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Spectator letters: you don’t have to be politically correct to be kind

Plus: Brexit on the ski slopes, why Wankie really changed its name, and the difference between a girl and an elf

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

26 March 2016

9:00 AM

PC and abortion

Sir: It is heartwarming that Simon Barnes’s son should not suffer the stigma experienced by those with Down’s syndrome in earlier generations (‘In praise of PC’, 19 March). But is it not ironic that in this kinder, more generous and respectful age, over 90 per cent of fetuses diagnosed with Down’s are aborted? Rather than hiding the children away, we now ensure that most of them are not even born. If political correctness had really become sane, surely our kindness, generosity and respect would extend to the womb as well?
Matthew Hosier
Poole, Dorset

Naming conditions

Sir: Simon Barnes, makes a couple of assumptions which do not bear scrutiny. He states that people born with an extra chromosome 21 (trisomy 21, or Down’s syndrome) were treated unkindly in the past. And he credits political correctness with the new kindness to his son, who was born with trisomy 21.

My brother Andy has trisomy 21 and suffers profound cognitive impairment. He grew up in apartheid South Africa. It would be difficult to imagine a more politically incorrect society — but Andy has been treated with kindness and tolerance for 48 years, in both the old and the new South Africa. Interestingly, the Afrikaans euphemism for trisomy 21 is ‘sonskyn kinders’ (sunshine children).

If political correctness is the careful choosing of words to prevent offence to others, it has a laudable goal. However, it seems to me that it is rather used to seek offence where none is intended. The ever- changing whims of acceptable terminology make language a minefield, creating shifting sands of victimhood.

This is amply illustrated by Mr Barnes not even being able to type the previous, now unfashionable term for trisomy 21. It is worth pointing out that John Langdon Down, who recognised the clinical features of the abnormality, used language now considered unacceptable. His original paper describing the condition is surely, even to the most hardened ‘un-politically correct’ person, jarring and offensive.

Perhaps the best thing is to recognise that trisomy 21 is best called by its clinical name. There are other trisomy-related disorders, but these are vanishingly rare, so even shortening this to trisomy would be far more accurate and acceptable.
Johan van den Bogaerde
Twin Waters, Queensland, Australia

Poles apart on Turkey

Sir: I was the Foreign Office minister responsible for consular affairs in 1990 when we introduced the visa requirement for Turkish visitors. Before then they did not require a visa to visit, but that did not give them any right to live or work in the UK (‘Desperate straits’, 19 March). After the recent agreement, that will once again be the position. A Turkish visitor should not be compared with those from Poland, an EU country whose citizens do have the right to live and work elsewhere in the EU. To imply otherwise is, I suggest, scaremongering.
Sir Timothy Sainsbury
London W8

The road to freedom

Sir: Ian Buruma’s piece (‘Vote for freedom!’, 19 March) visits a number of well-travelled arguments for and against Brexit, concluding that any freedom achieved thereby would be illusory. But what he fails to justify is the actual point of the EU. Though originally conceived as an antidote to the virulent ultra-nationalism of the early 20th century, the EU’s march towards pan-European nationhood has resulted in the very instability it was supposed to cure.

Then there is the question of why it should be necessary, at vast expense, to impose a further layer of political and legal governance on established British institutions which have served our democracy reasonably well.

Add to the mix the apparent failure of the euro currency and the hopeless confusion of Schengen, and any confidence in the EU project melts away. Perhaps Brexit would not equate to freedom, but it would be a firm stride in that direction.
John Shipley
Benllech, Anglesey

Hold on to your ski pass

Sir: David Snow (Letters, 19 March) asserts that European pensioners ski for free in the French resort of Les Arcs. Before any readers change their holiday plans, it is worth pointing out that the minimum qualifying age is 72, and even then, although lift-passes are heavily discounted, they are still not entirely free. The Les Arcs ticket office website makes no mention that this benefit is restricted to EU pensioners, so I cannot see that veteran, skiing Brexiters have anything to fear.
Merrick Moseley
Findon, West Sussex

What happened to Wankie

Sir: Contrary to Barometer (19 March), the name of the town of Wankie in Zimbabwe was not changed due to an ‘image problem’. It was the anglicised form of the vernacular Hwange (the name of a local chieftain), and reverted to its original pronunciation after independence in 1980. This also happened in Gwelo (now Gweru), Gatooma (now Kadoma) and Umtali (now Mutare).
Alan Doyle
Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey

Tights spot

Sir: My son Peter Fineman wrote (Letters, 19 March) that I sent him to a party clothed as a girl in skirts. This is incorrect — he was in fact dressed as an elf. It is, however, true that they thought he was girl, and perhaps the tights were a mistake.
Coral Samuel
London W8

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