challenged establishment", some of whom criticized him for characterizing his condition as something that needed to be cured, rather than resigning himself to it. In contrast, it was said of the tireless lobbyist Reeve that, "The man who cannot move has not stopped moving."
The National Federation of the Blind has passed a resolution condemning the use of politically correct terms to describe blindness. Similarly, many autistics condemn the phrase "person with autism" because it separates their personhood from their autism, something those in the autistic culture refuse to accept, as they regard autism to be an integral and wonderful component of themselves. Those in deaf culture similary dislike such phraseology. As a result, a major and commonly raised objection to such terms is that they go against the very wishes of those at whom they are targeted.
In 2003 the United Kingdom's Teacher Training Agency advised trainees to use the term "thought shower" instead of "brainstorm" to avoid offending epileptics. The Daily Telegraph was unable to find anyone in the epileptic community that objected to the word "brainstorm."
Race and ethnic-related
- In the United States over the course of one hundred years, blacks became Negroes, then became blacks again, then became Afro-Americans, then became African-Americans (the current term, although the term "black" is still often used). In the meantime, the term "colored" came into and went out of use, while the related term "people of color" came into use later on. The term "people of color" refers, in addition to African Americans, to any non-white people.
- Eskimo, a word that has long been viewed as pejorative by the people it refers to, has increasingly been replaced by their own names for themselves, namely Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut.
- Oriental(s), a word that simply means "Eastern(s)", but is sometimes seen as pejorative to the people it refers to. Distinction is now emphasised on more specifics, such as Asian-American, Chinese-American, Korean-American, Japanese-American, etc., or the country of origin such as Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, etc. Japanese-American itself is being replaced by the recently-coined term AJA (Americans of Japanese Ancestry). People from India are clearly also Asian, but the term "Asian" in North American and Australian usage generally means East Asian people, and not Indians, Pakistanis, etc. In British usage, the term "Asian" refers to people of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan origins.
- Hispanic, which was previously the politically correct term, has largely been replaced by Latino or, in some cases, Chicano.
- Indians became Native Americans or Indigenous People in the United States (see Native American name controversy). American Indians and Amerindians are also gaining popularity. Similarly, they became known in Canada as First Nations or aboriginal peoples. (One might contend, however, that using the term Native Americans is more geographically correct than Indians; the original error owed itself to the fact that Columbus thought he was in India.)
- Mankind is now called "humankind".
One criticism of the practice of political correctness is that it can put well-meaning people in the position of speaking for others without asking their opinion, and thus come across as patronizing. An American Indian-based website covered the recent (summer 2005) ruling by the NCAA banning the use of Native American stereotyped mascots in post-season tournaments. The targets of this ruling included Florida State University, whose nickname is the "Seminoles". A major outcry, not just from the school, but much more notably from the Seminole tribe itself, resulted in the NCAA rescinding the rule's application to FSU. One editorial piece cited on that web page had this to say:
- In its rush to condemn Florida State University for cultural insensitivity, the NCAA steamrolled over the opinions of people who should have mattered most actual Seminoles. The NCAA ignored the expressed endorsement of the Seminole Tribe of Florida when it deemed FSU's nickname 'hostile or abusive' and banned it from the post-season. The tribe's decision was brushed aside, as if real-life Seminoles were too stupid to know what to do with their own history and tradition.
- Merry Christmas is often replaced with Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings. "Christmas" itself is sometimes replaced on company calendars with the generic "Winter Holiday" or "December Holiday" or "Winter Break" or other secular terminology.
- Anno Domini (AD) and Before Christ (BC) are replaced by Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE).
- In 1998, Birmingham City Council decided to brand a series of entertainments over the Christmas and New Year period Winterval, which opponents claimed to be an attempt to remove the name 'Christmas' (the council denied this interpretation).
- In a 2003 PETsMART television ad, a mid-aged couple is shown with their dog sitting under a Christmas tree, with several Christmas presents under it. The woman then notes, "This is our dog's first holiday." Although the couple would most likely be celebrating Christmas, the word is omitted.
- In 2004, Federated Department Stores (which includes Macy's) banned their employees from saying "Merry Christmas" to customers. A small organization, the Committee to Save Merry Christmas, boycotted Federated Department Stores for their ban on mentioning the holiday.
- While Macy's names their November parade the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade (formerly Macy's Christmas Parade to 1991), the Christmas season parade has been genericized to the Macy's Holiday Parade.
- The debate of political correctness during the Christmas season has become so intense that websites are surfacing that support the continued public celebration of the holiday. These organizations include, but are not limited to, The Grinch List, V-DARE.com's War Against Christmas (since 2000), and The Committee to Save Merry Christmas.
- In 2002, Toronto city workers referred to the city's Christmas tree as a "holiday tree" resulting in a controversy that political correctness had been taken too far. Said Barry Levy, an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi and the head of religious studies at Montreal's McGill University, "That object is identified as a Christmas tree - it's not a Hannukah bush, it's not a winter tree, it's not a festival tree - it's a Christmas tree - we all know it for what it is. Quite frankly I'm offended on behalf of Christians for whom it's a symbol of some importance - that they should have a religious symbol converted into a secular one just in order to accommodate it into public display."
- On 27 November 2005, Boston's city Christmas Tree was renamed the 'holiday tree' in the name of political correctness. This caused much controversy, including comments from the annual Nova Scotian tree donator, who said "if they're going to call it a 'holiday tree', they might as well put it up at Easter". The tree was re-instated as "Christmas Tree" on 28 November.
- Since 1998, the Capitol's Christmas Tree was called the Capitol 'holiday Tree', and was renamed on 30 November 2005 to the Capitol Christmas Tree. Officials apologized that the website could not be updated to include Christmas for the 2005 season, but would be in 2006.
- The Committee to Save Merry Christmas, active once again in 2005, opted to boycott Sears & Roebuck, Inc. due to their non-use of Christmas terminology. Also, they succeeded in convincing Federated Department Stores (Macy*s) to re-instate "Merry Christmas", and other Christmas terminology in their advertising, which was acknowledged by a Federated associate. Recently, the Sears Corporation (including K-Mart) removed "holiday" references and replaced them with "Christmas" on 2 December 2005.
- Target, Inc.'s decision to ban the Salvation Army once again in for the 2005 Christmas season, as well as ban the use of the word Christmas in both their store locations and advertising, resulted in an attempted boycott of the corporation through the Thanksgiving holiday weekend (24 November - 27 November 2005) by the American Family Association, and the Committee to Save Merry Christmas. Target sales were down 7% over the weekend. Future plans to boycott Target by the American Family Association (AFA) will be executed if Target fails to include Christmas terminology in future ads and in their stores.
- Lambeth Council in London banned "Christmas lights" in December 2005 in favour of "winter lights" and, bizarrely, "Celebrity Lights". This prompted outrage by many citizens, who felt that in a Christian country, a Christian festival was being marginalised.
- The elderly became senior citizens. Old person became older (or elderly) person. Satirical songwriter Stan Freberg sensed the P.C. winds in the 1950s, and one response was his new version of a Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein II song, retitled Elderly Man River.
- Alms, once it became a function of government, evolved into poor relief and then became welfare, which in turn morphed into public assistance.
- Foreign students became international students.
- A heart attack became a cardiovascular event.
- The Department of Prisons became the Department of Corrections.
- The War Department, together with the Navy Department became the Defense Department in 1947, implying that the United States does not initiate wars.
- Civilian deaths became collateral damage.
- Any referral to the area that consists of mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as Greater China, and Taiwan should be referred to as a "place", thus avoiding taking a position on the political status of Taiwan.
- A fat person became a heavyset, large, plus-sized or a person of substance. Some of these replacements have fallen out of favour, replaced by overweight or obese. However, with the rise of body-positivity and 'fat-positivity,' the simple term 'fat' has been reclaimed. 'Overweight' and 'obese' have connotations of disorder, sickness or disease; fat-positive theory states that people are of all different sizes and size is never an absolute indication of health or wellness.
- Juvenile delinquents became troubled youth or children at risk.
- Affirmative action is used to describe preferences based on race, ethnicity and sex. Critics consider it to be a formalized quota system.
- Illegal alien became illegal immigrant. More recently the term undocumented immigrant is used.
- In 2005, in the United Kingdom, controversy arose when it emerged that a government Think Tank had suggested the term failure be replaced with the term Deferred Success to avoid offending those who did not achieve high marks in exams.
- Attempts to ban the use of the term "Fairy Lights" has met with derision from many in the UK's gay community.
- Foreigners became Foreign Nationals or Non-nationals. Terms now used frequently by media. The term non-national is often criticised because a person, whether an immigrant or not has to be a national of somewhere. Calling them non-nationals seems to imply that they have no nationality.
In 2002 the television talk show Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher was cancelled. Maher resigned as host of PI in after making a controversial on-air remark, in which he objected to President Bush and others calling the 9/11 terrorists cowardly: "We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly." Maher later apologised for the comment, saying, "In no way was I intending to say, nor have I ever thought, that the men and women who defend our nation in uniform are anything but courageous and valiant, and I offer my apologies to anyone who took it wrong."
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the remark was deemed too controversial for parts of the public and some advertisers, and offensive to the military. Although some pundits supported Maher, pointing out the distinction between physical and moral cowardice, companies including FedEx and Sears Roebuck pulled their advertisements from the show, quickly causing the show to cost more than it returned. The show was cancelled nine months later, at the expiration of Maher's contract.