Changing attitudes and political correctness

Geoffrey Hughes

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of English

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199922765
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Changing attitudes and political correctness

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  • Linguistics
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics


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Political correctness creates new social agendas and areas of conformity by introducing new terms, redefining established words, and suppressing taboo terms and behaviors, all within a democratic framework. This article traces much earlier forms of political correctness in different social areas of changing conformity and taboo as new values and new dualisms have emerged. It discusses various kinds of semantic engineering, including word-formation, the generation of formulas and shifts of meaning. The political correctness debate has raised an important issue: whether social attitudes are indeed changed by alterations in the language. In rethinking this proposition, “changing attitudes” would mean adopting not only new terms but also new behaviors. One school of thought, which takes its cue from the initiatives of feminism, argues that changing the language is vital to changing attitudes. This article looks at the historical shift which essentially has been from realpolitik to the optional politics of values and lifestyle.

Keywords: political correctness; changing attitudes; conformity; dualism; lifestyle; Orwellian; realpolitik; semantic changes; slogans; social attitudes; taboo; word-formation; socio-cultural processes; English; linguistics

Article.  4107 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics ; Historical and Diachronic Linguistics

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