This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit disabilityarts.online.

Disability Arts Online

Kristina Veasey on the pros and cons of being PC / 21 January 2011

When is language offensive and when is it too PC (if there is such a thing)?

I have a friend who works in an office where a colleague was disciplined for putting up a poster advertising 'a girls' night out' as this was both excluding men and self-diminishing for woman-kind. I thought I was pretty pc until I heard that!

In a former work role I was advised I shouldn't use the word 'lady' and that 'woman' was more appropriate. I find this quite difficult as I was brought up to see the word 'woman' as rude and 'lady' as polite. It was nothing to do with suggesting 'ladies' were fragile beings who needed protecting and pampering and who had no rights or real worth. It is not something I find particularly offensive but should I respect that others do and tailor my language accordingly?

My children tell me 'Spaz' is back in the playground as is 'retard', and 'gay' is still an insult being thrown about by kids. My heart sinks and I can't help but blame American comedies which seem to bandy these terms around all over the place.

We have to consider how we define ourselves. What words do we use? What words do others use? I have in the past been told I would only qualify for a benefit if I was 'wheelchair-bound'. When I asked what this constituted I was told it was being unable to get out of your wheelchair (as if it was going to somehow morph itself onto my bottom permanently). I was frustrated and somewhat baffled by the use and interpretation of this word being the deciding factor in my entitlement to support.

I am often told I shouldn't get so hung up on language and that people don't mean to offend, but I feel myself boiling inside. Are they right? Should I just chill out about it all? Does language really matter?