Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gingerbread people

I recently noticed some gingerbread men for sale in the local supermarket labelled as 'gingerbread people'. It just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Sometimes it is appropriate, however, to change ways of speaking or product names to avoid giving offense. In the realm of children's treats, this brand of liquorice must surely take the prize for insensitivity. (They subsequently changed the brand name to 'Lucky Boy'.)

But engineered changes to the way we speak and write have gone too far, reflecting, I think, various radical agendas.

'People-first' language by some twisted logic sees it as unacceptable to use ordinary adjectival phrases when speaking about people and mandates unnatural-sounding, pretentious (and ultimately patronizing) locutions such as 'person (or people) of color'.

This insidious practice has been promoted by advocacy groups, especially in relation to health-related areas. So remember, you are supposed to say 'people with disabilities' not 'disabled people'.

Other absurdities, like the use of 'differently-abled' or the use of the word 'challenged' were generally seen as such and made fun of.

Since the word 'retarded' just means held back or delayed, it's interesting that it has become unacceptable whereas the use of the terms 'delayed development' or 'developmental delays' is perfectly okay. The problem with 'retarded' derives mainly from the unfortunate slang nominalization 'retard'.

Actually the terms 'disabled' and 'disability' are not too bad. At least they aren't patronizing like some of the terms they replaced (e.g. 'handicapped') and they don't have the offensive ring of many older popular terms.

More sinister than the politically-correct linguistic lobbying of advocates for disabled groups, women and minorities is the term 'social marketing' - and the assumptions and practices which go with it.

Social marketing involves using all the resources of social psychology and commercial marketing techniques to alter behaviors to conform to (usually) a government view of what are considered to be desirable (or healthy or 'sustainable') behaviors.

Never has the term 'soft totalitarianism' been so appropriate. Propaganda ministries in the old 20th-century totalitarian states were engaged in something very like what is now called social marketing. Only they weren't afraid to call it by an honest name.