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Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture

ISBN: 978-1-4051-5278-5
336 pages
November 2009, Wiley-Blackwell
Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture (1405152788) cover image
In this carefully researched, thought-provoking book, Geoffrey Hughes examines the trajectory of political correctness and its impact on public life. Focusing on the historical, semantic, and cultural aspects of political correctness, it will intrigue anyone interested in this ongoing debate.
  • A unique and intriguing journey through the trajectory of political correctness and its impact on public life, focusing on the historical, semantic, and cultural aspects of what PC means
  • Explores the origins, progress, content and style of political correctness, discussing and analyzing around one hundred terms and lexical formations, from Chaucer and Shakespeare, Marlowe and Swift, to nursery rhymes, rap and Spike Lee films, David Mamet, J. M. Coetzee and Philip Larkin
  • Offers a detailed semantic analysis of the way that key words have been exploited both to advance the agendas of political correctness and to refute them
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Preface viii

Acknowledgments xii

Epigraphs xiii

Part I Political Correctness and its Origins 1

Chapter 1 Defining Political Correctness 3

Chapter 2 The Origins and the Debate 60

Part II The Semantic Aspect 85

Chapter 3 Words and Authorities: Dictionaries and Lexicographers 87

Chapter 4 The Evolution of the Word Field 106

Part III Zones of Controversy 113

Chapter 5 Issues of Race, Nationality, and Difference 115

Chapter 6 Agendas Old and New 178

Part IV Cultural and Historical Issues 215

Chapter 7 Political Correctness in the Past 217

Chapter 8 Culture 236

Conclusion: The Right Thing to Do? Progressive Orthodoxy, Empty Convention or Double Standard? 283

Bibliography 298

Author and Subject Index 309

Word Index 317

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Geoffrey Hughes graduated from Oxford, was an Honorary Research Associate at Harvard, and is Emeritus Professor of the History of the English Language at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is the author of An Encyclopedia of Swearing (2006), A History of English Words (Wiley-Blackwell, 2000), Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English (1998), and Words in Time (1988). He is currently Honorary Research Associate at the University of Cape Town.
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  • A unique and intriguing journey through the trajectory of political correctness and its impact on public life, focusing on the historical, semantic, and cultural aspects of what PC means
  • Explores the origins, progress, content and style of political correctness, discussing and analyzing about one hundred terms and lexical formations, from Chaucer and Shakespeare, Marlowe and Swift, to nursery rhymes, to rap and Spike Lee films, David Mamet, J. M. Coetzee and Philip Larkin
  • Offers a detailed semantic analysis of the way that key words have been exploited both to advance the agendas of Political Correctness and to refute them
See More
"Prof. Hughes' Political Correctness deals with both its history and its use at present. And he deals with both aspects in a masterly fashion. Consequently, this book is highly recommendable because of what it says as well as, what is probably more important, because of the multitude of suggestions and questions it inspires." (Australian Journal of Linguistics, February 2011)

"Some books are written to be read, and other books are reference works. Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture is unusual in that it is both jam-packed with detailed information and yet makes for a good read. Everyone should read this book and also keep it on the shelf as an excellent reference work. This informative and well written book covers more than just the notion of political correctness (PC) in the narrow sense. It encompasses far more than the problem of increased, PC kinds of concerns, as discussed in Part I, Political Correctness and Its Origins." (PsycCritiques, August 2010)

"Hughes ultimately comes down against artificiality, suggesting that political correctness is a form of social engineering that arises from good intentions coupled with Puritanism. A useful book for anyone interested in language and culture." (CHOICE, June 2010)

“Hughes' book provides a wide-ranging examination of a phenomenon that has had an immense influence on our culture, for both good and ill. Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture is an entertaining, thought-provoking foray into an interesting and important area.  Hughes focuses mainly on the effect of P.C. in contemporary Britain, America and South Africa, but he looks at earlier historical periods (such as the Reformation) too.  This is the best book written on the subject, and that by some distance.  It is an essential study, rigorous and critical and absolutely indispensable.” (Compulsive Reader, April 2010)

“Focusing on the historical, semantic, and cultural aspects of political correctness, this brilliant and unique work will intrigue anyone interested in this ongoing debate.” ( Lavoisier, November 2009)

"One must maintain a sense of humour when entering this arena, where voices of the global cultural elite sometimes present themselves as brave and daring for taking potshots at the sidelined or powerless. An emeritus 'historian of the English language', Hughes knows a lot about dictionaries of every stripe, whether orthodox or slang. He can provide the history of innumerable words, enabling readers to follow semantic changes, neologisms and other evolutions in the 'word field.'"  (Times Higher Education, November 2009)

"Geoffrey Hughes has brought together with great panache the very many manifestations of political correctness, both absurd and vicious, and shown how they express a single collective mind-set. His book establishes beyond doubt that there is such a phenomenon, that it has become dominant in our culture, and that it represents a growing tendency to censor public debate and to prevent people from questioning orthodoxies which we all know to be false."
Roger Scruton, American Enterprise Institute

"What a joy this book is! Hughes´ study traces, with unflagging zest, the modern history of PC.Sumptuous in data, in judgment precise, this is the latest and fullest of Hughes’ series on the social history of language."
Walter Nash, Professor Emeritus, University of Nottingham

 

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October 06, 2009
Political Correctness: A History of Semantics and Culture

Political Correctness is a term that is often flung about in public discourse but its overuse causes us to rarely recognize its relevance, which opens it up to misinterpretation. Furthermore, few people know the real origins of the phenomenon. In POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: A History of Semantics and Culture (Wiley-Blackwell, November 2009) Geoffrey Hughes, pre-eminent scholar on the history of the English language, opens up the PC debate and chronicles its longstanding effect on social interaction, historical political agendas, and popular culture. He examines the trajectory of political correctness and its impact on public life to date, in the first truly international and in-depth treatment of the topic. 

The origins and intentions of the politically correct movement (Part I: Political Correctness and its Origins) were grounded in a real respect for differences among peoples and sensitivity to suffering, and its prevention. However, it has quickly become a tool to distract people from the genuine and larger issues at hand, and has become a pat and predictable source of parody. As you might expect from the author of books such as A History of English Words and Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, Hughes knows about language, and is unafraid of tackling sensitive debates in his quest.

Hughes asks us to move beyond the buzz word and look closely at serious issues surrounding the debate including disability, disease, addiction, difference, “lookism,” religious rituals, the environment and animal rights. He offers a detailed semantic analysis of the way that keywords have been exploited both to advance the agendas of Political Correctness, and to refute them.

Hughes’ journey leads us through sources as diverse as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Swift; Philip Larkin, David Mamet, and J.M. Coetzee; nursery rhymes, rap, and Spike Lee films (Part III: Zones of Controversy). The historical, semantic (Part II: The Semantic Aspect), and cultural aspects (Part IV: Cultural and Historical Issues) of political correctness are thoroughly revealed and discussed.

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