A couple of weeks ago, the NAACP held a symbolic funeral for the "N-word". A lot of people laughed it off as yet another example of political correctness gone wild. A lot more people, and I include myself in that number, thought it was a reasonably good idea--but one whose time has not yet demonstrably arrived.
It is a regrettable fact of modern life that while living conditions have generally improved for minorities of all sorts in comparison to what they were 50 or even 25 years ago, there is still a very long way to go before we get to something that looks even remotely like equality or equitable treatment. We are, in my estimation, just about as far from that great day when the only thing that will matter to anyone about anyone else is "the content of their character" as we were on that day in 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous speech.
Let me make an important point before I go any further with this train of thought. What I'm saying here has exactly nothing to do with "political correctness." Indeed, the very concept of "political correctness" is largely a red herring construct employed by people who simply can't abide the thought of not being able to slang certain other people because of their race, their gender, their genitalia, their ethnicity, their national origin, their marital status, their creed, their religion (or lack thereof), their sexual orientation, or any other factor they feel is important (and lacking in the person they want to denigrate). What I'm talking about, what Dr. King was talking about, what the NAACP was talking about earlier this month, is about treating other people as nothing less than what they are: other human beings, endowed with exactly the same innate rights as you are or I am.
So while we're burying locutions, here are a few more I'd love to see get daggered* in the OED and everywhere else:
- The use of "gay" to mean "stupid," "lame," "weak," "dumb," or any other derogatory or disrespectful thing.
- The use of terms referring to genitalia in any situation not actually involving the genitalia. (I.e., saying that someone needs to "grow a pair" when we mean they need to behave more forcefully, or calling someone a "pussy" when they're timid or shy or scared.)
- While we're at it, let's get rid of locutions that imply that men are inherently better than women (or vice-versa), or that there are particular roles or jobs that are naturally either masculine or feminine.
- "Bitch," "slut," and other derogatory and demeaning terms for women.
One of the great things about the English language is its tremendous variety. If you've got something to say to someone else, or a bone to pick with them, there are literally dozens or even hundreds of ways of getting that point across, without stooping to demeaning or discriminatory terminology. Yet those are the words we routinely, regularly, and unthinkingly gravitate toward whenever our blood pressure starts to rise a little or we feel ourselves getting caught on the wrong side of an argument. If you think someone is being a coward, then say so! There's no need to resort to "pussy." Likewise, if you think something is lame or stupid, then say that--and leave "gay" out of it. Most people who think nothing of using "gay" as a pejorative term would never let anyone hear them say something like "That's so Jew" or "That's so Spic." Why is "gay" any better in that phrase than those other terms they won't use?