Anyone who thought political correctness had croaked, joining neon leg warmers, mullets and MC Hammer in the graveyard of bad ideas from the late 1980s and 1990s, should think again. When even someone as gay-friendly and Guardian-hued as Benedict Cumberbatch can be hounded for incorrectness, you know no one’s safe. So what can you say? Here’s an A-to-Z guide to the new PC.
A is for America. One-time land of the free, founded by un-PC white dudes partial to a drink and sex with slaves, but more recently the birthplace of identity politics (see under I) and 21st-century taboos (see everything below).
B is for bitch. Perfect example of a word some can say but others can’t. For a sassy chick to refer to herself and her girl pals as ‘bitches’ is cool; for a rapper with metal teeth it is rampant misogyny. To find out if you’re allowed to utter this word, put your hand in your underpants. Is there a penis? You can’t say it. If you do you’re the other B: bigot.
C is for cultural appropriation. When people from one culture adopt the styles or habits of people from another culture. Like middle-class white kids making rap music or donning Native American head-dresses at a rock festival. This is really bad. Thankfully Glastonbury is now restricting the sale of Native American dress and some British unis have banned sombreros. C is also for check your privilege. You must do this all the time. If you’re white, male and middle class, you’re super-privileged and must never speak about women’s issues or black people’s problems. White women are more privileged than black women, and straight black women are more privileged than queer black women (don’t worry — queer is OK here: see under Q). ‘What about solidarity and cross-class, cross-race empathy?’ I hear you cry. Please. Solidarity has been replaced by intersectionality (see below). Stop being a dinosaur.
D is for dinosaur. I shouldn’t have said the D-word, sorry. Alongside geezer, codger and blue-haired, it’s what the New York Times calls an ‘age-disparaging word’. Never say it, even to refer to actual dinosaurs: in 2012 some New York schools banned the lessons on dinosaurs for fear of offending creationist kids, and offending people is the worst thing you can ever do (see under O).
E is for ethically challenged. You, if you don’t adhere to these rules.
F is for faggot. Fine if you’re a gay man referring to himself, but it’ll earn you a knock on the door from the boys in blue if you’re a straight man referring to someone else. Never write it on a missile. American Navymen were instructed to ‘more closely edit their spontaneous acts of penmanship’ after one of them wrote ‘Hijack this, you faggots’ on a bomb for the Taleban. Members of the Taleban do not accept homosexuality as a valid way of life and thus should not be reminded of its existence as they have their heads blown off.
G is for gender. Never assume to know gender. Someone might look and sound like a man, and even wear a beard and possess a penis, but ‘he’ might identify as a woman, which is his/her/their right. Who are you, or nature, to say whether someone is male or female or something else entirely? Facebook now has 71 gender choices. The City University of New York recently banned the words ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ from ‘all types of correspondence’ with students in order to prevent the faux pas of wrongly guessing a student’s gender ID. Ask everyone you meet: ‘What gender pronouns should I use when referring to you?’
H is for hir and hirs: gender-neutral terms for him and her. Safest bet when you’re at a dinner party surrounded by people whose preferred gender you don’t yet know.
I is for identity politics. Always define yourself by your natural characteristics rather than your character, achievements or beliefs. You are first and foremost male, female, other, straight, gay, black or white and should refer to yourself as such. Martin Luther King should have checked his privilege when he had that nonsense dream of a world where people ‘will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character’. That’s easy for a middle-class straight man to say, Marty. I is also for intersectionality, the tearaway offspring of identity politics, where you must constantly wonder how your various personal identities intersect with each other (or something).
J is for jokes. Don’t tell them. It’s too risky. Rape jokes, Holocaust jokes, sexist jokes, banter-based jokes — you might find them funny but others will experience them as a threat to their mental safety. Learn from the Dapper Laughs debacle: a wicked joke can hurt thousands and end your career.
K is for kiss chase. Never let your kids play this. For boys to chase girls in search of a smacker on the cheek is evidence of a culture of male sexual entitlement, so mercifully this ‘game’ has been banned in schools across the nation.
L is for LGBTQQIAAP. No, not a place in Wales — an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, allies and pansexual. If you’re the kind of person who says ‘gays’, or even worse, ‘the gays’, stop it at once and learn this by heart.
M is for microaggressions. A microaggression is an unwitting act of discrimination by people who think they’re super right-on, such as asking a black woman how she keeps her hair so funky or inquiring if a lesbian has ever had ‘real sex’. On some American campuses, professors have been accused of racial microaggression for correcting spelling mistakes in black students’ essays.
N is for nigger. Massive no-no (unless you’re a rapper, and even then tread carefully). New editions of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn come with the N-word expunged. Just as cigarettes are being cut out of old cartoons and Ghostbusters is being remade with the main roles now played by womyn (see under W). The past must be corrected.
O is for offence. The original sin. Offending people is worse than punching them. And offence is in the eye of the outraged — it’s they who decide if your words are hurtful. One man’s joke might be another’s mortal blow to his self-esteem. To avoid offence, speak as little as possible.
P is for people of colour. Coloured is bad, but people of colour is fine. Of course, it might one day be added to the list of once-PC but now sinful phrases, so keep an eye out for updates.
Q is for queer. Queers can say this, but non-queers can’t. Unless you’re an ally (see under L), in which case you can.
R is for racist. You’re a racist. I know you think you aren’t, which is sweet, but you are. Everyone is. By this point, we should all know about ‘unwitting racism’ — being racist without realising it. The solution? Racial sensitivity training for all. Stop racism by encouraging nationwide racial consciousness.
S is for safe space. A zone, usually at a university, in which no offensive language, off-colour jokes, banter, lads’ mags, mansplaining (men talking about feminism), manspreading (men spreading their legs), gender-questioning, or any other wicked words or deeds are allowed. A prototype PC society.
T is for tranny. Never say this word. Ever. It’s the Voldemort of PC. Whisper it and you will be accused of transphobia — not a country but a mental malaise that prevents you from accepting that gender is a fluid concept.
U is for uterus. If you have one of these, you may speak about abortion; if you don’t, you may not.
V is for vagina. People with vaginas, check your privilege. You aren’t the only people who get to call yourselves women. Plenty of folk do not have vaginas but are every bit as female as you. The US women’s college Mount Holyoake recently banned The Vagina Monologues because it ‘offers an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman’.
W is for womyn. An alternative spelling of ‘woman’ for those who reject patriarchal spelling norms.
X is for Generation X, the post-baby-boom generation that is the architect of PC, which having waged a war of words against its hippy-dippy parents and their harebrained belief in a colourblind, gender-ignoring world, is now caught in a desperate rearguard action against younger activists armed with hashtags and intersectionality.
Y is for #YesAllWomen. A social campaign — well, a Twitter hashtag — created in response to the assertion that said #NotAllMen were rapists. Maybe they aren’t, but #YesAllWomen are victims.
Z is for ze. Gender-neutral term for he or she (see Rod Liddle, opposite). Z is also for zero tolerance. Of homophobia, rude old novels, saucy photos, and anything that might offend someone somewhere sometime. From student unions to trendy workplaces, the PC love nothing more than to boast of their lack of tolerance. You thought tolerance was a good thing? Get with the programme. Don’t be a D-word.
Brendan O’Neill is the editor of the website Spiked and the subject of Ban Brendan O’Neill Day, a national day of action being organised on Facebook for 1 April this year.