Understanding the Idiom: "politically correct" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English
Etymology: The earliest known attestation is in late 18th century United States, in response to a toast made to “the United States” instead of to “the people of the United States”.In the early twentieth century the term was associated with the dogmatic application of Stalinist and Communist Party doctrine, and later popularised by Mao Zedong in his 1963 essay Where Do Correct Ideas Come From? which equated “correct” with “the disciplined acceptance of a party line”.In the 1970s it was adopted by wider left-wing politics. The first known use in this sense was by Toni Cade in her 1970 anthology The Black Woman. It was subsequently used in a statement by Karen DeCrow in December 1975 in her capacity as president of the National Organization for Women.In the 1980s it acquired the pejorative sense when used to mock conformist liberal academics, their stereotypical political views and alleged attempts to control language.

In today’s society, it is important to be aware of the language we use and how it may affect others. The idiom “politically correct” has become a common term used to describe this awareness. It refers to using language that is inclusive and avoids offending certain groups of people based on their race, gender, sexuality, religion, or other characteristics.

The concept of political correctness has been around for decades but gained popularity in the 1990s as a way to promote tolerance and respect for diversity. However, it has also been criticized by some who view it as overly restrictive or even oppressive.

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “politically correct”

The phrase “politically correct” has become a ubiquitous part of modern discourse, but its origins are somewhat obscure. To understand the meaning and significance of this idiom, it is necessary to examine its historical context and evolution over time.

At its core, “politically correct” refers to language or behavior that is considered socially acceptable or sensitive to certain groups or individuals. However, the term has been used in a variety of ways since it first emerged in the 1970s as a critique of left-wing politics. Some have argued that it represents an attempt to impose ideological conformity on public discourse, while others see it as a necessary corrective to systemic inequalities and discrimination.

One important factor in the development of “political correctness” was the rise of identity politics in the United States during the 1960s and 70s. As marginalized groups such as women, African Americans, and LGBTQ+ individuals began to demand greater recognition and rights, they also sought to challenge dominant cultural norms and language that reinforced their marginalization.

Another key influence on the concept was postmodernism, which emphasized subjectivity and questioned traditional notions of objective truth. This led some scholars to argue that language itself could be oppressive or exclusionary if it reflected dominant power structures.

Over time, “political correctness” became associated with a range of issues including affirmative action policies, multiculturalism, feminism, environmentalism, and more recently debates around cancel culture and free speech on college campuses.

Despite its contested history and diverse meanings, there is no denying that “political correctness” remains an important part of contemporary political discourse. Whether viewed positively or negatively by different groups within society – from conservatives who decry it as censorship to progressives who see it as essential for social justice – understanding its origins can help shed light on ongoing debates about language use and power dynamics in our society.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “politically correct”

Positive Usage

One way in which the term “politically correct” can be used positively is when it refers to efforts made by individuals or organizations to promote inclusivity and respect for diversity. For example, using gender-neutral language or avoiding racial stereotypes could be seen as politically correct actions that aim to create a more inclusive environment.

Negative Usage

On the other hand, some people use the term “politically correct” negatively, often accusing others of being overly sensitive or trying too hard not to offend anyone. This usage suggests that political correctness is unnecessary or even harmful because it limits free speech and stifles honest discussion.

  • Some examples of negative usage include:
  • “I’m tired of all this political correctness – I should be able to say what I want without worrying about who might get offended.”
  • “Political correctness has gone too far – now we can’t even have Christmas parties at work because someone might feel excluded.”

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “politically correct”

Some synonyms for “politically correct” include socially acceptable, culturally sensitive, inclusive language, and respectful communication. On the other hand, some antonyms might include insensitive language, discriminatory behavior, exclusionary practices, or biased attitudes.

It is important to note that the concept of political correctness varies across different cultures and societies. What may be considered politically correct in one country may not necessarily be so in another. For example, certain words or phrases that are deemed offensive in Western cultures may not carry the same weight in Eastern cultures.

Furthermore, there is ongoing debate about whether political correctness promotes genuine inclusivity and respect for diversity or stifles free speech and expression. Some argue that being too politically correct can lead to censorship and limit honest discussions about important issues.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “politically correct”

Exercise 1: Identify Politically Correct Language

Exercise 2: Rewrite Politically Incorrect Statements

Take a statement that could be considered offensive or insensitive towards a particular group of people, such as a racial stereotype or derogatory remark about gender identity. Rewrite the statement using politically correct language while still conveying the same message. This exercise will help you practice finding alternative ways to express yourself without causing offense.


– Use inclusive language that acknowledges diversity

– Avoid stereotypes and generalizations

– Be mindful of cultural differences

By practicing these exercises, you can become more confident in using politically correct language in various situations.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “politically correct”

When using the idiom “politically correct”, it is important to be aware of common mistakes that can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. While the term has become a part of everyday language, its usage can still cause confusion if not used correctly.

Avoid Using It as an Insult

One common mistake when using the idiom “politically correct” is using it as an insult towards someone who is trying to be inclusive or respectful. This goes against the original intent of the term, which was meant to promote sensitivity towards marginalized groups.

Instead, use the phrase in a neutral or descriptive way, such as saying that a certain language or behavior is considered politically correct in a particular context.

Avoid Overusing It

Another mistake when using this idiom is overusing it. While there are situations where it may be appropriate, constantly labeling everything as politically correct can come across as dismissive or cynical.

It’s important to consider whether using this phrase adds value to your message or detracts from it. Instead of relying on this one term, try explaining your perspective more fully and thoughtfully.

  • Be mindful of how you use “politically correct”.
  • Avoid using it as an insult.
  • Avoid overusing it.

By being aware of these common mistakes and approaching this idiom with care and consideration, we can better understand its meaning and use it effectively in our communication.

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