I dislike this expression so much and really thought by now that people would have stopped using it. While the phrase itself has lost all real meaning, it continues to diminish all sorts of important arguments, issues and events and I am fed up to the teeth of hearing it or seeing it written down.
A Google for the phrase "political correctness gone mad" summoned 82,000 results, compared to just 9260 results for the phrase "here is my poem" (which I thought and hoped would be far more common on the worldly widely webly). The results for the latter were far more interesting.
There are and always have been limits on freedom of expression within context. This means that there are circumstances in which it is just plain correct to use certain terms and to avoid others. This could be for many reasons from logical consistency and courtesy through to protecting people from harassment, intimidation and worse.
I think most people agree with this idea in principle. Nobody really believes you should be able to say whatever you like, wherever, whenever, and to whomsoever you like, do they? Yet obviously there are going to be vast differences in opinion about where exactly the boundaries lie. Society needs to debate this, but talk of Political Correctness trivialises such debates.
Are they trivial? Sometimes yes. I ought write to my bank and tell them the correct title among the Miss I am called on my debit card, the Ms I am called on our cheque book and the Mrs I am called on our bank statement. This is discourtesy or incompetence on their part and merely annoys me.
However, sometimes they are not at all trivial. For example, very serious issues are raised by the Race and Religious Hatred Bill – an example of something which often receives this clumsy label. Even though I disagree with the legislation, there is nothing trivial about the problem it is attempting to address. People are killed, injured and terrorised in the UK because of racial and religious hatred. It is happening now and it could get worse if we don’t act to prevent it. Once again how we go about this is up for debate, but it is not a lot of fuss about nothing.
Then again, we can’t automatically assume that all those who attempt to manipulate language do so in a genuine attempt to promote fairness, equality and justice. And there have been some examples where over-sensitivity about certain minority groups has resulted in farce - every Christmas there is some fuss about the risk of religious references offending non-Christians.
However, Political Correctness does not exist; these words don’t represent a belief or set of beliefs. It is just name-calling, not an argument in itself. Describing more sinister or excessive control as such does no-one any favours because the phrase doesn’t actually mean anything, just “This is over the top, excessive,” whether it is excessive liberalism, or excessive authoritarian controls on our language or behaviour. It is especially ridiculous with the gone mad! on the end as if the spectre of Political Correctness has been drinking and listening to Country Music for three days solid since his dog died and his wife left him and now he’s grabbed an axe and is heading into town to wreak his revenge on anyone who ever said chairman instead of chairperson.
I suppose I have a particular bugbear with this for three reasons. One is that certain family members use this phrase way too often, about almost everything; "It rained all last week; it's political correctness gawn maad!" (that's a Suffolk accent, could you tell?)
The second is that in discussions about disability issue, all sorts of opinions are dismissed in this way by those individuals who don't have the capacity to offer a reasoned disagreement. It is a very common tool of sabotage and general annoyance.
But the third is that I begin to suspect that those people who use this phrase very often are actually deeply anti-egalitarian, but cannot say so, because it would be to admit that they enjoy privilege and would like historically disadvantaged people to remain disadvantaged. But given how often I hear this, that cannot possibly be true. Can it?