Offensive or OK?

Language – more specifically, the question of what constitutes offensive language – has made the news recently, not once but twice.

On December 9, the New York Times reported that the American Heritage Dictionary decided to label “anchor baby” an offensive term. You can read more here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/09/us/anchor-baby-a-term-redefined-as-a-slur.html

(An anchor baby is a child born to an undocumented immigrant who hopes to use the baby to obtain citizenship. )

The second story came out of the 11th Circuit Court of Alabama. On December 16 its Court of Appeals reversed its own ruling from September 2010 that “boy” was not an offensive term. This time the judges awarded about $365,000 in damages to black employee John Hithon, who complained that his white supervisor used the term “boy” to refer to black employees. You can read more here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/us/tyson-discrimination-verdict-restored-by-appeals-court.html

How much attention should we pay to political correctness? Answers to that question vary. What about the term “class warfare,” for example? Some advocacy groups find “class warfare” a useful way to describe attacks on legislation that favors one group over another. Others oppose the term, asking why it’s ok to show political favoritism but not to talk about it.

Bottom line: Language is not something to be taken for granted – and (as the Alabama court demonstrated) language issues are not to be taken lightly. We all need to keep updating both our speech habits and our views about our fascinating and evolving language.

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