Synopses & Reviews
Political Correctness is now an everyday phrase and part of the modern mindset. Everyone thinks they know what it means, but its own meaning constantly shifts. Its surprising origins have led to it becoming integrated into contemporary culture in ways that are both idealistic and ridiculous. Originally grounded in respect for difference and sensitivity to suffering, it has often become a distraction and even a silencer of genuine issues, provoking satire and parody. In this carefully researched, thought-provoking book, Geoffrey Hughes examines the trajectory of political correctness and its impact on public life.
Exploring the origins, progress, content, and style of PC, Hughes’ journey leads us through authors as diverse as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Swift; Philip Larkin, David Mamet, and J.M. Coetzee; from nursery rhymes to Spike Lee films. Focusing on the historical, semantic, and cultural aspects of political correctness, this outstanding and unique work will intrigue anyone interested in this ongoing debate.
"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)
New Scholarly Books Listing, (Chronicle of Higher Education, January 2010)
"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, Adjunct Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute
"What a joy this book is! Hughes' study traces, with unflagging zest, the modern history of PC and its political, educational, "gendered", behavioral and cultural themes. Sumptuous in data, in judgment precise, this is the latest and fullest of Hughes' series on the social history of language."
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
About the Author
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.
Table of Contents
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
Author and Subject Index 309
Word Index 317