Diction Exercise (336)

For the past several decades, the trend towards "political correctness" has resulted in the rejection of usage that went unquestioned in the past. Identify which of the words or phrases in the following sentences are considered objectionable according to modern usage.

  • At the weekly staff meeting, Mr. Johnson the manager congratulated the men in the drafting department and the girls in the secretarial pool for their hard work.

  • The West must abandon its niggardly approach to the easing of sanctions in reciprocation for the steps wanted of Iran by the West.

  • Christine Brennan broke the glass ceiling to become the first woman to cover the Washington Redskins football team for the sports page.

  • The school principal announced that the lunchroom would provide a healthier menu in an effort to deal with the increasing number of fat children in the district.

  • Harper Lee is the woman novelist who wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird," a story about a man falsely accused of rape and how he was convicted because of his race.

Answers and Explanations

1. At the weekly staff meeting, Mr. Johnson the manager congratulated the men in the drafting department and the girls in the secretarial pool for their hard work.

Correct: girls
Referring to adult women as "girls" in the same context in which male adults are referred to as "men" is seen as an effort to devalue women as equal human beings.

2. The West must abandon its niggardly approach to the easing of sanctions in reciprocation for the steps wanted of Iran by the West.

Correct: niggardly
Although the word "niggardly" is not etymologically related to the word "nigger," the spelling similarity has made the word objectionable in American culture. The word "niggardly" derives from the noun "niggard": a mean, stingy, or parsimonious person.

3. Christine Brennan broke the glass ceiling to become the first woman to cover the Washington Redskins football team for the sports page.

Correct: Redskins
Supporters of political correctness object to any word or copyrighted drawing that might be construed as a slight to an ethnic group. Team names related to the American Indian, such as Redskins, Chiefs, Indians, and Braves, have come under fire from activists, forcing several schools to change their traditional mascots.

4. The school principal announced that the lunchroom would provide a healthier menu in an effort to deal with the increasing number of fat children in the district.

Correct: fat
Except in advertisements for weight loss, the terms "overweight" and "obese" have replaced the word "fat" to refer to fat people. Lately, some language monitors have become uncomfortable with the word "obese." As is the tendency with euphemisms, the "nicer" words eventually take on the offensiveness of the ones that were replaced.

5. Harper Lee is the woman novelist who wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird," a story about a man falsely accused of rape and how he was convicted because of his race.

Correct: woman novelist
Words for occupations that may be practiced by either men or women, such as novelist, surgeon, actor, pilot, and poet, do not require gender markers in a general context.

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